Texas National Signing Day Preview: Targets, Predictions and Rumor Roundup

Zach Shelton@@zachisagingerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2014

Texas National Signing Day Preview: Targets, Predictions and Rumor Roundup

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    The closer Charlie Strong gets to national signing day, the more he and the Longhorns want it to just be over with.

    In terms of its 2014 recruiting class, Texas has seen better days. The decommitments continue to pile up for the Longhorns as members of Charlie Strong's first class continue to shop around. Sunday was the latest and most damaging hit to the 2014 haul, as Texas A&M successfully snatched away 4-star linebacker Otaro Alaka.

    Losing Alaka takes the luster off of last week's Edwin Freeman pledge, which was already being overshadowed by the numerous recruits that are visiting other programs. 

    But the 10 days until the big day is an eternity at this stage of the process. Rumors are still flying, and the 'Horns still have plenty of time to reel in their last few targets, one being a means of returning the Aggies' favor. 

    Which recruits are the Longhorns going after in the waning days? Is Alaka the final blow, or are more decommits yet to come? Find out as we break down each remaining target and rumor leading up to the end of the 2014 recruiting season.


    All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

Target: CB Nick Harvey

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    To this point, Texas has all but struck out with one of the deepest defensive back classes in recent memory. Flipping Nick Harvey from Texas A&M would make it all better.

    Just days ago, it seemed none of the state's top defensive backs would become Longhorns. Second-rated cornerback Tony Brown enrolled early at Alabama, while safeties Edward Paris Jr. and Jamal Adams both picked LSU. Arrion Springs went with Oregon, and Dylan Sumner-Gardner followed Marcel Yates from College Station to Boise State. 

    Now, a couple days removed from landing safety/linebacker Edwin Freeman, the 'Horns are back in the game with the multitalented Nick Harvey. Despite being committed for over a year, the 4-star corner made a surprise visit to Austin on Saturday. 

    Should Harvey commit, he would be the class' highest-rated player, ahead of even Derick Roberson and Jerrod Heard. With 4.4 speed and ridiculous ball skills, he has the potential to make an immediate contribution in all three phases of the game. Already being pinned as the next Tyrann Mathieu, this is one of the nation's most exciting prospects.

    ESPN's Max Olson believes Harvey has been in touch with Texas for some time, so the arrow is pointing up for the Longhorns. If he flips, it would mean an immediate boon to the team's secondary as well as an added weapon in the return game. 

    Prediction: Texas

Target: DE Solomon Thomas

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    Reeling in Solomon Thomas has been a tough task for all parties involved, and especially so for the in-state Longhorns. 

    Thomas is one of the top uncommitted prospects in the nation, and he would be a great get for a program that just lost All-American Jackson Jeffcoat. Projected to play on the strong side, he and 4-star weak-side prospect Derick Roberson would be a deadly pass-rushing duo for years to come.

    The problem is that Thomas just announced his top three, and Texas isn't in it. Stanford appears to be the leader for the 6'5" prospect's services, while UCLA and Arkansas are both considered to be in the hunt.

    The 'Horns will continue to pursue the coveted prospect, but to no avail.

    Prediction: Stanford

Target: DT Poona Ford

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    Since Charlie Strong was hired, Texas has lost three defensive tackles. After his visit, 4-star prospect Poona Ford should lessen the blow.

    Of the defensive tackles that the Longhorns have pursued throughout the process, Ford is the most ready to contribute. Despite his compact 6'0" frame, Ford is an impressive athlete that shows great quickness on tape. He is going to be a problem when his coordinator calls a zone blitz.

    Ford visited Texas and Purdue over the weekend and has cancelled a trip to South Carolina. The former Louisville commit still has Missouri on tap, but the 247 Crystal Ball has Charlie Strong as the overwhelming favorite to regain Ford's services in Austin.

    Prediction: Texas

Target: DT Chris Nelson

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    Like Ford, 3-star defensive tackle Chris Nelson is a small yet quick defensive tackle that once committed to play for Strong at Louisville. And like the other ex-Louisville commit, Nelson is heavily favored to end up at Texas.

    At 6'2", Nelson is a little taller than Ford, but he displays a lot of the same qualities in terms of quickness off the ball. That said, Nelson has the frame to add some bulk and become the space-eater Texas lacks in its current haul.

    It would be surprising if Nelson did not end up as a Longhorn.

    Prediction: Texas

Target: RB Corey Avery

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    Texas needs another running back. D'Onta Foreman and his twin brother, Armanti (more on him later), are looking elsewhere, and Kevin Shorter may never play football again due to a bruised spinal cord

    Insert Corey Avery, a solid 3-star back that does everything well. Avery has solid 4.5 speed and does a good job finding room to run. He is not the biggest back at 180 pounds, but he has room to get bigger if that's what his coaches want him to do.

    After not taking a back in its 2013 class, Texas needs one to join 4-star pledge Donald Catalon. The issue is that Avery was impressed by his visit to Nebraska, while Texas has yet to offer. Give the Cornhuskers a slight edge at this point.

    Prediction: Nebraska

Target: S Jah'Shawn Johnson

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    After taking an official visit, it's unclear whether Texas Tech commit Jah'Shawn Johnson would flip to Texas. If the Longhorns offer, it would be between them and the in-conference Red Raiders.

    Because of his size, it's tough to define Johnson as a safety or a corner. His tape shows off his knack for delivering big hits while making plays on the ball like a safety, which he played in high school. However, his 5'10" frame and 4.4 speed suggest he possesses the ability to cover the speedy Big 12 receivers.

    This is a moot point until Texas offers, but Johnson has the upside to be a nice recruit for this 2014 class. Provided Nick Harvey doesn't pan out, Johnson would be a major coup for a depleted secondary.

    Prediction: Texas Tech

Rumor: Receivers Jumping Ship

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    A strong point of Texas' 2014 class is a bevy of receivers to bolster one of the team's deepest positions. Now that one has decommitted and three others are taking visits, four of the original six receivers could potentially jump ship.

    So far, 3-star recruit Emanuel Porter is the only receiver to officially flip to another program. That could change in the next few days, as both of Texas' 4-star recruits—Armanti Foreman and Lorenzo Joe—are checking out other programs. Garrett Gray, another 3-star commit, is also looking around.

    Joe has been committed to the Longhorns since August 2012, while Foreman came on board over the summer. The former is a fluid athlete at 6'2" who projects to start on the outside, possessing enough speed to become a reliable deep threat. Foreman has big-play ability as a receiver, runner and returner as an offensive weapon out of the slot.

    Losing either, as well as Gray's raw talent at 6'4", would take away two of Texas' top gets of the season. All three will have fans on edge until national signing day comes and goes.

    Prediction: Joe to Texas; Foreman to Texas; Gray to Texas

Rumor: Demetrius Knox Is Back

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    Demetrius Knox was a Texas commit before the no-visit policy came into effect in the spring of 2013. Nine months after withdrawing from the Longhorns' 2014 class, the 4-star offensive lineman will take one last look at the Forty Acres.

    At 6'4" and almost 300 pounds, Knox looks every bit the part of a major college lineman. He has great natural size and moves well in spite of it. Were he a little taller, he would be much more inclined to play tackle. Even then, this is a guy that Joe Wickline should be able to mold into a solid starter early in his career.

    It's tough to get a read on him because Knox was born in Ohio, yet he has made it clear that he wants to end up in Texas. He also hasn't taken a visit since October, so this could be just another case of a recruit milking the process. 

    While unlikely, Knox's commitment would also open up another interesting storyline. He and 4-star running back Daniel Gresham, a former Texas and Louisville commit, were high school teammates who have shown interest in sticking together at the college level.

    Joe Bergeron is set to graduate after next season, so Gresham's 236-pound frame would land him the short-yardage role as early as 2015.

    Prediction: Knox to Ohio State; Gresham to Texas

Rumor: John Bonney to Baylor

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    When John Bonney committed to the Longhorns back in September, both Oscar Giles and Duane Akina were on the Texas coaching staff. Both have moved on from the program, and Bonney could do the same after visiting Baylor over the weekend.

    Before Edwin Freeman committed in mid-January, Bonney was the highest-rated safety in Texas' class. Given their dearth at the position, the 4-star prospect could have earned some early playing time for the 'Horns.

    Now the Bears, who have long been tied to Bonney, are back in play and making a strong push for his services. Bonney's family has ties to Art Briles from the coach's time at the University of Houston. 

    Given his lack of familiarity with Charlie Strong and his staff, the most likely scenario is Bonney committing to the reigning Big 12 champions.

    Prediction: Baylor

Overall Prediction and Assessment

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    It goes without saying that Charlie Strong's first recruiting season is not going as smoothly as expected. The increasing number of decommitments coupled with current commits looking elsewhere has placed early pressure on Texas' new coach.

    Losing a player like Otaro Alaka to the Aggies is not what Longhorn fans had in mind when Strong was hired. Of the five decommitments, that one hurts the most because it cost the team an immediate difference-maker as well as an in-state battle. 

    That said, there is still hope for Strong to close out on a high note. He is almost guaranteed to land either Poona Ford or Chris Nelson, with a great shot at getting both. However, the focus should be on flipping Nick Harvey from A&M as a measure of revenge for taking Alaka. Edwin Freeman, Strong's chief win over the in-state rival, can fill the void at linebacker, while Harvey could contribute immediately in the secondary.

    All three are the top targets moving forward, while Strong and the staff do their best to hang on to the rest of the class. Top guys like quarterback Jerrod Heard and bookend Derick Roberson are safe, so convincing the likes of Lorenzo Joe and Armanti Foreman is a must. In keeping that nucleus together, the rest of the class will be just fine.

    Ultimately, Strong's best recruiting tool is a promising first season in Austin. Do that, and his next recruiting cycle will adopt a much more positive storyline.