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The Dotted Line: Grading Texas' 2021 defensive recruiting class

Texas' 2021 recruiting class was a disappointment, ranking 17th in the nation and second in the Big 12. The offense suffered more than the defense because former defensive coordinator Chris Ash and his staff on that side of the ball carried their weight on the field and on the recruiting trail. 

The Tom Herman era ended on Jan. 2. Former Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was brought in to return the Longhorns to national prominence. He'll inherit a strong group of defensive prospects, including the ones who signed in the 2021 recruiting class. 

Grading Texas' 2021 defensive signees:

Defensive linemen: A-

Signed (5): Jordon Thomas (DE), Derrick Harris Jr. (DE), Byron Murphy II (DT), Barryn Sorrell (DE), David Abiara (DE)

Abiara was the only addition after the early signing period. The big-bodied defensive end from Mansfield Legacy was being heavily recruited to Washington by now Texas defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski. When Kwiatkowski got hired in Austin, Abiara decided to follow. The former Notre Dame commit raised his stock with an impressive junior season, ending the year with 75 tackles, including 15 sacks and 21 tackles for loss. Injuries dampened his senior season.

Thomas and Harris are quality four-star ends. Thomas is the bigger of the two and probably the more physically dominant defender. The Port Arthur Memorial product plays hard on every snap. Harris is a pass rushing specialist who missed his senior season with a leg injury, but he’s among seven players in the class who enrolled early. 

Murphy is the class’ only defensive tackle. He was a one-time Baylor commitment. The DeSoto product tied a school record with 14 sacks as a senior. He’s undersized at 6-feet tall, but he utilizes the natural leverage advantage and his innate quickness to brutalize offensive lines. 

Sorrell, a three-star end from New Orleans, picked Texas on the first day of the early period. 

Linebackers: B+

Signed (2): Morice Blackwell; Terrence Cooks

Cooks is in the mold of a modern linebacker. He’s big and strong enough to be an enforcer against the inside run, but he sets himself apart with his ability to run. He's more of an overgrown safety than a traditional linebacker. He excels in space and can run sideline to sideline with most running backs. If coached up properly, he possesses the ability to run with tight ends in the passing game and be the type of player who can stay on the field in every situation and against any formation. 

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, and that’s exactly the type of player Texas hopes Blackwell becomes. He isn’t hype. He recorded more than 112 tackles in each of his first two seasons on varsity, earning all-district accolades. An ankle injury hampered him throughout district play. He also played some safety as a senior, proving his athletic ability is above average for a prep linebacker. He’ll fit in nicely defending Big 12 offenses. 

Defensive backs: B- 

Signed (3): JD Coffey (S); Jamier Johnson (CB); Ishmael Ibraheem (CB)

Coffey, the only safety to sign with Texas, became a prep star as a freshman, earning  Class 4A first-team 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 interceptions in his three-year varsity career.

Johnson is a long, fluid cornerback 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. 

Ibraheem didn’t sign in the early period because of a legal issue, but the new staff felt comfortable enough to let him fax in a national letter of intent. If that was indeed a blip on the radar, the Longhorns gained a talented four-star cornerback. Ibraheem is a long, lean speedster who was considered the top cornerback in the country by the old staff. He looks like he was created in a lab, or on an old edition of the NCAA video game.