With the spring game in the rearview mirror and the coaching staff about to hit the road to see recruits during the evaluation period, recruiting is about to become the primary focus once again before hitting the summer lull on calendar. We are often asked how we see the recruiting class playing out and which recruits we think will end up factoring in come National Signing Day. While we won’t always have the answers, we will always provide you with the facts along with our opinions mixed in along the way.
This piece falls in the opinion category and the aim is to generate some discussion as we kick off the part of the year that most college football fans dread, as they count down the days until the season kicks off. In this article, each individual on the HornSports staff was polled to see which five recruits in the 2018 recruiting class they considered to be must haves in regards to Texas. This doesn’t mean these guys are necessarily going to end up at Texas, but it is more of a top priority list based on the individual’s preference.
With D’Onta Foreman declaring for the NFL Draft, the coaching staff has a tall order filling his shoes. Even though the staff signed Toneil Carter and Daniel Young this past cycle, they still need to sign a stud running back this cycle. It’s a down year in-state, but Ingram is a stud and his ability to be a catch the ball out of the backfield makes him an even bigger asset in the new offense. When Urban Meyer is personally recruiting you, then you know you are doing something right as a player.
When you debate about who the top player in the state of Texas is this cycle, then the conversation has to include Foster. The five star safety from Angleton has long been high on the Longhorns, and would give the class one heck of a headline and credibility within the state. When I saw Foster at The Opening as a sophomore last summer, he already looked like he belonged as one of the nation’s elite prospects. Despite him missing most of his junior season with an injury, my feelings remain unchanged on Foster.
The highest rated prospect of the Lamar trio, Cook is one of the highest rated and most polished corners in the entire country. While Jalen Green certainly has a case for being the state’s top corner, Cook hails from “DB High” and would keep a talent rich pipeline steadily flowing towards Austin. Getting D’Shawn Jamison and Al’vonte Woodard in the boat certainly wouldn’t hurt Texas’ chances with Cook down the line.
With Connor Williams likely being a three and done NFL talent, and right tackle already being a liability, Ghirmai is an easy pick for me in this class. Like running back, it’s a down year in-state at the tackle position, but Ghirmai is a high upside prospect that holds offers from some of the top prospects in the country. Texas needs more bodies like Ghirmai in the pipeline, as they prepare for life without Williams on the blind side.
While this recruitment started off as a long shot, the race seems to have tightened a bit and the Longhorns are in the thick of things along with Texas A&M. Wright easily had some of the most enjoyable and dominant tape I turned on of any recruits this cycle, and from the moment I got a chance to watch him I knew he was going to rank highly on my list of must have recruits. Texas needs more difference makers in the front seven and Wright is exactly that.
There’s a reason Cook is the No. 2 ranked corner in the country. It is essential for Texas to reel in the Houston Lamar product. Not only could they use the depth at corner, but also reeling in the 5-star could have a domino effect on the other Texas recruits coming out of Houston Lamar. If Texas lands Cook, they will also be in even better shape with Al’vonte Woodard and D’shawn Jamison. Cook also has the potential to be an early contributor for the Longhorns. His talent out of the secondary is worth the hype.
As seen this spring, Texas is having depth issues at running back. With injuries piling up and Chris Warren III possibly heading to the NFL contingent on a good year, Texas must restock the position. Fortunately, Ingram is the perfect candidate. After the Texas State Championships last season, Ingram really blew up. He carried Carthage to the state title, rushing for 2,225 yards total in the 2016 season. After Junior Day Ingram was close to pulling the trigger and committing to Texas, but wanted to take his time in the process. Texas stands in a very good position with Ingram. If they miss out on the Carthage product, they will have to look out of state for a running back. Tom Herman and Stan Drayton do not want to do that.
Eagles is the perfect candidate to come into the Texas offense and factor in at outside wide receiver. The main issue for Texas? Their wide receiver corps is stacked. It also certainly does not help that Eagles is being recruited by the likes of Clemson, LSU, and Ohio State. Tom Herman and Drew Mehringer are going to have their work cut out for them until February in this recruitment. With Collin Johnson likely only being here for two more seasons, this staff needs to find an outside threat capable of replacing him. By the time Eagles arrived on campus, he could even be Johnson’s compliment on the outside. It’s a good equation for Texas, but they must execute. Eagles wants to see how Texas performs this season. He is not interested in rebuilding a program. He wants to win, and wants to see Texas win. If Herman gets at least 8 wins in 2017, they will be squarely in the mix for Eagles.
The tight end position is the biggest area of need for Texas. With Reese Leitao only having a small chance of making it to campus, Cade Brewer needing a redshirt season, and Andrew Beck not being consistently healthy, Texas must take at least 1 tight end in ’18. Unfortunately the top target on the Longhorns board, Mustapha Muhammad, is trending heavily towards Michigan. The next target on Texas’ board is Dekaney tight end Malcolm Epps. As of right now, this recruitment appears to be split 50/50 between Texas and Texas A&M. The issue for Herman right now is that he cannot use the tight end much in his offense because of injuries.
Hopefully, Herman will be able to utilize Andrew Beck enough in 2017 to show ’18 tight ends enough to bring them on board. Another positive on this is that Texas could take 2 tight ends in both Malcolm Epps and Bralen Taylor. If Taylor were offered, Texas would be in a good position. However, the lack of an offer has hurt the Longhorns with Taylor at the moment. Tom Herman has some ground to make up if/when he offers Taylor. For now, he should focus on Epps.
Texas is hurting at right tackle on the offensive line. In another year they will be hurting at left tackle, too after the almost inevitable departure of future NFL offensive linemen Connor Williams. With this in mind, Texas must land a tackle in the 2018 class. The best available tackle that Texas has a legitimate chance with is Rafiti Ghirmai. Texas is the early favorite for the Frisco Wakeland offensive tacle, but other major programs are creeping in. Alabama, LSU, and Florida are all legitimate threats for Ghirmai. Derek Warehime has some serious work cut out for him down the road. However if Texas lands Ghirmai, they may have a solution to one out of 2 problems at offensive tackle.
Texas has needed a playmaking tight end for a very, very long time. Texas has missed on the top in-state prospect at tight-end every single year since 2009. In fact, last year was Texas’ best in-state haul at the position since MJ McFarland back in 2011.
Texas needs to reverse this trend this year, and bring in a top tight end who can play early. This year, that prospect comes in the form of Mustapha Muhammad, Fort Bend Ridge Point’s 6’4” 235 pound, do-it-all tight end. Muhammad is by far the best tight end in the state. It is extremely rare to find a complete tight end that is polished in both catching and blocking right out of high school. He’s a guy who would be in the fight to be a starter the moment he stepped on the field at Texas.
Connor Williams will not be playing for Texas in 2018. Longhorn fans might as well start to come to terms with that fact starting now, so the pain is dulled when he declares for the NFL Draft. Behind him are a bunch of guys who are unproven at the college level. This means Texas is seriously lacking depth at the tackle position.
Unfortunately, the state is not incredibly loaded this cycle when it comes to the offensive tackles. That’s why Texas needs to land Ghirmai and he is a top priority. The 6’5” 290lbs Frisco Wakeland product is the closest thing in this cycle to a sure thing. He has displayed impressive power and technique along with having the best film of any offensive lineman in the state.
After a few big misses in 2017, Texas really needs to hit on Ghirmaii Ghirmai to start to establish some solid depth at the tackle position.
Next year there is a very good chance Texas loses one or two of their top corners to the NFL. Tom Herman has been on record saying that he is only comfortable with three corners this year. Texas needs to stockpile corners in the 2018 class, especially since this class is loaded with them. This move to stockpile must to start in Houston with Anthony Cook, the top cornerback in the state.
Cook is a ferocious corner. At 170 pounds, he plays with the strength of 220 pounds and knows exactly how to use his hands to maximize that strength. He is a great and polished cornerback with a very high ceiling. Texas will need a corner who can come in and provide instant, reliable depth the second he puts on burnt orange. Cook is capable of being that guy.
Texas has been searching for an answer at inside linebacker since Steve Edmond and Peter Jinkens left. Texas has not been able to land a high school prospect at the position for a few years now. This leaves Texas in a position where they have three juniors at inside linebacker and basically no one else behind them. Texas needs to start building depth here fast and Alston Orji seems to be the answer.
There are a lot of publications out there that currently are not high on the Rockwall linebacker; however, I was impressed with what I saw from him when I watched him during camps this spring. Orji displayed something that I find very important for linebackers, especially in a pass happy league like the Big 12: coverage ability. When Orji drops back he displays sound field awareness, understanding of responsibility, and ability to break on a ball.
At 6’2” 220 pounds, Orji is strong enough to take on an offensive guard and adept enough at the pass rush that he’ll fit a Todd Orlando scheme easily. Orji is the best linebacker in the state that Texas has a shot with. Since this year appears to be a down year at the linebacker position, Orji is a must get.
Leon O’Neal Jr.
I don’t think I’ve met a recruit with that is more outspoken and has more work ethic than Leon O’Neal Jr. Although it is something you can’t always tell, I’m almost positive O’Neal really does have the mindset necessary to succeed at the next level.
And that’s not all that he has. Along with his mindset he has length, speed, size, and polish. He’d come into the Texas and maintain a steady stream of necessary talent at the safety position and become a coach on the field later on in his career.
On top of all this, O'Neal has clout. If Texas were to sway O'Neal to sport the burnt orange, then they would immediately be in a good position for the vast majority of the talent in state. He is a must get.