As expected, Texas has relied heavily on its freshmen during a 1-2 start through non-conference play.
A top-10 recruiting class, plus the redshirts who rolled over from last season, have combined for 20 starts, five touchdowns and 65 tackles. Twenty-two freshmen in all have logged game action.
1. JERROD HEARD, QB
The redshirt freshman hardly played in the opener, but made up for lost time by delivering a jolt of energy to a program that’s been long-starved for a championship quarterback. An ordinary practice player, Heard’s doing his best work on Saturdays, unchained from non-contact rules that stifle his greatest strength — his innate feel for running. With each 10-yard (or more) scramble, former play-caller Shawn Watson looks worse and worse for his stubborn support of Tyrone Swoopes. In Heard’s second start, he knocked Vince Young off the UT record books with 527 total offensive yards.
Key stat: In two starts, Heard has led Texas to points on 11 of 23 drives.
2. MALIK JEFFERSON, LB
Crystal Pepsi. Mayweather-Pacquiao. Darko. None of them lived up to the hype. So far, Jefferson has. The state’s top recruit in 2015 is maybe the only playmaker on a bad defense, and he should get better. Like Heard, Jefferson has the credentials and the personality to be the face of the program for the next several years.
Key stat: Leads the team in tackles (27), tackles for loss (3.5) QB hurries (four) and defensive TDs (one).
Why he’s not higher: Tends to get lost in the run game and is sometimes unsure of his assignment. At times, Rice QB Driphus Jackson made him look silly.
3. JOHN BURT, WR
It’s obvious why the coaches fought so hard with Auburn to sign this rangy target from Tallahassee, Fla. Burt, who has started since his first practice, is a nice downfield complement to speedsters Daje Johnson and Armanti Foreman. Against Rice, Burt’s 69-yard touchdown broke things open on the first play after halftime.
Key stat: His 30.3 yards per catch average ranks third nationally behind West Virginia’s Shelton Gibson (35.1) and Baylor’s Corey Coleman (32.7).
Why he’s not higher: He can go silent for long stretches, and has only six receptions.
4. CONNOR WILLIAMS, LT
Williams flipped to left tackle from right tackle midway through camp and supplanted senior Marcus Hutchins. After quarterback, Williams is manning the toughest position for a rookie to handle. Blocking for an elusive quarterback like Heard will slow Williams’ learning curve.
Key stat: Heard has been sacked four times in two starts. Not bad.
Why he’s not higher: Williams struggled at Notre Dame, his first college game.
5. PATRICK VAHE, RG
Like Williams, Vahe has been thrust into the starting lineup before he’s probably ready. He has acquitted himself reasonably well at right guard, though the line as a whole has not progressed at the level expected.
Key stat: Texas ran for six touchdowns against Cal.
Why he’s not higher: Struggled at Notre Dame, but who didn’t?
6. MICHAEL DICKSON, P
Dickson, who studied the art of kicking in Sydney, Australia, was a late addition to the 2015 signing class and won the job over walk-on Mitchell Becker. Dickson’s first practice won’t be soon forgotten, as he drilled an errant kick from the practice field onto Red River Street. That practice has been emblematic of his first three games, as Dickson also hit some booming shots on that August afternoon. Through three games, he’s averaging 40.8 yards per kick.
Key stat: He ranks second in the Big 12 with five punts of 50 yards or more.
Why he’s not higher: Inconsistent. He had a 17-yarder against Rice, and a 28-yarder that didn’t make it past midfield at Notre Dame.
7. KRIS BOYD, CB
Boyd’s got the swagger and upside, just not a starting spot. “He thinks he should be starting,” defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said last week. The promotion could be imminent, though; John Bonney, who is one spot lower than Boyd on this list, is being picked on by quarterbacks.
Key stat: His forced fumble against Notre Dame was one of team’s few bright moments.
Why he’s not higher: Given an extended look in the second half against Rice, he was beaten for a touchdown pass.
8. JOHN BONNEY, CB
A reliable tackler who has a ways to go in coverage, Bonney could eventually transition to safety. He’s the second redshirt freshman on this list after Heard. He’s No. 10 on Texas’ tackles list.
Key stat: He’s started three games, but has yet to record a stat beyond 10 tackles.
Why he’s not higher: Gets lost in coverage; was victimized by Cal’s Kenny Lawler.
9. BRECKYN HAGER, LB
An overlooked member of this class, Hager has a shot to climb this chart as the weeks go by. Billed as quiet and shy, Hager has played with an edge. His standing over a Notre Dame ball-carrier late in a blow was ill-advised and a penalty, but coaches can appreciate the fire. His playing time could increase due to the injury of Edwin Freeman, who is No. 10 on this list.
Key stat: He’s the only non-defensive back to pick off a pass.
Why he’s not higher: Hasn’t played enough. Jefferson and Peter Jinkens chew up most of the reps at linebacker.
10. EDWIN FREEMAN, LB
On Monday, the redshirt freshman told us that he expects to miss six to eight weeks with a shoulder injury he sustained against Cal. His season could be over. Freeman arrived to Texas as a safety, but beefed up and moved to outside linebacker. He’s tied for third on the team in tackles for loss.
Key stat: Two of his seven tackles have occurred behind the line.
Why he’s not higher: Though he’s listed as starter on the weakside, Freeman, the odd man out in a 4-2-5 defense, has yet to actually start a game.
Who didn’t make this list? Other freshmen we considered:
Chris Warren III, RB: 4th on the team in rushing
Charles Omenihu, DE: Only one tackle so far
P.J. Locke III, S: 4 tackles
Holton Hill, CB: 5 tackles
Anthony Wheeler, LB: 1 tackle so far
Davante Davis, CB: 1 tackle so far