Texas Longhorns Football

Texas Football: How Many Starters Have NFL Caliber Talent?

Zach SheltonFeatured ColumnistOctober 18, 2013

Texas Football: How Many Starters Have NFL Caliber Talent?

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    Where will Johnathan Gray land once he declares for the NFL Draft?
    Where will Johnathan Gray land once he declares for the NFL Draft?Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

    Texas Longhorns head coach Mack Brown has taken a lot of heat for not turning talent into wins. The win over Oklahoma has cooled his seat, but recruits will still want to know just how many of his players project to make the next level.

    Fans might care to know as well.

    Brown had just three players chosen in the 2013 NFL Draft. With 19 seniors on his current roster and plenty of draft-eligible juniors, another underwhelming performance will likely be a major indictment of Brown's performance whether he returns in 2014 or not.

    So who definitely has legitimate NFL talent? Who will probably get a shot at the next level? And who needs some chips to fall in the right spot for them to realize their lifelong dream?

    The answers might surprise you.

Quarterback

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    From a physical standpoint, Ash fits the mold of an NFL quarterback.
    From a physical standpoint, Ash fits the mold of an NFL quarterback.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Probably

    QB David Ash, Junior

    When he is healthy, Ash is the starter and, therefore, deserves to be included in this list. Plus there is a laundry list of reasons why current starter Case McCoy will never play a down of NFL football.

    He has often driven Texas fans nuts with his erratic play, but Ash is a solid prospect for the pro level. He has prototypical size at 6'3" and almost 225 pounds with one of the biggest arms in the conference. He also possesses decent mobility, as evidenced by his nearly 400 career rushing yards.

    There are two knocks on Ash. The first is that he is not the most cerebral player, often struggling to correct past mistakes. The second knock would be his current injury situation, as a concussion has put his future in doubt.

    Injuries aside, Ash's physical tools make him a third- or fourth-round prospect.

Running Back

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    Gray is emerging as the complete package in his sophomore season.
    Gray is emerging as the complete package in his sophomore season.Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Definitely

    Johnathan Gray, Sophomore

    The Longhorns have spent the last three seasons building up their running back corps, and no player is a more shining portrait of success here than Johnathan Gray.

    Leading the team with 562 rushing yards through six games, Gray is displaying all the tools that made him one of the nation's top prospects. He possesses has elite quickness and an above average 4.4 speed combined with great vision out of the backfield.

    The sophomore is on the smaller side at 5'11" but does have surprising power at 208 pounds, and is an adept pass-blocker. He needs to showcase even more power before he becomes draft-eligible, but Gray is a surefire NFL talent.

Receivers

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    Daje Johnson's top-end speed makes him a shoo-in at the NFL level.
    Daje Johnson's top-end speed makes him a shoo-in at the NFL level.Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Definitely

    Mike Davis, Senior

    Davis decided to stay for his senior season and it's paying off. Improved route running has yielded him five touchdowns through five games of action, and he remains the team's best deep threat. That makes the senior a no-brainer in a middle round. He needs to add some muscle to his 6'2" frame, because 195 pounds is barely bigger than an NFL cornerback.

    Daje Johnson, Sophomore

    Is he a receiver? Is he a running back? Doesn't matter because Johnson runs a 4.34, which is the same time that earned Tavon Austin a No. 8 overall selection. Johnson won't go that high once he is eligible, but teams will be drawn to his ability to score from anywhere on the field. Through a season and a half of play, he has a rushing, receiving and return touchdown each of 70 yards or greater.

    Probably

    Jaxon Shipley, Junior

    Shipley is eligible after this season, but is a lock to return as a senior. Shipley has always been steady, if not underwhelming, and is averaging just 10.8 yards per reception this season. Possessing good size and decent speed, the younger Shipley relies more on his superb hands and route-running skills. He has a lot to prove in the pre-draft process before he gets his shot as a slot receiver.

    Kendall Sanders, Sophomore

    In his first season seeing the majority of snaps, we have seen mixed results from Sanders. He got the start against Kansas State and hauled in a 63-yard touchdown, looking like the heir-apparent to Davis on the outside. Unfortunately that catch has accounted for over a quarter of his yardage on the season. He has the speed and the athleticism to be a great deep threat, but has a lot of learning to do. He and fellow sophomore Marcus Johnson have both looked the part at times.

     

Offensive Line

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    Mason Walters should still get a shot at the NFL after losing some steam these past two seasons.
    Mason Walters should still get a shot at the NFL after losing some steam these past two seasons.Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    Definitely

    Trey Hopkins, Senior

    Hopkins stands above the rest of the Longhorn offensive linemen. The All-Big 12 lineman has shrugged off missing most of the offseason to remain the team's best up front. The senior guard has the size and athleticism to continue to play inside in the NFL. No Chance Warmack, but a solid middle-round player.

    Probably

    Donald Hawkins, Senior

    Aside from Hopkins, nobody is playing better up front than the former JUCO transfer. He has been a standout at left tackle, though is a more natural fit at guard. He too figures to make the move inside and has to prove he belongs there this spring.

    Maybe

    Mason Walters, Senior

    You would think a four-year starter at Texas would be a surefire NFL talent. Walters has just not followed the same arc that his sensational freshman and sophomore seasons would indicate. Still, he has elite size at 6'6" and 320 pounds. He probably ends up as a late-round flier, and from there it's anyone's guess what happens.

     

Defensive Line

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    Jackson Jeffcoat will be an NFL defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker.
    Jackson Jeffcoat will be an NFL defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker.Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Definitely

    DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Senior

    Jeffcoat is starting to look like the no-doubter everyone thought he was after his great sophomore season. He has five sacks in his past three games, and finds himself squarely among Mel Kiper's top-10 prospects at the defensive end. If he stays healthy, there's no way he lasts past the second round.

    Probably

    DT Malcom Brown, Junior

    The thought with Brown is that once the mental aspect of the game catches up with his talent, he's an absolute force. The former five-star prospect looks like a man among boys, but often struggles with gap control and finds himself way out of position. We will know much more this time next year.

    DE Cedric Reed, Junior

    Opposite Jeffcoat, junior Cedric Reed has made a major jump on the strongside. Reed is getting to the quarterback, batting down passes at the line and leads the team with 42 tackles. He's not slowing down and is set to be the team's best pass-rusher as a senior. Count on him to make an NFL roster and then some.

    Maybe

    DT Chris Whaley, Senior

    Total shot in the dark here. Whaley has surprising athleticism for a guy that weighs 296 pounds, which is a result of his days at running back. His career bears an eerie resemblance to that of Pro Bowler Henry Melton, who was also a former running back of the exact same size. Seeking the same success, someone will give him a long look.

Linebackers

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    The speedy Peter Jinkens is Texas' best NFL prospect at linebacker.
    The speedy Peter Jinkens is Texas' best NFL prospect at linebacker.Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

    Probably

    Peter Jinkens, Sophomore

    Same as Malcom Brown, Jinkens is prone to mental mistakes at outside linebacker. But when he is good, he is very good. He has NFL-type speed, and does everything that he needs to as an every-down player. He is light at 218 pounds, so it's hard to get too excited about him.

    Maybe

    Jordan Hicks, Junior

    Hicks could be in the "Definitely" category if it wasn't for his injury history as he has suffered season-ending ailments each of the last two seasons. That said, he can be the defense's MVP from the sideline because it has looked so bad without him. Hard to find a more uncertain future for such a gifted player.

    Dalton Santos, Sophomore

    Santos is devoid of NFL speed. If he has ever run better than a 4.7 that means his dad was working the timer. That said, he does have great instincts and is a natural leader. Not to mention he knows how to finish tackles. That might be enough to get him a shot as an undrafted free agent, but that's about it.

     

Secondary

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    Carrington Byndom's oft passive play will cost him this April.
    Carrington Byndom's oft passive play will cost him this April.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Probably

    CB Quandre Diggs, Junior

    Diggs' slow start is doing his draft stock no favors. After earning a reputation as an undersized ballhawk through his first two seasons, Diggs has struggled to adjust to his role as a nickel corner. He has no interceptions and has only broken up two passes in 2013. He will likely play on Sundays, though he will probably need to stay for his senior season.

    CB Carrington Byndom, Senior

    Good in coverage, poor tackler. Byndom is Jekyll and Hyde on the outside, vacillating between shutdown corner and the reason this defense has been so bad. Teams will like the fine work he did on Justin Blackmon his sophomore season as well as last season's Alamo Bowl performance against Brandin Cooks. Those performances will get him a shot in some way, shape or form.

     

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