Listen to Austin 360 Radio

The Dotted Line: 20 for 20: A Texas recruiting primer, one day before signing day

Steve Sarkisian had about a month to put the finishing touches on Texas' 2021 recruiting class. The Longhorns signed 18 prospects in December under former coach Tom Herman.

Our sixth annual 20 for 20 recruiting project tackles 20 questions heading into national signing day on Wednesday.

Who's going to win the state?

Who are the top prospects left on the board?

1. Will Texas sign a top 10 class? 

No.

Texas has signed a top-10 class the last three years, but the Longhorns won't overcome a disappointing season and the coaching change. Texas signed 18 players in December; the class ranks 17th in the country.

If the Longhorns close strong on signing day, the could sneak into the top 15.

2. Who are Texas’ commitments/signed players?

3. Who has the nation’s top class? 

Alabama and Ohio State, who met for the national championship last month, are again battling it out for the nation's top recruiting class.

Alabama holds 26 commitments, including seven five-star prospects. Ohio State has signed five five-stars. Georgia, LSU and Clemson round out the national top five. Texas A&M ranks seventh. 

4. Who’s winning the Big 12?

Oklahoma.

The Sooners will claim the Big 12 recruiting crown for the first time since 2017. Not coincidentally, Texas changed its coach during that cycle, too. Oklahoma landed the nation’s top-ranked dual-threat quarterback in Caleb Williams and also dipped into Texas for several highly-ranked recruits, including one-time UT commit Billy Bowman. Texas is second in the conference; Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Baylor round out the top five. 

5. How have Texas’ recent classes ranked nationally? 

2011: 4th (including RB Malcolm Brown, DB Quandre Diggs, QB David Ash, WR Jaxon Shipley)

2012: 2nd (DT Malcom Brown, RB Jonathan Gray, DB Duke Thomas)

2013: 17th (OG Darius James, OT Kent Perkins, QB Tyrone Swoopes)

2014: 17th (RB D’Onta Foreman, WR Armanti Foreman, DT Poona Ford)

2015: 10th (OT Connor Williams, LB Malik Jefferson, OG Patrick Vahe, S DeShon Elliott)

2016: 7th (QB Shane Buechele, S Brandon Jones, WR Collin Johnson)

2017: 25th (QB Sam Ehlinger, RB Daniel Young, MLB Gary Johnson)

2018: 3rd (S Caden Sterns, S BJ Foster, CB Anthony Cook)

2019: 3rd (ATH Jordan Whittington, WR Jake Smith, OT Tyler Johnson)

2020: 8th (RB Bijan Robinson, QB Hudson Card, DT Alfred Collins)

Denton Ryan star Ja'Tavion Sanders, who signed with Texas in December, is the Longhorns' lone five-star prospect in the 2021 recruiting class. But will he play wide receiver or defensive end? Or even both positions?

6. Who are Texas’ top recruits?

Ja’Tavion Sanders, athlete, Denton Ryan: Sanders is the highest-rated prospect in Texas’ class, and it isn’t really close. He ranks third on the Fab 55. The next best UT commit checks in at 25th. He’s the only five-star and national top-100 prospect to sign with Texas this cycle. He was a two-way star in high school who can play either defensive end or wide receiver.  

JD Coffey, safety, Kennedale: Coffey became a prep star as a freshman, earning Class 4A all-state honors in 2017 after recording 88 tackles, including 11 for loss, and six interceptions. He was a first-team all-district selection as a sophomore and the District 6-4A Division I defensive MVP as a junior. He's a ballhawk who had 14 career interceptions.

Jamier Johnson, cornerback, Pasadena (Calif.) John Muir: Johnson is a long, fluid corner with great hip flexibility. He can turn and run with speedy receivers while possessing the length required to handle the bigger receivers on the outside. His four interceptions as a junior, despite opponents avoiding his direction, shows that the four-star is a ballhawk capable of staying at cornerback or transitioning to safety. He's always around the football and unafraid of mixing it up in the run game. 

Austin High quarterback Charles Wright enjoyed a productive four-year high school career, throwing for more than 8,000 yards and 100 touchdowns.

7. Are there gems or sleepers in Texas’ class? 

Charles Wright, quarterback, Austin High: Wright threw for more than 8,000 yards and accounted for more than 100 touchdowns in a varsity career that spanned parts of four seasons. He moved up the Texas depth chart without even attending a practice when 2020 signee Ja’Quinden Jackson transferred to Utah. 

Byron Murphy II, defensive tackle, DeSoto: Murphy is a high-motor defensive tackle who's a proven commodity against the best competition anywhere in high school football, playing for Class 6A powerhouse DeSoto. He’s in the same district as Duncanville and Cedar Hill, meaning he’s played against a host of future college football players in practice and on Friday nights. He tied a DeSoto school record with 14 sacks in 2020. 

Max Merril, offensive tackle, Houston Strake Jesuit: Texas’ offensive line featured two former three-star recruits who overachieved in their college careers — Samuel Cosmi and Connor Williams. The Longhorns hope Merril is the next overachiever along the line. He’s a big, athletic prospect who has a similar frame to Derek Kerstetter's. He could spin down to guard or even center.

8. What are Texas’ biggest remaining to-do’s? 

Steve Sarkisian arrived on campus after Texas signed 18 players. There wasn’t a ton he could do with so many players already signed across the country, but the new head coach and his staff went straight to work trying to improve the depth at running back and defensive end. The Longhorns hope to add prospects such as LJ Johnson and David Abiara. 

9. Did Texas address its recruiting needs?

No.

The 2021 cycle was a disappointment for the Longhorns, which is to be expected in the midst of a coaching change. It's still a top-20 class. But for Texas, that's a disappointment. The defensive side of the ball adds multiple four-star talents, but the offensive haul is lacking high-end talent. Wide receiver Jaden Alexis was the only four-star to sign early who projects to the offensive side of the ball, unless Sanders winds up at wide receiver. Texas will end up failing to sign a single four-star offensive lineman despite several highly-ranked prospects inside the state. 

10. Who does Texas still want? 

LJ Johnson and Camar Wheaton are the top remaining targets at running back. Johnson is expected to pick Texas A&M while Wheaton is likely sticking with Alabama. Jaylin White, a three-star from Alabama, is a name to monitor at running back. Defensive end David Abiara is the top defensive target remaining on the board. Offensive tackle Austin Uke is deciding between Texas, USC and Stanford. 

11. Where are the state’s top players headed? 

The simple answer: out of state.

Donovan Jackson, the state’s top-ranked player, signed with Ohio State. He was the third No. 1 player from the Fab 55 to end up with the Buckeyes in the last five years, joining Kennedale linebacker Baron Browning and Lake Travis wide receiver Garrett Wilson.

Tommy Brockermeyer picked Alabama, as did Camar Wheaton and Jalen Milroe. Three prospects ranked in the top 10 chose Oklahoma. Sanders is ranked third. 

12. Which top recruits aren’t yet committed? 

Johnson, a four-star running back from Houston Cypress-Fairbanks, is the only uncommitted player on the Fab 55. The advent of the early signing period in December has erased most of the anticipation for national signing day in February. Eight of the state’s top 10 players signed in December. More than 85% of the nation’s top 250 prospects signed in the early period. 

13. Who’s winning the state?

Texas A&M.

The Aggies have built a tremendous class on the offensive and defensive lines. Top 10 prospects Shemar Turner and Tunmise Adeleye should immediately push for snaps at defensive end. Bryce Foster was the best interior offensive line prospect in the state.  

14. Which position has Texas recruited best?

If Sanders winds up on defense, the answer is defensive end.

Texas signed four-star prospects Jordon Thomas and Derrick Harris Jr. during the early period. The former staff added three-star Barryn Sorrell of New Orleans late in the process. The wide receiver position was the top-recruited spot offensively thanks to Alexis and Casey Cain. Sanders wants a shot at playing wide receiver, which would instantly boost the talent at that position heading into 2021.  

15. Who are the Austin area’s top prospects? 

The top two prospects from Austin both played defensive back at LBJ. Safety Andrew Mukuba signed with Clemson and cornerback Latrell McCutchin is headed to Oklahoma. Hutto defensive end Landyn Watson signed with TCU. Del Valle running back Tavierre Dunlap picked Michigan. 

16. Are there any early enrollees for Texas?

Seven: WR Jaden Alexis, S JD Coffey, OT Hayden Conner, DE Derrick Harris Jr., TE Gunnar Helm, CB Jamier Johnson and QB Charles Wright.

17. Did Texas recruit out of the state? 

Texas signed six players from outside the state during the early period, including Australian punter Isaac Pearson. Wide receivers Alexis and Cain play out of state, as did Helm, a Colorado tight end. Sorrell is from Louisiana. Four-star cornerback Jamier Johnson is from California. 

18. How far will each future Longhorn have to travel?

From closest to farthest:

Charles Wright, Austin: 4 miles

Jonathon Brooks, Hallettsville: 99

Hayden Conner, Katy: 139

Max Merril, Houston: 158

Derrick Harris Jr., New Caney: 169

Juan Davis, Everman: 181

Byron Murphy II, DeSoto: 183

Kennedale's JD Coffey celebrates an interception made against Midlothian Heritage during the 2019 season.

JD Coffey, Kennedale: 188

Terrence Cooks, Alvin: 193

Morice Blackwell, Arlington: 198 

Ja’Tavion Sanders, Denton: 232

Jordan Thomas, Port Arthur: 256

Barryn Sorrell, New Orleans, La.: 514

Casey Cain, New Orleans, La.: 514

Gunnar Helm, Englewood, Colo.: 902

Jaden Alexis, Pompano Beach, Fla.: 1,315 

Jamier Johnson, Pasadena, Calif.: 1,376 

Isaac Pearson, Australia: 9,268 

19. How many early signees did Texas get? 

18.

20. What positions will Texas recruit hardest in 2022? 

The 2022 class will be the first full cycle for Sarkisian and his new staff, so expect big numbers across the board.

Offensive line is a priority. The Longhorns simply can’t compete on a national level until the line can compete with Oklahoma and the SEC powers. A&M and Oklahoma out-recruited Texas along the line during the Herman era. New offensive line coach Kyle Flood must improve the talent level up front before the rest of the Longhorns' offensive talent can perform at its highest levels.