Jerrod Heard is a can't-miss prospect in Texas' 2014 class.
Based on necessity or a supreme level of talent, every recruiting class has certain members who are irreplaceable. Losing a commitment from any of these prospects changes the whole complexion of the class.
National signing day is just around the corner, and Texas has to take certain measures to keep the key members of its class. Emanuel Porter's decommitment is the fourth since head coach Charlie Strong's arrival January 5, and more could be on the way.
Strong, along with the rest of his staff, has to assume no recruit is safe and ensure that the key members of their first class remain committed. That starts with the prospect expected to one day take the reins at quarterback.
When you have missed by a mile on some big-time quarterbacks and only have two scholarshipped on the roster, you better hang on to your lone recruit at the position. That said, no commit is more crucial to Texas' 2014 class than Jerrod Heard.
Heard is the nation's No. 2 dual-threat quarterback. He is an instinctive playmaker who throws an accurate ball and is also coming off of his second straight state title. He will need to add size to his 190-pound frame, but Heard is a great overall prospect.
According to Dave Behr of the Austin Statesman, as of this writing, Heard is still "100% committed to Texas" and considers Charlie Strong a "great hire." That's great news for Texas fans, because losing him would be catastrophic to this class.
Though we have seen encouraging play from QB Tyrone Swoopes, there is no guarantee he can man the position for the next three years. David Ash, via a medical redshirt, could have two years of eligibility remaining. But given that he already has recurring concussion symptoms, according to head athletic trainer Kenny Boyd, counting on him to man the position is just as dubious.
Getting Heard on campus and developing him is one of this program's highest priorities as it rebuilds. Should the worst happen next season, he would be ready to take over and make a difference as early as 2015. Without him, the position will continue to hang in limbo.
Commits who can contribute as freshmen are must-hold commodities. Defensive end Derick Roberson falls directly into that category.
The highest rated member of Texas' defensive class, the 4-star recruit cast some doubt that he was still fully pledged to the Longhorns. After taking his official visit on January 18, whatever doubts he had seem to have been quelled.
Roberson is on the lighter side at 235 pounds, but he is riddled with the athletic potential to become an all-conference player on the weak side. The 'Horns have very little depth at defensive end, so he figures to get plugged in as soon as he adds another 20-25 pounds.
Keep an eye on what he looks like at the start of fall camp.
Keeping Otaro Alaka would be a major recruiting win for Charlie Strong.
Like Roberson, linebacker Otaro Alaka is one of Texas' commits who should see playing time sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, his commitment has wavered since the hiring of Charlie Strong.
Losing the 4-star linebacker would be a major blow for Texas. Not only do his athleticism and instincts point toward early playing time, but his decommitment would almost guarantee that he was flipping to Texas A&M. Alaka visited the Aggies over the weekend and has since cancelled a visit to LSU.
Simply put, this is an all-out battle between two programs that are fighting for control of the state. The Longhorns are currently losing that battle, as 247 Sports' Crystal Ball predicts that Alaka will be Texas' fifth decommit of the class.
The situation is dire, but it also presents a great opportunity for Strong to show off his recruiting chops. A major reason the Longhorns hired him was to make a difference on the recruiting trail and to take back some of the spotlight stolen by the program's surging rival.
He can ace both early tests by getting Alaka on campus.
As is typical with the state's top prospects, the wrestling match for Edwin Freeman was a back-and-forth affair between the 'Horns and the Aggies. Texas won out, adding an irreplaceable and dynamic player to its defense.
Is he a safety, a linebacker or something else entirely? Consider him a safety for now, but Freeman is one of the more unique prospects in the state. His 6'0" frame can easily support enough weight for him to play linebacker, while his game speed indicates he may be best served at safety.
SB Nation's Steven Muma likes him to fill a hybrid role that would utilize both his coverage skills and run-stuffing prowess. This is a player Charlie Strong should be able to have a lot of fun with because he has the ability to be disruptive from anywhere along the back seven.
The fact that Texas kept him away from College Station only sweetens the deal.
Losing Armanti Foreman would rob Texas of a major playmaker on offense.
As of January 23, receiver pledge Armanti Foreman has decided to take a visit to Missouri, according to SB Nation's Wescott Eberts.
The 4-star receiver and his twin brother D'Onta will take official visits soon. If both get offers, it's possible they will flip, as they have been a package deal since their recruitment began.
Due to his elite speed and versatility, Armanti would be the bigger loss. As a receiver and a ball-carrier, he has the big-play ability to make an impact both as an offensive weapon and a returner. He also has experience playing defensive back, another area in which Texas could really use some depth.
Despite his status as a 3-star recruit, losing D'Onta would also hurt Texas' running back class. At 207 pounds and with room to add bulk, he would have the inside track to the job as Texas' short yardage back. His decommitment, paired with Kevin Shorter's tragic spinal injury, would leave Donald Catalon as Texas' only running back commit.
No member of the coaching staff currently has a visit set up with the Foremans, so this is steering toward another late blow to the class.
A month ago, Texas had four receiver commits who were all 6'2" or taller. With Emanuel Porter already gone, and two more shopping around, that number could shrink all the way to one by signing day.
Garrett Gray and Lorenzo Joe are both exploring other options as early as the weekend, according to SB Nation's Wescott Eberts. Gray will check on the Cal Golden Bears this weekend before stopping by UCLA, while Joe has a visit scheduled with TCU.
Retaining both would be great, but Joe is the priority. He has been committed since August 2012 and projects nicely to become a good outside receiver. Though he played quarterback in high school, he has the size, speed and short-area quickness to develop in a hurry.
The staff has already held a meeting with Joe, its prized 4-star recruit, and can only wait on the results of weekend visit. Texas has solid depth at receiver, but losing out on a supposed sure get looks bad on the trail.
D'Onta Foreman and Kevin Shorter both have uncertain futures as Longhorns, while star junior Johnathan Gray is still recovering from a torn Achilles. That means opportunity for Donald Catalon, so long as Texas can keep him on board.
At 5'11" and 190 pounds, Catalon is a solid all-around back who plays fast in pads and possesses the elusiveness to make defenders miss in space. He is not going to run guys over like Malcolm Brown, but there is certainly room for a guy with his skill set.
Until there is any clarity regarding Gray's health, Texas needs to plan on giving Catalon snaps as a change-of-pace back. Most of all, the 'Horns did not take a back in 2013, and he is the only one in this class who is a safe bet to be on the roster next season.