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The Dotted Line: How did Texas’ potential NFL draft hopefuls rank as prep stars?

Success in the NFL draft is the most obvious sign of development for a college program, especially one that recruits on a national level like Texas has under Tom Herman. Four current Longhorns are expected to be selected in the 2021 draft, including offensive tackle Samuel Cosmi. Cosmi and safety Caden Sterns have opted out of the final two games to prepare for the draft. It wouldn’t be shocking if Joseph Ossai follows suit. 

Texas linebacker Joseph Ossai tackles West Virginia running back Alec Sinkfield in the first quarter at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday November 7, 2020.  [JAY JANNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Looking backward will help tell the story of the four Longhorns who would have the potential to go in the first few rounds:

Sam Ehlinger, quarterback

Signed: 2017, Austin Westlake; 4-stars, ranked 119th overall nationally and was 14th on  Fabulous 55

Ehlinger is the only senior on the list. He was part of the 2017 class that was built by Charlie Strong and finished off by Herman in his first couple of months on the job. Ehlinger grew up a Longhorns fan, and was going to sign with Texas no matter who was the head coach back in 2017. He immediately emerged as Herman’s pick to be the future quarterback over Shane Buechele, who set records himself as a freshman the season before Herman arrived. 

Ehlinger went through his ups and downs early in his career, only to emerge as the best quarterback Texas has had since Colt McCoy. He has started 41 career games, and would reach 44 through the bowl game. 

Draft projection: third or fourth round

Samuel Cosmi, offensive tackle

Signed: 2017, Humble Atascocita; 3-stars, wasn’t ranked either nationally or on the Fab 55

Cosmi only came to Texas because Herman was hired. Cosmi had already been pledged to Houston before Herman was hired at Texas, and he followed him to Austin. Cosmi arrived without fanfare. He wasn’t even ranked nationally. He was considered the 155th best prospect in Texas and the 104th best tackle prospect in his class by 247Sports’ composite rankings. 

But Cosmi began overachieving as a redshirt freshman in 2018, starting the final 13 games at right tackle. He came into his own as a sophomore in 2019, finishing with second-team All-Big 12 honors after starting every game. 

Draft projection: first round (top 15)

Caden Sterns, safety

Signed: 2018, Cibolo Steele; 5-stars, ranked 19th overall nationally and No. 2 on the 2018 Fab 55.

One day after Cosmi’s announcement, Sterns followed suit, so he too will skip the rest of the season now that the Big 12 title game is out of reach to get ready for the draft. Back in 2018, he was a big-time recruit that Herman convinced to flip his commitment from LSU.

Sterns immediately found his way into the starting lineup as a freshman. It was his best season as a Longhorn. He was the Big 12’s defensive freshman of the year and a first-team all-conference selection. Injuries limited him as a sophomore. He managed to see the field in nine games, starting eight. Sterns hasn’t been a playmaker as a junior in Chris Ash’s defensive system in the way he was as a freshman despite racking up the second-most tackles on the team so far in 2020.  

Draft projection: second round

Joseph Ossai, defensive end

Signed: 2018, Conroe Oak Ridge; 4-stars, ranked 186th overall nationally and 16th on the 2018 Fab 55.

Ossai has emerged as Texas’ best player this season. He began his career out of position as a linebacker in a 3-3-5 system under former defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. And while the new scheme hasn’t fit the tools of Sterns, it has unleashed Ossai. He’s back at defensive end, which allows him to get after the passer and set the edge against the run. Ossai’s motor is unmatched. He’s tied with Sterns for second on the team with 52 tackles. He leads the team with 14 tackles for loss and four sacks. 

He played in 14 games as a freshman. He finished that year with 20 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He became a force as a sophomore, leading Texas in tackles after starting all 13 games. He gave fans a glimpse of his potential back at defensive end in the Alamo Bowl win over Utah to close out the 2019 season by recording six tackles for loss and three sacks. 

Draft projection: first round