Despite inking yet another No. 3-ranked recruiting haul to cap the 2019 cycle, most would agree the Texas Longhorns missed on the highest-rated targets at the running back position.
While Texas did sign four-star Buford star Derrian Brown, a pair of National Signing Day disappointments largely overshadowed that early addition, as Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy running backs Noah Cain and Trey Sanders each spurned Texas, taking their talents to Penn State and Alabama, respectively.
The best way for Texas to overcome those losses? Sign an even more highly-touted running back in 2020. At this early juncture, the Longhorns are in a fairly ideal position to do exactly that with Galena Park North Shore ball carrier Zachary Evans headlining the big board.
Recently crowned the as the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2020 class, and furthermore, as the 34th-highest-ranked recruit evaluated by the services, per the 247Sports Composite, Evans would provide Texas with its most highly-touted running back talent ever.
Positional considerations aside, Vince Young is the only Longhorn ever labeled as a higher-ranked recruit at, coming in at No. 4 all-time. Simply put, the early evaluations strongly suggest that Evans is a generational talent. Being the home-grown Houston-area talent that he is, Evans is as much of a must-land for the Longhorns as any 2020 prospect as a result.
This isn’t true merely because Evans is the No. 1 overall recruit in the country. It’s because the Longhorns haven’t signed the top-ranked talent in the country since the aforementioned Young came aboard in 2002. In part, that’s because between the Vince Young-led 2002 class and now, only once — Palestine running back Adrian Peterson in 2004 — has the top prospect in the country called the state of Texas home.
That, of course, has now changed with Evans capturing the top spot in the 2020 class, and not only is he a Texas native, but quite arguably a Texas lean.
The close proximity certainly helps the Horns here, but to this point, Evans has visited the Forty Acres far more frequently than any other school. Throughout the 2018 calendar year, Evans toured Texas six times, witnessing wins over Baylor and Iowa State.
“It was a good visit. They executed, and the running back did more of what I like to see,” Evans told BON’s Joe Hamilton after watching Tre Watson and Keaontay Ingram amass 150 yards and 5.8 yards per carry against a stout Cyclones defense in November. “The offensive line did their job. The coaching staff was expressing to me how they could use a back like me, how I would fit in their offense, and what my role would be.”
In the months since that November visit, Evans has named Texas in his top 11 and returned to Austin for yet another tour in mid-January. Far more notable than what Evans has done, however, is what the Longhorns have accomplished.
Every recruit has that checklist they consider while evaluating their options and Evans is no exception. Some prospects want to see a winning product on the field, some seek a strong relationship with the staff; one renowned for development, while others pursue prestigious academic opportunities. Evans wants to see an elite-level offensive line blocking for him.
To that end, CJ Robinson, his brother and a key presence in his recruitment, told BON Texas is showing Evans exactly that.
Aside from the considerable step forward offensive line coach Herb Hand’s unit flashed in 2018, Texas signed a trio of four-star offensive tackles throughout the 2019 cycle, while the 2020 class already features another trio of four-star offensive linemen in Logan Parr, Jake Majors, and Jaylen Garth.
The general consensus suggests that No. 6 offensive tackle Chad Lindberg will also ultimately join that bunch, which, of course, would bode well for the Horns, as Evans has a developing rapport with Lindberg and Parr. Furthermore, Texas remains a factor with Evans’ teammate, four-star Houston North Shore offensive tackle Damieon George.
Of course, Texas is far from the only program constructing a prominent front five, as other options such as Texas A&M, Alabama, LSU, Clemson, Georgia, and Oklahoma can offer premier offensive line play, as well. But of the 11 programs still in contention for the top talent in the nation, it’s Texas showing the most love, Robinson said, noting that he talks to head coach Tom Herman and running backs coach Stan Drayton every day.
As one could expect when pursuing a potentially generational prospect of Evans’ caliber, the pitch is quite simple — the Texas running back room could be his for the taking.
With 2018 starter Tre Watson’s eligibility now in the rearview, while Kyle Porter and Tristian Houston remain in the transfer portal, the Texas running back room is not only fairly thin but considerably unproven. Yes, Ingram boasts all-conference upside entering his sophomore season, but various ailments limited him to only 142 carries for 708 yards in 2018, and furthermore, at least to this point, prevented him from proving capable of shouldering the workhorse-like load he thrived with while at Carthage.
As the incumbent starter-to-be, Ingram will enjoy the entire 2019 slate to blossom into the star-caliber ball carrier Texas’ offense would so greatly benefit from. But if that role remains vacant entering the 2020 offseason, it may only strengthen Texas’ pitch in its pursuit of Evans, who certainly looks the part of a program-changing back, as detailed by 247Sports:
“Dynamically athletic running back with prototype size and frame potential relative to the position. Owns college-ready build with frame space to add more bulk. Flashes elite athleticism verified in combine testing environment. Makes it look easy, sometimes to the point that it’s deceptive. Shows great top-end speed and outstanding close-quarters lateral mobility confirmed by a 3.91 shuttle. Flashes devastating start-stop-start ability in close quarters, coupled with impressive hesitation stutter. Effortlessly strings moves together in the open field to elude multiple defenders. Chameleon in ability to alter running styles, going from elusive darter to hole-punching, straight-line galloper. Home run hitter with high-volume capability. Patient and presses the line of scrimmage to set up blocks. Size and strength potential could provide high ceiling in blitz pickup. At times dances in the backfield rather than accelerating through the hole. Sometimes an upright runner who presents a bigger target. Does not always finish runs with expected strength. Will try to bounce runs too often. Could get on the field immediately at high-major level and become a Power 5 star, in addition to first-round NFL Draft ceiling.”
Should Texas ultimately outlast all other suitors and win the Zach Evans sweepstakes, his arrival on the Forty Acres in 2020 would coincide with what may very well be a peaking Texas roster, especially. By that point, the Texas offense should feature a senior — and likely star — quarterback in Sam Ehlinger, a deep and talented collection of receivers, as well as notable talent, experience, and depth along the offensive line.
The running back room, however, remains uncertain and unproven, and Evans is the kind of can’t-miss talent that could alleviate those concerns and help put the Texas offense over the top; that, or bolster it further should Ingram develop as anticipated.
With Evans’ recruitment set to remain open until the February signing day, Texas is tasked with fending off numerous other top programs throughout the next 11-plus months, but as if it isn’t clear by this point, he’s a talent who’d be well worth the wait and the recruiting efforts expended along the way.