On Wednesday, the Texas Longhorns signed the No. 11 group of prospects nationally, one that should help head coach Charlie Strong rebuild the program by providing a handful of instant-impact contributors and future depth in numerous high-upside long-term projects.
Even though National Signing Day didn't provide the fireworks that seemed possible just a few short days ago, the Horns still managed to flip two prospects at the last minute in Aledo wide receiver Ryan Newsome from UCLA and Beaumont Central safety PJ Locke from Oregon.
Texas also secured a commitment from Rockwall running back Chris Warren to make it the most successful National Signing Day in terms of actual additions on the day itself.
Now the class overall has to live up to its lofty billing.
Needs: One or two
Baltimore (Mary.) Gilman's Kai Locksley
6'3 | 188 pounds | **** | No. 336 overall | No. 23 athlete | No. 6 player in Maryland
A Monday commitment ahead of Locksley's planned Wednesday decision ensured that Texas wouldn't miss on a quarterback in the class after New Mexico quarterback Zach Gentry's decommitment and the miss on five-star Texas A&M pledge Kyler Murray.
Considered a raw passer but an excellent athlete, Locksley should fit in the new Horns offense, but probably isn't a strong candidate to contend for early playing time unless Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard struggle mightily in the fall.
Irving Cistercian's Matthew Merrick
6'3 | 185 pounds | *** | No. 1458 overall | No. 57 pro-style quarterback | No. 157 player in Texas
Despite holding offers from Colorado State and Nevada, Merrick opted for a grayshirt offer from Texas in late November, eventually helping the Horns land a visit from his close friend, five-star running back Soso Jamabo. However, Strong said Wednesday that there are several spots left in the class, leaving open the possibility that Merrick could have a scholarship next fall.
More importantly, Merrick provided insurance against missing on the other quarterbacks and will provide the staff with a long-term developmental project as a prospect with excellent touch, but footwork that can break down at times. He's the type of prospect that Baylor has been able to eventually turn into productive passers over the last few years and could do again with Seth Russell in 2015.
Needs: Three or four
San Jose (Calif.) Valley Christian's Kirk Johnson
6'0 | 205 pounds | *** | No. 366 overall | No. 25 athlete | No. 50 player in California
The Texas legacy saw his recruitment took off late after he picked up his first offer from Texas at the second Junior Day in 2013, eventually picking up eight other offers, including invitations to play at Cal, USC, and Washington. Hobbled by an ankle injury as a junior, Johnson was the SPARQ MVP at the Oakland NFTC in May of 2014 and went on to create an impressive highlight film as a senior that bodes well for his ability to make an impact in Austin at the running back position.
Galena Park North Shore's Tristian Houston
5'11 | 195 pounds | *** | No. 542 overall | No. 45 running back | No. 73 player in Texas
A delay in Houston's offer by a month and a half didn't keep him from committing on the spot when it finally came through in April of 2014. The pledge maintained the Horns pipeline to the Golden Triangle powerhouse and Houston never seriously wavered despite some discussion of other visits. Offers from LSU, Mississippi State, and UCLA provide some credence to the belief that he has more upside than his ranking would suggest. Mostly an outside runner in high school in the jet sweep game, Houston will need to get stronger and may need some time to adjust to running in between the tackles more often.
Rockwall's Chris Warren
6'2 | 242 pounds | **** | No. 77 overall | No. 8 running back | No. 12 player in Texas
It apparently took a coin toss for Warren to determine whether he would pick Texas or Washington on National Signing Day, even though everyone thought he was a Longhorns lean throughout nearly the entire process. His addition gives the Horns a big, physical back who can pick up yards after contact, but still has remarkable speed for his size since he has run a sub-11 second 100m dash -- he can pull away from defensive backs.
Needs: Three or four
Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln's John Burt
6'3 | 180 pounds | **** | No. 138 overall | No. 14 wide receiver | No. 21 player in Florida
After committing to Texas last July, Burt's commitment looked in jeopardy when he took two visits to Auburn during the fall. For some time the family was split about the decision, with Burt's mother preferring Texas and his father preferring Auburn. But after decommitting in early January, the high-upside wide receiver declared the Horns his leader and then recommitted the week before National Signing Day.
Still a bit unpolished, Burt nonetheless made huge strides as a senior, producing big plays on a consistent basis instead of starring mostly on special teams. With a similar build and skill set to departed pass-catcher John Harris, Burt has a chance to contribute early if he keeps improving at such a rapid rate. He's not quite as polished as Ole Miss signee DaMarkus Lodge, but he narrowed the gap tremendously over the last year.
Mesquite Poteet's DeAndre McNeal
6'2 | 228 pounds | **** | No. 308 overall | No. 20 athlete | No. 44 player in Texas
The close friend of Malik Jefferson was the first of the two to admit he wanted to go to Texas the night before they announced together. Jefferson asked him what he was going to do and McNeal started singing "Deep in the heart of Texas," setting off a raucous celebration that eventually broke a chair in his parent's kitchen. McNeal's decision helped solidify Jefferson's decision after his own wide-open recruiting process impacted significantly by the departure of Texas A&M wide receivers coach David Beaty.
Considered in some places to have a higher athletic ceiling than Jefferson, McNeal is a remarkable athlete for his size who could create mismatches across the field for Texas -- he's capable of playing H-back and inside and outside wide receiver for the Horns. In the open field, he has a remarkable ability to make defenders miss for a player of his size.
Georgia Prep's Gilbert Johnson
6'2 | 190 pounds | *** | No. 8 prep player overall | No. 2 prep wide receiver | No. 2 prep player in Georgia
The final member of the Florida Five (now the Florida Four) to commit, Johnson signed with Georgia out of high school before grade issues forced him to head to Georgia Prep. He also held an offer from Kansas and should provide the Horns with a strong red-zone threat, as he's excellent at using his big body to box out smaller defenders before high pointing the football. Athletically, he's not the fastest player or the most refined in his route running, so there could be a developmental curve for him outside of his ability close to the end zone.
Aledo's Ryan Newsome
5'8 | 170 pounds | **** | No. 225 overall | No. 27 wide receiver | No. 32 player in Texas
Before he committed to UCLA nearly two weeks ago, Newsome called Strong late the night before to tell him that he was going to Texas, then changed his mind. Strong gave him a few days, then resumed his recruitment. So on Tuesday evening, Newsome once again called the Texas head coach to tell him that he wanted to be a Longhorn. And this time it happened.
One of the fastest players in the state and a dynamic return man, Newsome should earn starting roles on punt return and possibly even kick return as soon as this fall. He's also a great fit in a more spread, uptempo offense because he can take short passes and turn them into big games, providing the Horns with a badly-needed playmaker.
Needs: One or two
Miami (Fla.) Westminster Devonaire Clarington
6'5 | 238 pounds | **** | No. 203 player overall | No. 7 tight end | No. 29 player in Florida
Another member of the Florida Four, Clarington pledged at the 2015 US Army All-American Bowl after hometown Miami botched his recruitment by falling out of contact with him last fall, allowing Texas to make a move after his official visit in early November. However, there are concerns about him qualifying academically.
Successfully sold on playing a versatile role as a wide receiver, H-back, and tight end, Clarington is a wide receiver in a tight end's body at this point and will need to grow as a blocker to play with his hand on the ground, but he's like McNeal in that he's a mismatch for most defenders. As a result, he's also the most important tight end commit for Texas since Jermichael Finley a decade ago.
Needs: Six or seven
East Mississippi CC offensive tackle Brandon Hodges
6'5 | 295 pounds | *** | No. 38 JUCO overall | No. 8 JUCO offensive tackle | No. JUCO player in Mississippi
Mostly unknown when Texas offered, Hodges eventually rose in the rankings to become a four-star prospect by Scout with offers from schools like Louisville, Mississippi State, Missouri, and Oklahoma State. As an early enrollee, he should be able to come in and compete for a starting position at either tackle spot, but the hope is that he can play left tackle after doing so at EMCC. The passing game there didn't include a lot of deep drops, so pass protection could be an issue against speed rushers early.
Euless Trinity offensive guard Patrick Vahe
6'2.5 | 300 pounds | **** | No. 130 overall | No. 2 center | No. 16 player in Texas
The only remaining holdover from the early commitments to former head coach Mack Brown, Vahe never took any official visits to other schools, even though his cousins, the Teuhema brothers, ended up decommitting from Texas and ending up at LSU. Due to Vahe's agility pulling and getting to the second level in general, he's considered a candidate to play center, but could also end up at guard. One of the best run blockers Texas has signed in recent years, he'll also become the first Pacific Islander to play for the Longhorns.
Coppell offensive lineman Connor Williams
6'5 | 275 pounds | *** | No. 498 overall | No. 56 offensive tackle | No. 64 player in Texas
As with several other players in the class, the offer list for Williams is more impressive than his rankings -- he held around 30 offers, including invitations to play at schools as diverse as Arkansas, Baylor, Georgia, Kansas State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Oregon. Like Hodges, Williams is already on campus, giving him a chance to develop some needed strength and work on developing a better punch. Already a solid pass protector, Williams is a lean athlete that offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Wickline can hold in his own image.
Many (La.) offensive lineman Garrett Thomas
6'5.5 | 306 pounds | *** | No. 565 overall | No. 36 offensive guard | No. 29 player in Louisiana
With offers from the likes of Arkansas, Auburn, Miami, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, and South Carolina, Thomas is another offensive lineman who boasts a number of high-profile offers despite his modest three-star ranking. Some additional upside for Texas? Wickline believes that Thomas can play offensive tackle. Based on his size, weight, and movement abilities, there isn't any obvious evidence to contradict the line guru. He's a powerful player with a good motor who needs to improve his pad level and hand placement.
Navarro College offensive tackle Tristan Nickelson
6'8.5 | 319 pounds | ** | No. 245 JUCO overall | No. 29 JUCO offensive tackle | No. 27 JUCO player in Texas
The massive prospect is an early enrollee and a full qualifier out of high school who went to prep school and then Navarro, giving him four years to play three seasons, even though he was a member of the 2013 recruiting class. Briefly committed to Iowa State, Texas was able to flip Nickelson quickly after extending an offer. Capable of engulfing opponents because of his pure size, Nickelson looks like a project who will need some time to develop his strength and footwork.
Huntsville offensive tackle Ronnie Major
6'6 | 290 pounds | *** | No. 506 overall | No. 57 offensive tackle | No. 66 player in Texas
Junior Days aren't what they used to be at Texas, but the Horns were able to secure a big flip from Baylor at Strong's first Junior Day in Austin, no small accomplishment given how well the Bears identify and develop players at the position.As with Clarington, Major will need a strong spring semester to qualify. If he does, the Horns will get a prospect with outstanding physical tools -- his frame is impressive, he's got great body quickness, and he's a strong athlete overall.
Needs: Four or five
Navarro College defensive end Quincy Vasser
6'4 | 260 pounds | *** | No. 47 JUCO overall | No. 4 strong-side defensive end | No. 5 JUCO in Texas
A visit to Austin for the Thanksgiving game against TCU was all that the New York product needed to decide to switch his longtime pledge from Georgia to Texas. Since Vasser was originally a member of the 2012 recruiting class, he's had three years to mature physically and mentally, making him the age of most college seniors. So he should be able to step in immediately for strong end Cedric Reed after enrolling early. With good athleticism, Vasser could make some plays as a pass rusher, but his best value will be holding the point of attack against the run in the 3-3-5 looks that Strong likes to employ.
Rowlett defensive end Charles Omenihu
6'5 | 232 pounds | *** | No. 423 overall | No. 14 weak-side defensive end | No. 58 player in Texas
Relatively unknown at the time that Texas extended an offer, Omenihu could emerge as one of the best early evaluations by Strong in his tenure as a Longhorn. After pledging in late February, Omenihu picked up offers from schools like Florida, LSU, Notre Dame, and Oregon. Mostly a strong run defender as a junior, the increasingly muscular recruit showed off his pass-rushing ability at the Dallas NFTC in 2014 to answer questions about his ability off the edge even though he's probably still a year away from contributing.
Houston Clear Falls defensive tackle Du'Vonta Lampkin
6'3 | 291 pounds | *** | No. 344 overall | No. 23 defensive tackle | No. 48 player in Texas
The former Oklahoma commit is one of the most important prospects in the class because he's the only defensive tackle in the group -- and only the third defensive tackle taken in the last three classes -- and because there were plenty of rumors about him wavering late in the process. Over the final few days, however, there weren't many concerns.
Since Lampkin played a 3-4 defensive end position in high school, he could play a similar role in Austin, but he's more likely to play three-technique defensive tackle eventually. None of his physical skills are outstanding, including his first step and overall athleticism, but he's got a solid motor and some upside at a major need position.
Mesquite Poteet outside linebacker Malik Jefferson
6'3 | 215 pounds | ***** | No. 10 overall | No. 1 outside linebacker | No. 1 player in Texas
The best linebacker prospect the Longhorns have landed since Jordan Hicks in 2010, Jefferson is also the first No. 1 prospect in the state to head to Texas since Jackson Jeffcoat in that same cycle. His pick of the Longhorns over the Aggies on December 19 was a bit surprising given the strong position Texas A&M had held for some time and helped set off some significant recruiting momentum for Texas.
A game-changing rush linebacker for Poteet, Jefferson will almost certainly transition to the weak-side position vacated by Hicks' departure. If there's an adjustment period for Jefferson, it shouldn't last longer than the spring because of his football intelligence. And with his athleticism physicality, giving him a chance to play downhill as a blitzer at times wouldn't be a bad idea. The hope is that Jefferson will be ready to start by the 2015 opener against Notre Dame and emerge as a potential All-American in his time at Texas.
Dallas Skyline outside linebacker Anthony Wheeler
6'2 | 225 pounds | **** | No. 74 overall | No. 7 outside linebacker | No. 11 player in Texas
In a back-and-forth battle between the Red River rivals, Texas won out late in a surprising announcement at the 2015 Under Armour All-America game. A candidate to be the first player off the bus as a freshman, Wheeler is a physical freak who doesn't have ideal speed, but impressed during Under Armour week with his physicality and ability to sift through traffic to make plays. If he keeps putting on weight, he could move to the Fox position and would be a good candidate as a blitzer regardless because of his exceptional strength.
Fort Bend Ridge Point outside linebacker Cameron Townsend
6'0.5 | 205 pounds | **** | No. 267 overall | No. 19 outside linebacker | No. 27 player in Texas
Texas led with Townsend through virtually the entire process, so it was hardly a surprise when he committed to the Horns in late October. Undersized, Townsend is a much different outside linebacker than Jefferson or Wheeler -- he'll likely play on the strong side to give Texas the chance to avoid using a nickel corner against some spread sets. Since he plays downhill mostly in high school, he'll have to adjust to playing in coverage, but he has the athleticism and range to do so.
Lakeland (Fla.) Victory Christian middle linebacker Cecil Cherry
6'0 | 230 pounds | *** | No. 424 overall | No. 16 inside linebacker | No. 61 player in Florida
The one-time Tennessee pledge was the leader of the so-called Florida Five before it became the Florida Four, endearing himself to Texas fans in the process. The attitude should carry over to the football field when he arrives on campus. A tough, physical player with good short-area quickness, Cherry will have to prove his ability to play in two-linebacker sets against the spread. If that doesn't happen, he was impressive as a bowling ball of a running back in high school and could make the transition to fullback.
Westlake outside linebacker Breckyn Hager
6'4 | 220 pounds | *** | No. 1503 overall | No. 67 weak-side defensive end | No. 177 player in Texas
When the Horns were in much greater need of linebackers, flipping Hager from the Bears was a reasonably significant accomplishment, especially after his older brother's success there. So having Britt Hager's son in burnt orange is a victory, even if his rankings aren't impressive. A possible Fox end for the Longhorns, Hager is a solid athlete who understands the game and is excellent using his hands at the point of attack. And who one would question the instincts of a Hager, right?
Needs: Five or six
Houston Lamar cornerback Holton Hill
6'2 | 184 pounds | **** | No. 80 overall | No. 7 cornerback | No. 13 player in Texas
When Hill committed to the Horns last Friday with his friend Kris Boyd, it was perhaps the most impactful day of cornerback recruiting in modern Texas history, as it has been five years since Texas landed a single top-10 cornerback. Hill looks like an instant-impact contributor because of his length, physicality, leaping ability, and overall ball skills that should allow him to lock down X receivers in college. He's a stud.
Gilmer cornerback Kris Boyd
5'11.5 | 185 pounds | **** | No. 98 overall | No. 11 cornerback | No. 14 player in Texas
Once the leader way back in the summer of 2013, Strong and his staff had to battle Texas A&M and even Baylor for Boyd's services. Then rumors swirled on Monday that he might still end up an Aggie until he put a stop to that by re-affirming his commitment late in the day. A jack of all trades in high school, Boyd could play running back or wide receiver in college, but his potential NFL future is at cornerback, where he can use his instincts and size/speed/length combination in press or man coverage. He could quickly earn the starting nickel back role in 2015.
Miami (Fla.) Booker T Washington cornerback Davante Davis
6'3 | 200 pounds | **** | No. 309 overall | No. 29 cornerback | No. 43 player in Florida
Another member of what is now the Florida Four, Davis looked like he could flip to Auburn with friend Tim Irvin when he set a visit to see the Tigers. However, despite the fact that Davis took an in-state official visit to Miami, he never made it to Auburn and re-affirmed his commitment to Texas last week. Long and lean, Davis fits Strong's preferred mold of cornerback and covers ground better than he tests in a straight line. When he gets to the ball, he finishes play, while his length allows him to get physical with opposing wide receivers. Sense a theme here?
Rockwall-Heath safety DeShon Elliott
6'1 | 200 pounds | **** | No. 182 overall | No. 10 safety | No. 25 player in Texas
The 2015 Under Armour All-American committed last March over Texas A&M despite the fact that several of his former teammates are either in College Station there or headed there as part of the 2015 class. As a hybrid defender who could end up playing close to the line of scrimmage as a box safety, SAM linebacker, or nickel back, Elliott's versatility makes him highly appealing. He's physical, he closes fast, can play zone, and hawks the ball. Again, this all sounds familiar, right?
Beaumont Central safety PJ Locke
5'10 | 189 pounds | *** | No. 590 overall | No. 38 safety | No. 78 player in Texas
Texas circled back on the longtime Oregon commit over the weekend and despite the fact that he re-affirmed his commitment to the Ducks on Monday, a report came out on Tuesday that he would flip to the Horns and he did so in the early-morning hours. More of a replacement for Tim Irvin than Jamile Johnson, the player whose decommitment opened up the spot for Locke, the Central product could challenge for early playing time there because he has many of the same attributes that made Quandre Diggs successful there, including first-step quickness, toughness, and ball skills.