Texas Football: Ranking Incoming Freshmen by Projected 2012 Value

Zach Shelton@@zachisagingerFeatured ColumnistJune 10, 2012

Texas Football: Ranking Incoming Freshmen by Projected 2012 Value

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    This season's incoming class of Longhorn freshmen, ranked No. 4 by ESPN, is among the most hyped in recent memory and will make an immediate impact.

    Though some of these guys are projects and will take some time to fulfill their potential, others are ready to take the field immediately and make a major difference in 2012's outcome. 

    Here's the list of incoming freshmen in order of their projected impact on the field in 2012.

RB Johnathan Gray

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    No surprises here. Johnathan Gray is the best player in this recruiting class and is an early favorite for Big 12 Freshman of the Year.

    This season, Gray will team up with sophomores Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron to form what will likely be the best backfield in the Big 12 and one of the best in the country.

    Gray will not likely start out being the feature back, but he will get his hands on the ball with increasing frequency as the season progresses and is a leading candidate to run the Wildhorn package.

    Expect Gray to tally somewhere in the neighborhood of 750 yards rushing and five rushing touchdowns. It's difficult to say how many balls he will catch out of the backfield considering the presence of D.J. Monroe and Daje Johnson and how the Longhorns intend to use him.

    If he falls into Fozzy's do-it-all role from last season, you can expect something like 200 yards receiving, otherwise, he will probably be just a straight runner.

DT Malcom Brown

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    Tackle prospect Malcom Brown is also going to be one of the best freshmen in the conference this season despite his likely backup role.

    At 6'2", 285 lbs, Brown is extraordinarily quick off the line and made a living in the opponents' backfield throughout his high school career in Brenham. With Ashton Dorsey, Desmond Jackson, JUCO transfer Brandon Moore and the supremely athletic Chris Whaley already in the fold at the tackle position, Brown will have to compete hard for playing time.

    Luckily for him, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz loves his depth and will have no problem finding a way to get this kid on the field in a position to succeed. 

    Given that he will likely be the first guy off the bench at the tackle position, Brown will give the 'Horns around five tackles for a loss and a couple sacks. Nothing eye-popping, but most of his contributions will simply be occupying somebody and helping with the push along the line.

K Nick Jordan

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    Jordan may not be a highly touted prospect on the scale of guys like Gray or Brown, but his impact will be felt immensely as he replaces the ever-reliable Justin Tucker as this team's kicker.

    Out of all of these freshman, Jordan might have the hardest job. This offense will be low-scoring and, if last season's red-zone struggles carry over, will need to be bailed out often when it struggles to put points on the board. This means that the outcome of a few games will likely depend on Jordan's leg and every miss will potentially be critical.

    Depending on how well the three-headed monster moves the ball this season, Jordan can expect to kick anywhere from 20 to 25 field goals this season. How many of them he makes completely depends on well he handles the pressure and how much his accuracy improves between now and September.

DE Torshiro Davis

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    Four-star defensive end Torshiro Davis may be playing behind two potential first-round draft picks, but that will not stop him from having an impact on the field.

    Starting ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor will be the defensive anchors along this very talented line, but this team loves its depth and will want to keep this two as fresh as possible. Insert Davis—a long-armed speed rusher who has all the makings of a future star.

    The knock on Davis is that he's extremely raw and needs to bulk up, but there's little doubt that he will be ready to take the field in the fall. Considering his speed and length, Davis should be able to spell the two stalwarts Jeffcoat and Okafor often enough to pick up a couple of sacks and pass deflections for the 'Horns.

RB/WR Daje Johnson

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    With neither Joe Bergeron nor Malcolm Brown considered accomplished pass-catchers, athlete Daje Johnson will likely find his niche as a spread running back and will definitely be looked at as a candidate to run the Wildhorn.

    With 4.34 speed, Johnson flat-out flies out there and has the versatility to put it to use. The coaches have talked about Johnson doing everything from spread running back in the mold of D.J. Monroe to running the Wild formation to returning kicks. Basically, they want to find a way to get this kid the ball.

    Since nobody really knows where this lightning-in-a-bottle athlete will fit come fall, it's hard to say what to expect from him. One thing's for sure, though, and that's that the coaches want the ball in his hands and Bryan Harsin should have no trouble figuring out how to make that happen.

WR Cayleb Jones

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    Jones is the top true receiver in Texas' 2012 class and will find plenty of playing time spelling the likes of Jaxon Shipley, Marquise Goodwin, and Mike Davis.

    Even though Texas returns all of its starting receivers from last year, Jones will have no problem finding the field due to the lack of consistency from the enigmatic returnees. Jones fell in the rankings due to a history of injury and concerns with his speed, but he has great size, good hands and will not be called upon to run the speed routes.

    Jones seems most likely to find himself the understudy to sophomore Jaxon Shipley, according to ESPN's Carter Strickland, and will run many of the same routes as well as some over the middle to take advantage of matchups with linebackers. If Jones can give this team 20 catches the coaches will be ecstatic.

ILB Dalton Santos

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    Of the four freshman linebackers brought in this offseason, inside linebacker Dalton Santos seems the only one likely to take the field for the defense. 

    With the trio of Demarco Cobbs, Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond looking like they will be a top linebacking corps this season, playing time for the freshmen linebackers is highly unlikely. However, Santos seems tabbed to play backup middle linebacker to Edmond.

    Fortunately for Santos, backup means playing time on this because, to beat this dead horse some more, Manny Diaz goes two-deep at every position.

    Considering the difficulty inherent in learning the middle linebacker position in Diaz's defense, Santos will have to learn on the fly. He may not play much early in the season, but if he grasps this position, he will become a great asset for this team off the bench.

WR Kendall Sanders

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    Sanders, a converted cornerback, comes to Texas with eyes for the slot receiver position that will be left open after Marquise Goodwin graduates. 

    Sanders, like Jones, is the beneficiary of the inconsistency of the Longhorns' starting receiving corps. Whereas Jones is more of a possession receiver, Sanders is a game breaker with top end speed and can be extremely elusive in the open field. Sanders' speed also leaves the door open for him to contribute in some capacity on special teams.

    Sanders will definitely play, the only question is how much? He is very raw as far as a receiver since he primarily played corner in high school although he's a very natural pass-catcher. Sanders is the type of guy who will find a way to make a big play somewhere on the field and could end up being one of the better surprises of this class.

WR Marcus Johnson

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    Marcus Johnson is yet another freshman wide receiver who will be competing for playing time this season as yet another beneficiary of the wide receiving corps' inconsistency.

    Like Sanders, Johnson is a speedy prospect with good size and speed at the position that can be very elusive when he has room. Unlike Sanders, Johnson is a true wide receiver and possesses an advantage over Sanders in his footwork along the sideline. The only issue here is Sanders is much more accomplished as a deep route runner than as an underneath route runner, and Texas simply does not have a quarterback that can stretch the field with his arm.

    Expect Sanders to be used primarily in the screen game because of his elusiveness. Once he improves his route-running, Johnson could become a serviceable backup to Shipley on the outside before the season is out.

OLB Peter Jinkens

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    Among the most athletic members of this year's recruiting class, linebacker Peter Jinkens is definitely a longer-term project than Santos but will find the field because of his speed.

    Jinkens played running back in high school as well as linebacker and his 4.51 speed, according to ESPN, is eye-opening such that he has garnered comparison to speedy linebacker DeMarco Cobbs. While Jinkens is not likely to see field this season as a linebacker, there are many who believe he can be the best special teams player on the team in 2012.

    Should speed become an issue for the backups in the linebacking corps, Jinkens could find himself on the field. As it stands now, he's primed to become a special teams demon.

CB Orlando Thomas

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    Converting to cornerback at Texas, Orlando Thomas currently stands at the only freshman who could see time in the secondary.

    If you look up "versatile" in the dictionary, Thomas' picture is right there next to it. In high school, he played quarterback, running back, wide receiver and cornerback as well as serving as his team's punter and return specialist. After getting a good look at him all spring, the Longhorns and defensive backs coach Duane Akina decided that Thomas' ideal position would be corner.

    Since he's very new to the position, Thomas is not likely to be called upon to play significant amounts of time in the secondary. He's also not helped by the fact that this secondary is among the most talented in the country. Though he's likely to develop into a guy who can play either safety or corner, barring injury, he will likely get most of his burn with Jinkens on special teams.

QB Jalen Overstreet

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    Yes, Overstreet will sit fourth on the depth chart at quarterback this season. However, he's among the leading candidates to take over Fozzy Whittaker's spot in the Wild package.

    Since there's no indication whatsoever of who out of Gray, Johnson and Overstreet will man the position, you cannot count out Overstreet. The logic here is simple since Overstreet is the only one among the three that has played quarterback and is a good runner with 4.6 speed.

    Simply put, if Overstreet makes the cut to lead the ,he will play. If not, he will be a fourth-string quarterback with not a prayer of seeing the field.

OT Kennedy Estelle

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    This may seem low for the seventh-ranked tackle in the class, but the enormously built and talented Estelle just does not figure to be a major contributor—yet.

    At 6'7" and 310 lbs, there's a lot to love about Estelle. The only problem is that JUCO transfer Donald Hawkins was brought in to play left tackle, and Josh Cochran does not seem likely to let go of his vice grip on the opposite side.

    Though Estelle has stated he will change positions if it means more playing time, all signs point to him being relegated to special teams. Do not forget about this guy.

OLB Tim Cole

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    Outside linebacker Tim Cole, who was teammates with Malcom Brown in Brenham, is another freshman linebacker who is on the fringe of being able to earn a spot as a backup.

    Cole is borderline prototypical at outside linebacker and would be on the regular on the field were it not for the talent ahead of him. Cole is a good tackler with the athletic ability to cover and pursue with the best of them. 

    Other than Santos, Cole is the most likely of the freshmen to find regular playing time. What hurts him is that he was not around for spring practice, though he has a shot to play himself into a solid backup role.

QB Connor Brewer

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    Scottsdale product Connor Brewer comes in as the third-string quarterback and the only pro-style quarterback on the roster.

    As he proved in the spring game, Brewer can make just about every throw and has very good size for the position. In fact, you could make the argument that he throws the best deep ball out of everyone on the team. Unfortunately for Brewer, Tyrone Swoopes comes to campus in 2013 and is expected to keep the likes of Brewer from ever getting a chance to start for this team.

    Though he currently sits third on the depth chart, it would surprise me if he overtook Case McCoy, who was downright awful in the spring game, as the backup to David Ash. If Ash gets hurt or struggles mightily, we could very well see Brewer under center at some point this season

FB Alex De La Torre

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    Brought in as a linebacker, De La Torre has switched positions to fullback early in his Longhorn career after projected starter Chet Moss became academically ineligible.

    De La Torre was undersized and slow as a linebacker, so the move to fullback is probably the only way he will see the field as a freshman. Even then, he will serve as a backup to Ryan Roberson, but he could be utilized on special teams.

    This guy will probably be a favorite of the coaches due to his work ethic and football IQ, but he will never be a stat-stuffer by any means.

The Rest

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    OG Curtis Riser: Riser is another player who will be kept off the field solely because of the experienced talent ahead of him. Riser will definitely compete for a spot as a backup but is ultimately not expected to get there. Special teams are definitely a possibility.

    DE Hassan Ridgeway: The bull-rusher Ridgeway has been described as an SEC-type player who will simply bully people in the trenches. Once again, the talent ahead of him is just too good, and he would have to beat out Torshiro Davis for time. Though he's expected to redshirt this season, it would behoove anyone to keep an eye out for Ridgeway in the future.

    DT Alex Norman: Considering the depth at defense tackle, the fifth spot in the rotation comes down to Norman and Malcom Brown. Brown is heavily favored to win out here although Norman does have considerable upside. Indications are that Norman will also redshirt this season.

    S Adrian Colbert: Sooner than later, Texas will have one of the fastest safeties in the country with the track star Colbert. Right now, he's a raw talent that needs to learn from the guys ahead of him and is likely to redshirt to let that happen. There's potential for him to play special teams because of his speed.

    CB Bryson Echols: Echols is another great talent who simply has to wait his turn. He will spend his time on the scout team, where his skills will really make guys like Mike Davis work on a daily basis.

    DT Paul Boyette: The defensive line is too crowded for Boyette as he would have to beat out both Brown and Norman for a spot. He needs to work on his strength, and his diminished role this season will allow him to do just that.

    DE Caleb Bluiett: Once again, defensive end is a position that's too top heavy for the freshman Bluiett to have an opportunity. He will be needed next season, however, and was originally brought in to fill a position of need after the departures of guys like Jeffcoat and Dorsey.

    CB Kevin Vaccaro: Like his older brother, Vaccaro has good instincts and knows how to bring the wood. Unfortunately, he's undersized even for a corner and is the definition of a project. Most likely will peak as a leader on special teams.

    OLB Bryce Cottrell: Cottrell is another defensive end-type player brought in to ease the impact of the impending exodus at that position. Cottrell is a tweener, and will spend the season figuring out if he belongs at outside linebacker or defensive end.

    OT Camrhon Hughes: Hughes tore his ACL last week and is out for the season. He was not projected to be a major piece of this team, so he mainly hurts himself here. Here's hoping he makes a speedy recovery so he can come back next season and help this team.