Texas Football: Predicting the Longhorns' Statistical Leaders for 2013

Zach Shelton@@zachisagingerFeatured ColumnistMay 23, 2013

Texas Football: Predicting the Longhorns' Statistical Leaders for 2013

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    For the first time really since 2009, the Texas Longhorns know who their starters will be in the spring. Because of that fact, we can predict with relative certainty which players will lead the team in the major statistical categories.

    In each of the last three seasons, a freshman has had to step up and lead the Longhorns in key areas of production—whether it was running backs Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray the last two seasons, or Quandre Diggs back in 2011.

    Barring injury, this season will be different. Mack Brown and his staff know where they can expect high levels of production from their 19 returning starters, the most in the country.

    These are the players that will be producing at the highest level next season in all major offensive and defensive statistical categories, along with the players that could surprise us with big seasons.

Passing

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    David Ash is your starting quarterback for 2013. That designation makes him a no-brainer to lead the Longhorns in every single passing category this season.

    Expect a major leap from Ash in passing yards and touchdowns. Major Applewhite's offense is going to turn him loose, giving him the freedom to stretch the field but also to tuck the ball and run when he sees a hole. Overall, he is just going to be a tougher matchup for the opposition.

    Another factor working in Ash's favor is that this is the first offseason in which he is not looking over his shoulder. Even despite the high praise Tyrone Swoopes has been receiving, this is Ash's time and he will get every first-team rep from now until the end of the season barring injury.

    Put Ash down for an improvement to at least 25 touchdowns and 3,300 yards passing. His 67.3 completion percentage will not change much, but you cannot complain about that number.

    Player to watch: None. No other player on the team should throw a pass if Ash stays healthy, unless it is Jaxon Shipley on a gadget play.

Rushing Yards

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    In his first full season as Texas' starting running back, Johnathan Gray will lead the Longhorns in rushing. The only question is whether Gray can become Texas' first 1,000-yard rusher since 2007.

    After starting the season as a third-stringer, Gray led the Longhorns in rushing with 701 yards his freshman year. But he did this in a scheme that was not quite suited to his strengths, as proven by his lower-than-expected 4.7 YPC.

    But Gray, like his quarterback, will flourish in 2013 in the Major Applewhite's spaced-out attack. His lightning-quick feet and ability to change gears make him deadly out in space. He has also added some muscle to his compact frame this spring, which will help him break more tackles than he did a year ago.

    If Gray can get up to around 5.5 yards a pop, he has a great shot at breaking 1,000 yards this season.

    Player to watch: Malcolm Brown. He has the best size-speed combination on the team and will split carries with Gray. But he has only been healthy in roughly half of the games he been on the roster, so it is tough to count on him.

Rushing Touchdowns

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    With the emergence of Gray and a healthy Brown, Joe Bergeron will not see anything close to the 127 carries he got in 2012. But that will not keep him from being a mainstay in the end zone this season.

    At 240 pounds, Bergeron is a wrecking ball at tailback and ideally suited for goal-line duty. He performed spectacularly in this role in 2012, scoring 16 touchdowns to tie for 11th nationally in that category.

    Last year's production may be hard to beat considering Texas' other two backs will get their chances along with David Ash. But when Texas gets in close, Bergeron will be the guy and should easily get into double figures again in 2013.

    Player to watch: Malcolm Brown. Texas does not want to substitute as often this season, and Brown is a power runner in his own right with much more wiggle than Bergeron. 

Receiving Yards

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    Last season, wideout Mike Davis came within just 61 yards of being Texas' first 1,000-yard receiver since 2009. Thanks to a more wide-open attack, he should be able to get it done in 2013.

    As Davis showed in 2012, he can be downright deadly when he gets behind the defense. He recorded four catches of over 60 yards as David Ash's favorite target, including a 75-yarder against Texas Tech that blew the game open. 

    With more receivers on the field, Davis will see increased one-on-one coverage this year. Ash will be looking to stretch the field all season, so Davis should get more than his fair share of chances to showcase his chops on the deep routes.

    However, tentatively pencil in Davis for a 1,000-yard season. When he returns from his presumed suspension, Kendall Sanders also has the ability to stretch the field, and Jaxon Shipley figures to have a prominent role in the passing game. Either way, Davis heavily favors to lead this team in yardage.

    Player to watch: Jaxon Shipley. Like Davis, he will see a lot of single coverage this season and there is a short list of players are up to that task against him. These two will feed off each other's success all season, and the race to lead the team in yardage will be tight.

Receptions

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    Whereas Mike Davis is the team's deep-ball specialist, Jaxon Shipley is the team's top possession receiver and will lead the team in receptions for the second consecutive season.

    Teams are going to double-cover Davis on the outside to prevent the long ball, and Shipley is going to happily reap the benefits in the slot. His hands and footwork are some of the best in the country, and he has no problem going up to pluck one out of the air. 

    When the Longhorns need a first down, Shipley will be their man. That said, a 75-catch season is well within his reach as he and Davis will force defenses to choose between the lesser of two evils all season.

    Player to watch: Mike Davis. Shipley recorded just two more receptions than did Davis in 2012. Ash certainly favors Davis on the deep routes and will feed him every time he gets open. Which could be quite often.

Receiving Touchdowns

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    Catching touchdowns in the red zone is the toughest thing a receiver is asked to do. The end line becomes a 53-yard long extra defender and the route tree becomes more limited the closer a team gets to the goal line.

    That is why Jaxon Shipley will lead this team in touchdown receptions in 2013. His feet, hands and ability to make tough catches are all necessary commodities in the red zone that are all tops on the team.

    Last year's touchdown leader Mike Davis will do his damage on the outside, but does not do as well when his space is limited. He could lead the team again this season if he continues to break loose, but the safe bet is on Shipley and his mettle at the position.

    Player to watch: John Harris. Aside from Davis, Harris has the best shot of beating out Shipley for the scoring lead at receiver. At 6'3", he a big target with something to prove and could be the long lost savior of the tight end position. 

All-Purpose Yards

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    Texas' best receivers and running backs are all pretty clear cut. But nobody on the team can run, catch and return the ball quite like Daje Johnson.

    With seniors Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Monroe usually getting the nod when Texas needed an injection of speed, Johnson was under-utilized in 2012. Both are gone, and it is now Johnson's time to show what he can do with his 4.32 speed.

    Despite only touching the ball only 3.5 times per game, Johnson was able to become just the second freshman in school history to record a rush and reception of 70 yards or more. On the year he averaged 15 yards per catch and 7.5 yards per carry.

    This season, Johnson is in line for around 10 touches per game along with kick return duties. Tentatively, that should yield him around 140 all-purpose yards per game, which would give him over 1,800 on the season. That would nearly double team-leader Mike Davis' total of 939 yards last season.

    Player to watch: Johnathan Gray. Gray was second on the team with 852 all-purpose yards in 2012. Both his rushing and receiving numbers are expected to increase as his offensive role expands. Still, it would take an unbelievable year for him to top Johnson.

Tackles

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    Now on to the defense, which lost its leading tackler Kenny Vaccaro to the NFL last month. Jordan Hicks should be ready to fill the hole.

    Prior to his season-ending hip injury, Hicks was averaging 10 tackles per game and was by far the team's best run defender. Once he went down, the whole front seven fell apart and were bullied by the opposition.

    If he can stay healthy, Hicks should easily break the 100-tackle mark in 2013. He has the best instincts on the team and has recorded 10 tackles or more four times in his career. He should have this is in the bag.

    Players to watch: Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens. Tough to distinguish between these two. Santos is a better middle linebacker than Steve Edmond, who recorded 103 tackles last season. On the other hand, Jinkens is a high motor player with NFL-level speed at the position. If Hicks goes down again, both are capable of breaking into the hundreds. 

Sacks

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    Jackson Jeffcoat's status is always the biggest "if" on this team. But when he is healthy, he is an All-American-caliber defensive end that can rack up as many sacks as he wants.

    Over his career, Jeffcoat has missed 10 games. But in the 26 in which he has played, he has recorded 14.5 sacks, including 12.5 over his last 19 outings. No wonder he is a top-five defensive end prospect for next year's NFL draft.

    If Jeffcoat stays healthy in 2013, we are talking about a guy that will take down the quarterback 15 times—he is that good. Fingers crossed Longhorn fans.

    Player to watch: Cedric Reed. Reed's emerged last season in Jeffcoat's absence and is now the second-best end on this team. He played the best game of his career in the Alamo Bowl, recording 1.5 sacks and 3 TFL.

Tackles for Loss

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    Given that sacks count towards tackles for loss, and that Jackson Jeffcoat will probably double the second-leading sack total on the team, he will lead this team in those as well. Health withstanding, of course.

    What makes Jeffcoat so good is that even when he is not getting to the quarterback, he is a disruptive force in the backfield. In his 26 games played, he has a whopping 38 TFL, 23.5 of which are not sacks. In just six games last season, he recorded 11 TFL with seven coming independent of a sack.

    No player on the team is capable of dominance of this caliber. He is just scary off the weak side.

    Player to watch: Malcom Brown. Making his debut as a starter in 2013, Brown has a chance to be the best defensive tackle in the Big 12. He is big, powerful and will make a living in the backfield. He is the only defender on this team even close to capable of dominating his matchup like Jeffcoat.

Interceptions

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    For the third straight season, and possibly his last as a Longhorn, cornerback Quandre Diggs will lead the Longhorns in interceptions. It is just what he does.

    Despite his size, Diggs is a ball hawk that has now become one of the best cover corners in the Big 12. He tracks the ball very well and has the speed to keep up with even the fastest of receivers. 

    Even though teams are starting to throw away from Diggs, he is going to get his hands on at least four balls again this season. That should be about all it takes.

    Player to watch: Carrington Byndom. As Texas' second-best corner, Byndom had a down year in 2012 but is one of the best pure-coverage guys in the conference when he is on. He picked off three last season, and could reap the benefits of teams' cautious approach with Diggs.

Forced Fumbles

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    No current Texas player would ever be considered a master of the punch-out. So, since he comes off the quarterback's blind side, Jackson Jeffcoat gets the nod here as well.

    Coming off the left side simply gives players like Jeffcoat the best chance to force a fumble on the quarterback. And Jeffcoat seemed to be figuring this out before his injury last season, forcing both of his career fumbles in the first six games of 2012.

    Player to watch: Quandre Diggs. Diggs is already a master of the interception, but adding the ability to force fumbles a la the Honey Badger would take his game into the stratosphere. He is as good a bet as any to perfect the punch-out.