Texas was found wanting on national signing day. The Longhorns entered Wednesday with three priority targets yet to declare. Tom Herman’s program signed one of them — Florida wide receiver Jordan Pouncey. The disappointment on signing day was palpable. Texas fans are used to winning in February. Not in 2017.
Still, it wasn’t a bad class for Texas, even if it wasn’t national recognized. Herman’s staff held on to the players they inherited from Charlie Strong and added familiar faces from their time in Houston. The Longhorns signed 18 players and finished with the nation’s No. 26-ranked signing class. It was Texas’ lowest-rated class since 247Sports began ranking classes in 2000, and for the first time in the 29-year history of the American-Statesman’s Fabulous 55, the Longhorns failed to sign a single top 10 player from the state of Texas.
Not all is lost. One of the main reasons the class ranked so low was size. Most programs sign more than 20 players. Strong’s success over the past two cycles meant Herman’s group had fewer numbers to play with and that results in a lower recruiting ranking. Only No. 14 Stanford and No. 16 Clemson signed fewer than 18 players and ranked higher than Texas.
Texas addressed needs. The 2017 class looks better when taken position by position. Below, we grade the Longhorns at each position. We start with the offense.
1. Sam Ehlinger, Westlake (4-star, nation’s No. 4 dual-threat QB)
It didn’t take long for Texas to identify its quarterback for the 2017 class. Heck, Ehlinger sort of identified himself as the top quarterback target for the Longhorns. The summer before his junior year, he arrived on the recruiting scene by leading Westlake to a state 7-on-7 championship. He quickly declared his desire to be a Longhorn and committed quickly once Strong offered in the summer of 2015. Despite Texas’ back-to-back 5-7 seasons the past two years, Ehlinger never wavered on his pledge. He’s an early-enrollee, so he’s already on campus and will compete with Shane Buechele for the starting quarterback position this spring and into the fall.
Ehlinger seems to be a Tom Herman quarterback. Herman likes quarterbacks that can run, and Ehlinger is a better runner than Buechele. In the long-term, that means Ehlinger is likely a better fit for the Texas offense, but it’s hard to expect a freshman to take the quarterback job his first year on campus. Especially from a player who did exactly that a year ago, like Buechele. The Longhorns don’t have ideal quarterback depth, but do have two young studs competing to lead the show.
Ehlinger was one of the prizes of the 2017 class. As a quarterback, his development likely determines how fondly Herman’s first group is looked back upon. If Ehlinger becomes the quarterback many think he can be, Herman’s first class will be a success.
RUNNING BACKS: B
1. Toneil Carter, Houston Langham Creek (4-star, No. 9-ranked RB)
2. Daniel Young, Spring Westfield (3-star, No. 35-ranked RB)
A gift landed on Herman’s doorstep when Carter was left out in the cold by Georgia. An early enrollee, Carter was committed to start his college career at Georgia in January. Instead, a lack of available spots at running back meant the Under Armour All-American was without a home. It took less than a day for Herman to snag the four-star running back. Like Ehlinger, Carter is already on campus and should get a chance to earn playing time as a freshman. He’s an explosive runner with big-play ability and vision. Carter is a tough runner, but excels on the edges of a defense.
Young was a bit of an unknown when Herman’s staff convinced him to flip to Texas from Houston in December. The Longhorns offered him on Dec. 8, and by Dec. 23 he was committed. UT assistant Corby Meekins was critical in landing him; Meekins used to coach Young at Westfield before he joined Herman’s staff at Houston. Young is a physical runner who prefers to head north-south when he touches the football.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B-
1. Damion Miller, Tyler John Tyler (4-star, No. 24-ranked WR)
2. Jordan Pouncey, Winter Park, Fla. (3-star, No. 106-ranked WR)
The 2017 class began with a commitment from Miller back in the summer of 2015. That amount of time between committing and signing meant he was forgotten during many conversations about the 2017 class. He’s one of those players that would have gotten much more hype if he’d decided late in the cycle. Even with the turmoil at Texas in 2016, Miller remained a solid commitment to Texas. That didn’t change once Herman took over. Miller should fit well in Herman’s system since he can play outside or slot receiver. He’s most dangerous after the catch.
Pouncey became a priority late in the cycle after Texas missed on in-state prospects like Lancaster’s Omar Manning (TCU) and Cedar Hill’s Charleston Rambo (Oklahoma) to Big 12 rivals. Texas identified the 6-2 Floridian and convinced him to leave the state and the SEC for Austin after making an impression on his official visit in mid-January. Pouncey is raw and needs time to figure out the wide receiver position at the college level; he isn’t a polished product like Miller. But he does have upside and it was important for Texas to sign more than just Miller.
TIGHT ENDS: B-
1. Reese Leitao, Jenks, Okla. (3-star, No. 19-ranked TE)
2. Cade Brewer, Lake Travis (3-star, No. 46-ranked TE)
Tight end became a need position when Texas switched coaches. The air-raid offense, which was run in 2016 under Strong, doesn’t rely on tight ends. It uses them, but mostly for blocking purposes. Herman’s preferred offense wants to create mismatches in the passing game with versatile tight ends, and the Longhorns moved quickly to sign athletes with upside.
Leitao is a unique prospect. His dad is a basketball coach and he spent most of his youth in a gym, not on a field. He began playing football in high school and quickly blossomed into a player with upside at the position. Leitao (6-4, 234) has the frame and natural athleticism to develop into a top-flight tight end if he becomes a physical blocker at the point of attack.
Brewer, from nearby Lake Travis, had been a longtime SMU commitment. But an offer from Texas was too much to pass up. Brewer must get bigger to play tight end at the college level; he says he wants to add 20 or 30 pounds to his frame before arriving on campus in the summer.
Brewer’s strength is as a pass catcher. He was arguably the best receiving tight end in the state and can be used in a variety of ways at Texas, including tight end, H-back and wide receiver.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: C
1. Derek Kerstetter, San Antonio Reagan (3-star, No. 30-ranked OG)
2. Samuel Cosmi, Humble Atascocita (3-star, No. 104-ranked OT)
Texas’ offensive line ranks are stacked thanks to Strong’s efforts the past few recruiting cycles — the Longhorns signed six linemen in 2015, including Connor Williams and Patrick Vahe, and another six in 2016, including Zach Shackelford, who ended up starting at center. But the offensive line is a unit that’s always in need of reinforcements. For that reason, Herman’s staff identified a handful of prospects for 2017 and ended up with two. The Longhorns missed out on Westlake tackle Stephan Zabie, who chose UCLA over Texas on Wednesday morning.
Kerstetter, who was committed to Oklahoma State when Herman took over at Texas, was one of the first targets. The new staff was at San Antonio Reagan within days of taking over and immediately convinced him to stay in-state. Kerstetter played left tackle in high school, but is expected to move to guard at Texas. He was outstanding during U.S. Army All-American Bowl week in San Antonio.
Cosmi surfaced as a UT target in late January, the week before signing day. And he was committed to Houston up until two days before signing day. The chance to play in the Big 12 was what the 6-5, 260-pound tackle needed to flip. He needs a year or two in the weight room before making an impact, though.