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Texas Longhorns recruiting: What pledges of Malik Jefferson, DeAndre McNeal mean for Horns

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What follows at times may sound like hyperbole, but it's truly hard to overstate the potential significance of the Poteet teammates committing to Texas on Friday morning.

Malik Jefferson (left) and DeAndre McNeal (right) after pledging to Texas
Malik Jefferson (left) and DeAndre McNeal (right) after pledging to Texas
Mike Roach (Horn Sports)

If at some point in the next several years the Texas Longhorns win a national championship or even make the College Football Playoffs, fans and analysts may look back on December 19, 2014 as the day that everything changed for head coach Charlie Strong and his football program.

That may sound hyperbolic. And the fact that the apparent Golden Age of Texas football that the Five-Star Friday commitments of linebacker Jordan Hicks and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat actually marked the high water mark for the program instead of forecasting future success provides some historical perspective on how grand statements made on such occasions can crumble to rubble.

But right now, hours after the huge commitments of five-star linebacker Malik Jefferson and four-star wide receiver DeAndre McNeal, the Mesquite Poteet teammates, temptations tend towards hyperbole.

And why not? It's been nearly five long long years since Texas had a recruiting day that could match the commitments of Jefferson and McNeal in magnitude.

In fact, the pledge and ultimate signing of Jeffcoat actually represented the last time that the Longhorns landed the top prospect in the state according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.

So, from a big-picture standpoint, what do the pledges of Jefferson and McNeal actually mean?

What the commitments mean on the field

Most coaches put a great deal on their best linebacker, asking them to get teammates aligned and plays called at the line of scrimmage. So not only does a linebacker have to possess exceptional physical skills to excel in a conference like the Big 12 that features numerous HUNH, spread offenses, a linebacker also has to possess exceptional mental skills.

Enter Malik Jefferson.

With ideal makeup off the field, Jefferson projects as a leader on the field and in the locker room by the time his days at Texas are complete.

On the field, his physical gifts are incredible, especially his testing numbers from The Opening last summer -- 4.39 40, 4.19 shuttle, 39.7-inch vertical, 42-inch power ball.

The Texas scheme demands a lot of linebackers, especially when playing with three down linemen. Stunting into interior gaps and dropping into coverage are two of those tasks and Jefferson has the physicality and the quickness to fill each of those roles, even though he's not quite a thumper like senior Steve Edmond. As a result, he'll likely be asked to play in more of a read and react role ranging sideline to sideline that suits his skill set as Strong sends a guy like Florida commit Cecil Cherry on those stunting gambits inside.

Since Jefferson is regarded as an instant-impact contributor, the hope is that he can quickly step into the void filled by the departure of Jordan Hicks from the weakside linebacker position. It's not where Jefferson plays in high school, so there may be a bit of a learning curve, but the good news is that Jefferson will enroll early and be able to develop during the spring to prepare himself to compete for a starting job in fall camp.

His upside is turning in three or four years at the level that Hicks would have been able to reach had he not suffered so many injuries.

As for DeAndre McNeal, Ian Boyd of SB Nation/Inside Texas sees him as a EJ Bibbs type who can provide match-up problems all over the field. Both possess similar builds and truly unique athleticism for their size, leading some to speculate that McNeal could ultimately have more athletic upside than Jefferson, which is quite a statement.

Capable of playing inside or outside, McNeal will have to work on his blocking ability if the Texas coaches decide to employ him in an H-back role as a blocker, but his ability to beat linebackers in coverage with his elite lateral ability and quickness for his size and height and strength advantage against cornerbacks will allow him to move around the field to provide the biggest possible advantage for Texas.

If play caller Shawn Watson can employ him correctly, he could be the type of versatile threat that the Longhorns haven't had in years.

What the commitments mean for Charlie Strong

The hope with Strong throughout the 2015 recruiting process is that his ability to connect with parents, sell his core values, and provide a structured environment for recruits to grow into men would ultimately help land top-flight recruits, especially in comparison to the less structured culture in College Station.

One of the many takeaways with Jefferson is that Strong was able to do just that and while the affinity that Jefferson's parents may have pushed the five-star linebacker away from the Longhorns at times during his process, the way his mother and father and even one of his brothers felt about Texas ultimately helped Strong and his staff.

After so much talk about what it meant to be a "Mack Brown type of kid," it's tempting to avoid similar language with Strong and Jefferson, but it actually works better this time -- Jefferson is exactly the type of prospect capable of upholding Strong's five core values and representing the program in the best possible manner.

Since Strong has such an impeccable reputation as a defensive coach and went as far as to promise the first target of the 2015 season against Notre Dame going to McNeal, missing on both of the players would have been a huge loss for the Longhorns and for the program that Strong is trying to build.

Because make no mistake -- the departure of Texas A&M wide receiver coach David Beaty was huge for McNeal and the lack of a defensive coordinator after the firing of Mark Snyder seriously hurt the Aggies with Jefferson.

Everything was set up for Strong to take advantage of some turmoil in College Station and he was able to do so.

Getting second-tier prospects in the state helps a recruiting class add depth and the ability of Strong to identify and develop talent will serve the program well, but to truly reach the level the program wants to reach, he'll have to land players like Jefferson and McNeal.

If there were any questions about whether Strong can recruit at a high level in Austin, he cast those aside on Friday.

What the commitments mean for the 2015 class

For the last several years, the Longhorns have been kicked around the state by the Aggies, a program that has benefited from the move to the SEC, the Heisman Trophy won by Johnny Manziel, and the charisma of head coach Kevin Sumlin.

In the 2015 recruiting class, Texas A&M had a chokehold of many of the top prospects in the state, winning numerous head-to-head battles over Texas.

Many Aggie fans may point to that overall record as the reason why there shouldn't be much concern moving forward, but the closeness of McNeal and Jefferson to five-star Texas A&M defensive tackle commit Daylon Mack should give have given some pause to the maroon and white faithful in the immediate aftermath of those pledges.

And, in fact, Mack did end up decommitting on Friday afternoon, with plans to name his top two on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Longhorns were trending heavily in his Crystal Ball, with numerous predictions coming in for Texas after the pledges of Jefferson and McNeal and continuing after he officially opened up his recruitment.

The actual shift in the balance of power may end up being a little bit more subtle than the pledges of two key prospects and the decommitment of another, but no less significant. Part of the appeal for Texas A&M had become the fact that so many top prospects wanted to play there, the type of momentum that tends to feed back upon itself and launch a program into the stratosphere.

All of a sudden, Jefferson and McNeal made it less cool to play in College Station and more cool to play in Austin.

With the charisma of both players and Jefferson's relationship with Aledo wide receiver/return man Ryan Newsome, the two could end up having the recruiting impact for Texas that defensive end pledge Charles Omenihu has worked hard at achieving, but could not because despite his impressive talent, he doesn't have the stature to seriously alter the trajectory of other top recruits.

Jefferson's pledge could help secure a commitment from Newsome and Rockwall running back Chris Warren. It could help land top cornerback talents like Gilmer's Kris Boyd and Houston Lamar's Holton Hill, guys who have watched Strong turn the Texas secondary into one of the most stingy units in the country and could see the 2015 group as one that could help the defense dominate the Big 12.

Jefferson's pledge could help flip Mack, who will announce his top two schools on Saturday after his decommitment.

Other than Fort Bend Marshall cornerback Kendall Sheffield, who still seems destined to end up at Texas A&M, all the top remaining targets in the state now look more attainable with Jefferson as the centerpiece of the 2015 Texas recruiting class.

let's ride