Tom Herman’s ability, or inability, to produce NFL talent shouldn’t be a discussion until after the 2021 class is signed.
The players comprising this year’s draft were full of prospects from the 2015, 2016 and 2017 signing classes. Herman didn’t arrive at Texas until late in the 2017 cycle, meaning his first full cycle with the Longhorns came with the 2018 class, which wasn’t yet eligible for this draft.
Three Longhorns went this year — safety Brandon Jones and wide receivers Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson. The Longhorns hope they’re breaking from a recent trend, going back to the end of the Mack Brown era, of struggling to produce NFL draftees despite the amount of talent in the state. In all, 33 Texans were drafted over the seven rounds, including 16 who played college ball outside of the state.
The Longhorns won’t compete with LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma and other top programs that are recruiting well in Texas until Austin once again becomes a place considered an NFL pipeline. Even programs like Texas Tech and TCU had players drafted this year before Texas and Texas A&M. Instability at head coach plays a factor for the Longhorns and Aggies, but Texas can’t play that card in 2021.
Recruits want to see former prospects become NFL draft picks. To recruit with the best, Texas must produce the best. And there are five Longhorns who could be potential first- or second-round picks in the 2021 draft:
Joseph Ossai, defensive end
FYI: No. 16 on the 2018 Fabulous 55; four-star
Ossai, out of Conroe Oak Ridge, was overshadowed by the elite secondary group that the Longhorns signed in 2018. He was considered the 11th-best weak-side defensive end in the country by 247Sports’ composite rankings, landing at 186th overall in the nation. Ossai was a two-time all-district selection despite not discovering the game of football until he was in middle school.
He picked Texas over dozens of offers, including Oregon and A&M.
Texas’ odd-man front that was preferred by former defensive coordinator Todd Orlando wasn’t a perfect fit for Ossai, who has played mostly at linebacker. But he was recruited to rush the passer after recording 25 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks in his final two years at Oak Ridge. Ossai excels when he’s free to play on the edge. He’s still an excellent, productive player at linebacker. He’s started 15 games over the past two seasons.
New defensive coordinator Chris Ash plans to use a four-man front that should feature Ossai as an edge rusher and a more traditional defensive end. His ability to rush the passer, and play in space, could lead to a first-round selection if he can put together an All-American season in the new system. He should be the featured player in the new defense and will get an opportunity to record double-digit sacks.
Samuel Cosmi, offensive tackle
FYI: Three-star from 2017 class
Cosmi, out of Humble Atascocita, originally committed to Houston. He followed Herman to Texas late in the 2017 cycle. He was an under-recruited tackle who has outperformed his recruiting ranking and offers list.
Cosmi became a contributor as a redshirt freshman, starting the final 13 games of the 2018 season at right tackle. He moved to left tackle in 2019 and started all 13 games. Cosmi was an honorable mention selection for Big 12 offensive freshman of the year in 2018 and was an honorable mention pick for Big 12 offensive lineman of the year in 2019. He was a Freshman All-American two years ago and a second-team all-conference pick last season.
Draft position isn’t necessarily about talent. Positional importance plays a huge factor, and that’s why Ossai and Cosmi lead the list. The NFL values left tackles and edge rushers above every position other than quarterback. Cosmi can be an immediate impact player at either tackle spot, which means he’ll be one of the players scouts watch closely his junior season. A stellar year could result in a first-round pick and a huge success story for Herman’s chops as a talent evaluator.
Caden Sterns, safety
FYI: No. 2 on the 2018 Fab 55; five-star
No one in the recruiting industry doubted Sterns’ ability. The Cibolo Steele star ended the 2018 cycle as a five-star prospect who was ranked first or second overall in the state, depending on the website. He was the second-ranked player on the Fab 55 behind B.J. Foster, who’d be on this list as well if not for health concerns over his shoulder.
Sterns also dealt with injuries as a sophomore after a freshman season that ended in Big 12 defensive freshman of the year honors and first-team all-conference honors after starting 13 games. He recorded four interceptions that year.
The only concern is his health. He’ll be an early entry into the draft and a first- or second-round pick if the former five-star from San Antonio can put together a full, healthy season. Sterns, who was a one-time LSU commit, should compete for the Thorpe Award if he can remain healthy.
D’Shawn Jamison, cornerback
FYI: No. 12 on 2018 Fab 55; four-star
Jamison, signed out of Houston Lamar, wasn’t one of the defensive back headliners of the 2018 class despite his high four-star ranking and top-150 status. That’s how good that class was with Sterns, Foster, Anthony Cook, DeMarvion Overshown and Jalen Green. Jamison might be the one drafted first, however, after a stellar sophomore season with a few highlights mixed in at defensive back and in the return game. He spent his freshman season as a returner and spot player on offense. He’s found a home at cornerback with the ability to play outside or against the slot.
Jalen Green, cornerback
FYI: No. 4 on the 2018 Fab 55; four-star
Green, from Houston Heights, is a player whom the NFL will drool over if he can put together a consistent junior season in the pass-happy Big 12. He’s a big, physical corner at 6-1 with long arms and freakish athletic ability. He’s still learning the position after beginning his high school career at quarterback. He was the top-ranked cornerback in Texas for the 2018 cycle. Green started seven games as a sophomore.