2018 Texas Football Recruiting: Defense and Future Depth

Posted by    |    July 16th, 2017 at 2:49 pm

One of the coolest elements in this season’s edition of Thinking Texas Football (buy one today!) is the broad-based breakdown of Tom Herman’s overall recruiting strategy and inroads with the all-important 2018 recruiting class that’s brought to you by The Man Himself of the Longhorn recruitocosm, Eric Nahlin of Inside Texas.

It’s no revelatory insight that recruiting is A) the lifeblood of any program and B) highly important EVERY season, but the importance of knocking the 2018 class out of the park comes into sharpest relief in the context of Texas’ pending needs in the next few seasons. I figured it would be fun to take a look at the current pledges and top targets for the 2018 class in the context of Texas’ projected depth charts for the next three seasons, with some selected color commentary on individual recruits excerpted from this year’s TTF.

For starters, here’s a visual (if a tad squinty) take on the depth at each position in Todd Orlando’s defense heading into the 2018, 2019 and 2020 seasons.


In each season the individual players are color-coded for seniority, and the number next to their name indicates a projected level of play if they’re logging significant snaps in that season (ranging from a 5 for All-American, difference-making domination to a 1 for Cam’ron Hughes-style hostage holding at the position). Generally a guy is expected to hit his star ranking as an upperclassman unless he’s already shown us something to rev our engines or give us pause. The numbers by the committed/targeted recruits’ names indicate their current consensus star ranking, not an endorsement that they’ll hit that level of play as a freshman.

Let’s see what the future looks to hold across the Longhorn defense.

Nose Tackle: Right now the 2018 and 2019 Longhorn squads are slated to lean heavily on the notion of D’Andre Christmas getting lighter, healthier and living up to the excitement generated by his high school HUDL highlights. Chris Daniels has miles to go before resembling the athletic, penetrating nose that Orlando covets. While the above graphic shows why the staff recently moved 6’4”, 320 pound Tope Imade to nose, successful OL-to-DL conversions are vanishingly scarce. It’s an indication of a screaming need for bodies that only gets more pronounced as the calendar moves forward.

Current 2018 Commits: None

Key 2018 Targets:

Keondre Coubrn, Spring Westfield (Houston, TX) – 6-foot-1, 330: A true nose tackle or 1-tech, Coburn’s a bowling ball with good ability off the snap and improving lateral agility. His body type will offer some concern but he’s worked hard in recent years to reshape and he’s gotten more athletic in the process. (EN)

Defensive Tackle: Chris Nelson should be on hand to hold down the fort in 2018, but a Gerald Wilbon/Max Cummins combo running the show in 2019 is cause for pause. While neither guy should get pre-emptively slated for JAG status, Wilbon is a space eater trying to turn himself into a penetrator while Cummins has plenty of work in the weight room before he’s ready to dance with the big boys.

Current 2018 Commits: None

Key 2018 Targets:

Ronnie Perkins, Lutheran North (St. Louis, MO) – 6-foot-3, 255: With the dearth of 4i’s in-state the staff is forced to look beyond the borders. That’s led them to Perkins, the one time OU lean. Texas losing Ron Tatum to the Sooners added a roadblock for OU and removed one from UT. Perkins is highly rated and has good film, but his testing numbers are poor enough to give me some pause. (EN)

Bobby Brown, Lamar (Arlington, TX) – 6-foot-4, 275: Brown is a tough one to figure out as his sophomore film was much better than his junior year. From a projection standpoint, he already has a great frame and is young for his grade. He’s also a quality wrestler who plays a position, 4i, that is in very short supply. That explains his offer list. Right now Alabama leads, but Texas has recruited him inconsistently. Brown really looks up to former teammate Shane Buechele so that could help matters down the stretch. (EN)

Strongside DE: Right now this looks like the Longhorns’ most stable position on the down DL heading into the next couple of seasons. 2018 should be stout with Malcolm Roach and Charles Omenihu offering an impressive 1-2 punch, and if Roach doesn’t grow into an utter monster next year and depart early then 2019 is reasonably well stacked with Fitzgerald and Graham coming into their own.

Current 2018 Commits: None

Key 2018 Targets: Nobody feels like an SDE at the moment, though Perkins could end up on that side and/or Joseph Ossai (see below) could grow into the position with Fitzgerald kicking over to DT depending on how various things shake out on the trail and in the weight room.

B-Backer: 2018 should be in great shape if Hager makes my presumed move to the outside, as he and McCulloch should combine for some All Conference-caliber production even if they cut into each other’s numbers enough to prevent either from bagging post-season hardware. McCulloch and Marquez Bimage should be a fine 1-2 in 2019 provided Bimage allays concerns about his overall fluidity. You can never have too much heat, though, and it’s at a particular premium at the B-Backer spot since the down DL fight a bit of an uphill battle in the pass rush department due to alignment.

Current 2018 Commits:

LB: Byron Hobbs, Eastern Hills (Fort Worth, TX) – 6-foot-4, 210: Hobbs a summer baby, meaning he’ll still be 17 when he arrives on the 40 Acres. Subtracting basketball and track from his schedule, while adding age and a meal plan means Hobbs may add as much as 40 pounds of muscle. With his willingness to be physical and ability to handle himself in space, he could be Todd Orlando’s prototype b-backer. (EN)

Key 2018 Targets:

LB/DE: Joseph Ossai, Oak Ridge (Conroe, TX) – 6-foot-4, 220: Ossai moved to the States from Nigeria seven years ago and his agility speaks to growing with soccer as his sport. He also bends well off the edge, but what I really like is he has a football player’s disposition despite his futbol roots. He has some nastiness to him. Like Wright, he’s a better schematic fit for Texas (b-backer), but he also fancies A&M. Texas will have to play the long game and hope to win him over with the totality of the Texas sales pitch. (EN)

Rover:

We’re projecting Malik Jefferson to head to the League after 2018, leaving Edwin Freeman to hold down the fort next season. Gary Johnson could end up being a Rover if he can’t gain the muscle to man the Mac spot, but assuming he plays in 2017 then come 2019 it’s crickets at the position either way.

Current 2018 Commits:

DB: DeMarvion Overshown, Arp (Arp, TX) – 6-foot-4, 200: Despite playing different positions in high school (though both also moonlight at receiver), Overshown and Byron Hobbs don’t have markedly different projections. Overshown’s results in the weight room and at the training table will help determine his fate on the field. He’s a superior athlete with incredible striking ability and coordination, but as of now he projects to ‘defender’ more so than cleanly to linebacker or safety. (EN)

Key 2018 Targets: The staff doesn’t appear to be chasing any other pure Rover fits at the moment.

Mac:

We’re reasonably optimistic that one of Anthony Wheeler or Gary Johnson should be sufficiently smartened up or bulked up enough to provide quality play in 2018, and we don’t want to count out the hard-hitting DeMarco Boyd despite his physical attributes not presenting an ideal match for the position. Boyd-and-nobody isn’t an attractive depth chart past 2018, though, so a between-the-tackles bad boy is another priority for the upcoming class.

Current 2018 Commits:

LB: Ayodele Adeoye, Ritenour (St. Louis, MO) – 6-foot-1, 230: “Delly” will be ready to hit the field the moment he knows the playbook. He’s physically ready while also understanding the nuances of playing inside. Texas wasn’t going to find an inside linebacker in-state, so the staff looked elsewhere and landed a prototype. It’s a welcome change from recent classes where we’ve seen Texas try and shoehorn an athlete into this demanding role. (EN)

Key 2018 Targets:

Nobody else right now – true inside backer instincts are becoming a rare beast in spread-happy Texas. The staff will serve themselves well by holding Adeoye through signing day.

Field Corner:

We’ve reached the ‘whistling past the graveyard’ portion of the proceedings as I’m slating three guys to return at the LOS secondary spots when one, two or (gulp) all three could conceivably bolt for the NFL with sufficiently stellar 2017 campaigns. If that doesn’t happen, though, the Longhorns are a strong bet to boast the nation’s best secondary in 2018. Field corner should enjoy a strong headliner next season if Holton Hill returns, and if that happens it’s possible that Davante Davis kicks inside to safety if the staff is sufficiently high on Kobe Boyce. After 2018 it’ll be Boyce and the game-but-marginal Donovan Duvernay on tap, though, so a top-shelf reload certainly won’t go amiss.

Current 2018 Commits: Caden Sterns (see below) could start out at corner, but as he’s likely a safety long term we’ll say there’s not an outside corner in the class for the time being.

Key 2018 Targets:

CB: Anthony Cook, Lamar (Houston, TX) – 6-foot, 175: Very athletic directionally and in his back-pedal, Cook is a great technician with quick feet and swivel hips. The lone knock on him is he lacks top-end speed, but he has the natural traits to overcome that. This is a Texas, Ohio State, and Clemson battle. Right now I feel good about Texas but he wants to see wins plus the renewed energy he’s seen in the program transfer over to the field. (EN)

Boundary Corner:

With the “nobody jumps to the League” caveat in mind, boundary corner should be in fine shape next year with Kris Boyd and a guy who may earn some 2017 work himself in Josh Thompson. Thompson is probably the most underrated dude from last year’s class and could easily serve as a strong-to-quite-strong starter in 2019 and 2020. With that said, DBU doesn’t stand for Dubious Back-Ups and you can never have too much secondary talent in the pipeline when you play in the Big XII.

Current 2018 Commits: See above – nobody that we’ll call an outside corner at the moment.

Key 2018 Targets:

CB: Jalen Green, Heights (Houston, TX) – 6-foot-1, 175: Green is the Kris Boyd to Cook’s Holton Hill. Like Boyd, Green has spent much of his high school career on offense. Meanwhile, like Hill, Cook has about 10,000 more reps as a corner. Green is the superior athlete and that’s why I project him as the best corner in the state and perhaps the state’s best overall player. Texas leads right now but I get the sense we could see some plot twists in this one. (EN)

Nickel Corner:

The NFL puts a draft premium on long, fast outside corners…and then the Patriots pillage the league every season by running roughshod over deficient interior personnel with Welker/Gronk/Bennett/Amendola/Lewis/etc. Hopefully the League doesn’t figure things out in time to make P.J. Locke an offer he can’t refuse, because Texas would be sitting pretty with a combination of Locke and the savvy, chippy Chris Brown at nickel in 2018. Brown is another guy who could kick downfield to safety, but he’s the best bet on the roster to handle the demanding nickel role in 2019. The Big XII is an annual crucible for interior defenders, though, so a high-caliber reload at the position is crucial.

Current 2018 Commits: None yet.

Key 2018 Targets:

CB: D’shawn Jamison, Lamar (Houston, TX) – 5-foot-10, 175: One of the most electric players in the country, he’s also perhaps the best pound-for-pound player in the state who punches well above his weight. He’s a ball of energy who thinks he’s the biggest player on the field. He can play corner, but I really like him more in the middle of the field throwing himself around. (EN)

Free Safety:

The safety spots are (ideally) somewhat fungible in Orlando’s defense, but the Free safety tends to spend more time ranging in centerfield. Versatility is highly desirable, though, particularly if Orlando spends more time in Cover Four in coming years than he showed in the Spring Game. DeShon Elliott should be a stud in this role in 2018, and while Montrell Estell needs polish he’s got the physical skills to shine in this role as well. With the demands Orlando puts on his safeties, though, you want to see the position comfortably stocked with studs.

Current 2018 Commits:

DB: BJ Foster, Angleton (Angleton, TX) – 6-foot-1, 195: Despite missing most of his junior season, Foster’s stock didn’t suffer much, if at all. That’s no surprise for a guy who’s been the consensus best player in the state since his sophomore season. I love his versatility as a safety. Whether it’s covering the field, or filling in the boundary, Foster can do it all. (EN)

Key 2018 Targets:

Texas has the state’s – and possibly the country’s – best safety in hand so they’re probably set here.

Strong Safety:

Orlando’s safeties do a lot of heavy lifting, but the Strong spot is heavier on attacking the box and and manning up on interior receiving threats to key Orlando’s frequent blitzes. Brandon Jones has the physical skills to light it up in that role as he continues to see more field time. The position should be in good hands through 2019, but you can’t have too much talent in the pipeline for this style of defense.

Current 2018 Commits:

DB: Caden Sterns, Steele (Cibolo, TX) – 6-foot-1, 190: As hard as it is to believe, Sterns is even more versatile than Foster. He’ll start off at cornerback where the staff will ingrain coverage fundamentals and technique, but I think he’s a safety long term because of how big he’ll get. I love his instincts, range, and length, and how he so clearly puts them to use defending the pass. He’s also not afraid to trade paint, as you’d expect from the brother of run-game stalwart Jordan Sterns. (EN)

Key 2018 Targets:

A couple of the above targets could end up here, but with Sterns in the fold Texas may be all set on pure safety types.

The Bottom Line

Lord willing, the creek don’t rise and the NFL don’t overly denude the 2018 roster, the Longhorns could roll out a 2018 defense that’s teed up to terrify the spread-happy Big XII. Things get scary in the other direction in a real hurry for 2019 and beyond, though. While there’s plenty to like about the defenders in the 2017 class, a mere five of them come in slated to spend four years on the 40. That’s an air bubble in the talent pipeline no matter how you cut it, and it puts massive pressure on Tom Herman to land an outstanding 2018 defensive class if he wants his budding narrative of a program on the rise to blossom into a lengthy run of conference title contention.

Texas is in great shape for plenty of top-tier defensive talent in this class, though it wouldn’t hurt to see one or two late bloomers or out-of-state studs pop up on the radar in the interior defensive line. There’s not much room to whiff at a position, though, making a strong start in 2017 all the more vital to sewing up the class Texas needs to truly launch the Tom Herman era.

Want even more detail on the shape of Texas’ 2018 class, Herman’s impressively strategic approach to recruiting, what to expect from the Longhorn D and even more? Sure you do. So grab a copy of the best Longhorn preview guide on the market and enjoy!

Hook ‘em!