The Dotted Line

Stay updated on the latest Texas Longhorns recruiting news brought to you by Longhorns recruiting beat writer Mike Craven of The Dotted Line will publish M-F at 10 a.m. each morning to provide Texas fans with an in-depth look at the latest for the Longhorns on the recruiting trail.

Will Denton Ryan's Ja'Tavion Sanders play offense or defense for the Longhorns? The five-star prospect could help the Longhorns at either spot. (Jeff Woo/Denton Record-Chronicle)


The Dotted Line: Ranking, projecting Texas’ current 2021 defensive class

Posted May 21st, 2020


The Longhorns added five players to their 2021 recruiting class since the last week of April despite the prohibition of visits due to COVID-19. It started with three-star tight end Landen King on April 26. Defenders Jordan Thomas and Morice Blackwell, as well as offensive prospects Jonathon Brooks and Casey Cain joined in May.

Texas’ 2021 recruiting class currently ranks ninth in the nation and first in the Big 12, consisting of 11 members. Three of those commitments are considered athletes who could play on either side of the football at the collegiate level, including five-star Ja’Tavion Sanders and four-star Billy Bowman.

Denton Ryan four-star athlete Billy Bowman stars on both sides of the football. (Jeff Woo, Denton Record-Chronicle).

For this exercise, we’ll consider Sanders and Bowman defensive prospects. Both could play wide receiver at Texas, but the upside is higher for Bowman at safety and for Sanders at defensive end. That gives Texas five defensive commitments in the 2021 class, with four of them ranking inside the Fab 55. Two of Texas’ six offensive commitments are on the Fab 55. 


Ja’Tavion Sanders, athlete, Denton Ryan

FYI: 6-3, 220; five stars; No. 3 on the 2021 Fabulous 55

Sanders is a freak of nature who can pick whether he wants to pursue a football career at wide receiver or defensive end. His frame suggests a higher-upside at defensive end, where his lack of top-end speed won’t be a negative. He’s a big, long defender with enough athleticism to develop into a pass rushing phenom. 

Sanders would need to improve his physicality to become an elite three-down defensive end, but the tools are there for him to succeed and become a future NFL draft pick on defense. Sanders does enjoy playing wide receiver, so that isn’t out of the question for a player who’d be considered the top tight end prospect in the 2021 recruiting class. 

Billy Bowman, athlete, Denton Ryan

FYI: 5-10, 175; four stars; No. 6 on the Fab 55

Bowman does everything for Denton Ryan, a program that reached the Class 5A Division I state championship game in 2019. He excels at safety, earning all-state honors as a freshman and continuing his dominant play in the past two seasons. He’s also a weapon at wide receiver, averaging a touchdown every third reception. Defensive back is the money position for Bowman, but it wouldn’t shock me to see him carve out a role on special teams and offense, much like D’Shawn Jamison did as a freshman before moving back to cornerback in 2019. 

Jordon Thomas, defensive end, Port Arthur Memorial

FYI: 6-3, 240; four stars; No. 25 on the Fab 55

The Port Arthur Memorial prospect picked Texas over Texas A&M. He missed his junior season with a lower leg injury after earning second-team all-district as a sophomore when he recorded 32 tackles, including seven tackles for loss and five sacks.

Thomas is a big-bodied defensive lineman with a long-term future as a three-technique defensive tackle as he continues to grow. His best football is in front of him as a raw, rusty prospect who needs more time on the field to refine technique. Thomas carries little body fat and could easily grow into a defensive tackle. His ability to play the strong-side defensive end spot and move inside give him the positional versatility that the current Texas staff appears to crave. Most of the current top targets on defense are players who could play at least two positions. Thomas is a high-upside prospect with the ability to become a playmaker with more coaching and real football snaps.

Derrick Harris Jr., outside linebacker, New Caney

FYI: 6-2, 215; four stars; No. 26 on the Fab 55

Harris is a long, lean athlete with the ability to play outside linebacker or grow into a defensive end as he adds weight to his frame. Harris does his best work when he’s let loose to attack the football off the edge, leading to the idea that Harris is likely to land at B-Backer like Joseph Ossai and 2020 commit Prince Dorbah, both of whom were more pass rusher than linebacker in high school. Harris can play off the line of scrimmage and he should only improve in space as an upperclassman. He’s an incredible athlete with high-upside. 

Morice Blackwell, outside linebacker, Arlington Martin 

FYI: 6-1, 196; four stars; No. 23-ranked outside linebacker

Blackwell was awarded a fourth star with this month’s 247Sports composite rankings. Blackwell is a 6-1, 196-pound tackling machine. He was the District 4-6A Defensive Sophomore of the Year in 2018, and he backed that up with the District 4-6A Overall MVP as a junior. He’s recorded at least 112 tackles in both of his varsity seasons, adding six forced fumbles and three interceptions. He’s also recorded two sacks in each of the past two years. 

Blackwell isn’t hype. The soon-to-be senior recorded more than 112 tackles in each of his first two seasons on varsity, earning all-district accolades. At 196 pounds, weight is the only true question mark for Blackwell, but committing to a college weight and conditioning program should get his body right for the next level. Linebackers are getting smaller and more agile in modern football, and that’s exactly the type of player Texas hopes Blackwell becomes at Texas.  

Hayden ConnerOTKaty Taylor4July 23 (2019)
Juan DavisWR/TEEverman3July 26 (2019)
Derrick Harris Jr.DENew Caney4Aug. 3 (2019)
Ja'Tavion SandersATHDenton Ryan5Sept. 8 (2019)
Jordon ThomasDEPort Arthur Memorial4May 2
Morice BlackwellOLBArlington Martin4May 10
Jonathon BrooksRBHallettsville3May 15
Casey CainWRWarren Easton (La.)3May 15
Isaac PearsonPProKick AustrailiaNRMay 29
Ishmael IbraheemCBDallas Kimball4June 15
JD CoffeySKennedale4June 15
Jamier JohnsonCBJohn Muir (Pasadena, Calif.)4July 3
Gunnar HelmTECherry Creek (Englewood, Colo.)3July 27
Michael MyslinskiCBishop Kennedy (Jacksonville, Fla.)3Aug. 6
Jaden AlexisWRMonarch Prep (Pompano Beach, Fla.)3Aug. 8
Charles WrightQBAustin3Aug. 22
Max MerrilOTStrake Jesuit3Sept. 25
Terrence CooksOLBAlvin Shadow Creek4Nov. 14
Byron Murphy IIDTDeSoto3Nov. 18