Throughout the past several days, the final members of Tom Herman’s 2019 class arrived in Austin, with the exception of four-star Burford (Ga.) running back Derrian Brown, who is reportedly expected to join the program as a mid-summer enrollee after suffering a stroke in January. Elsewhere, though, Texas’ 2019 class is on campus in full, which provides the program with several more high school All-Americans and potential instant-impact contributors.
To that end, here’s what each of the Longhorns 2019 offensive enrollees brings to the table:
Jake Smith — 4-star WR: The National Gatorade Player of the Year, Smith boasts dynamic ability with the ball in his hands, flashing great burst, quite a bit of cut-and-go ability, more than his share of shiftiness in space, and the kind jaw-dropping speed in the open field that may be unparalleled by any receiver on the roster. Though Smith’s raw speed and fluidity as a route runner are largely what allows him to fit the mold as the prototypical slot receiver, that same speed and explosive nature are what will allow Texas to implement him elsewhere. To that end, consider the ways in which Texas aimed to utilize D’Shawn Jamison’s speed and explosiveness as a returner and during jet sweeps last season. Now, project those touches transferring to a prospect who’s seemingly far more suited to fit that specific role.
Marcus Washington — 4-star WR: Washington is a true possession receiver with the body and toughness to fight for contested passes and catch a pass over the middle when a team needs tough yardage. His abilities as a route runner allow him to create space and he has a knack for finding the empty spots in the secondary. He also showcases the ability to high-point the football, which you saw become a vital skill in Texas’ red zone scheme in 2018. He reaches over shorter defenders to take the ball away and can bring down the ball toward the sidelines when the quarterback puts the ball in a position where he’s the only one that can make a play. His skill set blends well with not only the Texas possession passing game, the short slants and drag routes, but a player with the body and toughness to fight for extra yards on completions.
Brayden Liebrock — 4-star TE: Liebrock is at his best working at the second level, where his reactive quickness and willingness to keep his feet moving after contact make him an effective blocker. Executing blocks at the line of scrimmage will most likely take some time to develop, as he needs to add strength in his upper and lower body to anchor against college defensive ends. Right now, Liebrock’s best attribute is his ability as a pass catcher, as he recorded 65 catches for 784 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior. As much as Herman wants his tight ends to be able to execute in-line blocks, he also wants athletes who are capable of lining up in the slot and beating linebackers with their speed or boxing out safeties with their height. In route-running ability, Liebrock compares favorably to a smaller player currently on the roster in Cade Brewer, but may be an even better athlete — his Hudl page lists a 4.6 40-yard dash and it wouldn’t be surprising based on the film if Liebrock could run a verified time in that range. It’s rare for a 6’5, 220-pounder to look as fast and fluid on film as Liebrock does consistently. The fact that he’s doesn’t rely on his height and maximum stride length to cover ground is extremely helpful in that regard.
Isaiah Hookfin — 4-star OT: Hookfin is a gifted player that is equipped with astonishing qualities that will translate to the college level exceedingly. He’s well-versed with his technique at the offensive tackle position. Hookfin plays with a solid base and active feet while in pass protection, and is able to use his long arms with a combination of his quick hands while run blocking. His towering size, skilled athleticism, and production on the field are just a few indicators of what type of player Hookfin can be during his tenure at Texas. There’s obviously a lot of work to be done, but if Hookfin can continue to pack on a substantial amount weight and strength (particularly to the upper body), continue to evolve his technique, and develop a consistent mean-streak, he could be a player that makes a lot of noise while wearing burnt orange.
Javonne Shepherd — 4-star OT: When it comes to stature and overall size, Shepherd already exceeds the average height and weight of an FBS offensive lineman at 6’6, 327 pounds. Shepherd’s ability to move as swiftly as he does at that magnitude is certainly impressive. When Shepherd is on his A-game he’s really a force to be reckoned with as a run blocker, as he overpowered defenders on the high school level, sometimes sending them back 15 yards after first making contact. Seeing Shepherd climb his way up to the second level to take on linebackers is also a beautiful thing to see from a prospect of his caliber. When Shepherd extends his arms and latches on to defenders, he’s in total control, especially when his feet are churning under him. His athleticism and overall upside alone is up there with the best in the nation at his position. Once Shepherd puts it all together, there’s no doubt about it that he can potentially play this game at the highest level.
Kennedy Lewis — 3-star WR: Kennedy Lewis is a long, rangy prospect with a tall stature and a frame that will be able to add a substantial amount of weight as he enters the Longhorns strength and conditioning program. Because of his size and athletic ability, he’s able to go up and make those difficult catches over the top of cornerbacks. Being able to locate the ball and maintain possession while a defender is draped all over him might be the most intriguing aspect of Lewis’ game when he’s on the field. He is also deceptive in the speed department and frequently gets behind the secondary. Whether it’s on a deep ball or a quick screen, Lewis is a difficult player to contain. Making more grabs away from his body and becoming a better overall route runner will be some areas in his game he’ll need to improve on as he develops his game with the Longhorns.
Parker Braun — 3-star grad transfer LG: Pencil him in right now. Braun played the left guard position at Georgia Tech and despite any talk of him redshirting this season in order to add strength and overall mass, he’s a two-time All-ACC selection for a reason. Not only that, rest assured that head coach Tom Herman and offensive line coach Herb Hand didn’t recruit Braun to sit out for a year. Texas recruited Braun because it lost a longtime starter at the left guard position in Patrick Vahe and needs someone who can excel in space. Throw in Braun’s toughness and adding him surely wasn’t a difficult decision for Hand — in a game against Pitt in 2017, Braun took a defender to the ground on 22 plays, which accounted for one of every 3.4 offensive snaps.
Willie Tyler — 3-star JUCO OT: Originally slated to become a member of the 2020 class before accelerating his education and becoming a May graduate from Iowa Western C.C., Tyler is the type of talent Tom Herman would likely describe as “a ball of clay.” At 6’7, 330 pounds, Tyler boasts ideal size for an offensive tackle prospect, and though he doesn’t necessarily overwhelm with pure power, that’s subject to change after an offseason or two working with Yancy McKnight and Herb Hand. Meanwhile, Tyler will also need to develop a quicker first step and and just generally quicker agility around the line of scrimmage, but he plays with an understanding of where he needs to force his man to open lanes for the ball carrier or quarterback. To that end, Tyler will have four years to play three, which provides him with plenty of time to develop and polish his frame and skill set.