Texas Football: Power Ranking the Longhorns' Positional Units for 2014

Zach SheltonFeatured ColumnistJune 25, 2014

Texas Football: Power Ranking the Longhorns' Positional Units for 2014

0 of 9

    Johnathan Gray's return will make Texas' running corps the toast of the Big 12.
    Johnathan Gray's return will make Texas' running corps the toast of the Big 12.USA TODAY Sports

    Charlie Strong may be new to Texas, but he will face the same issues at the quarterback position that plagued his predecessor. He will also inherit two of the conference's top units in the running back corps and defensive line.

    David Ash's health continues to be a major pivot point for Strong's first season as the Longhorns' head coach, but things are filling in nicely elsewhere. Running back will be back at full strength by the season opener, rivaled only by the linebackers in terms of depth.

    But can the depth and experience of these groups be enough to offset the question marks at quarterback and defensive back? Under a new regime, we will just have to wait and see.

    All stats and information courtesy of TexasSports.com.

    All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

9. Tight End

1 of 9

    McFarland's inability to find a role limits the entire position's effectiveness.
    McFarland's inability to find a role limits the entire position's effectiveness.Michael Thomas/Associated Press

    Top Player: Geoff Swaim

     

    Question Mark: M.J. McFarland, Blake Whiteley

     

    Why They're Ranked Here: These guys can block, and that's about it. Swaim and Greg Daniels, who each started more than six games last season, caught a total of six balls for a pitiful 42 yards. The defense can ignore them almost without consequence.

    Unless McFarland can somehow get his receiving talents on the field, or Whiteley can excel as a JUCO transfer, don't expect these guys to function as much more than extra offensive linemen.

8. Special Teams

2 of 9

    Texas will have issues replacing a specialist of Fera's caliber in 2014.
    Texas will have issues replacing a specialist of Fera's caliber in 2014.USA TODAY Sports

    Top Player: RET Daje Johnson

     

    Question Marks: K Nick Rose, P William Russ

     

    Why They're Ranked Here: The Longhorns will miss All-American Anthony Fera, who handled both place-kicking and punting duties with national-level proficiency. Fera made over 90 percent of his field-goal attempts and was 11th-best in the FBS at dropping his punts inside the 20.

    That type of production is now being replaced with two players that have never kicked at the collegiate level. Rose has yet to boot a field goal at Texas, and Russ has zero punts for his career.

    On the bright side, the 'Horns should have plenty of explosive talent to trot out in the return game. Johnson should lead that group, but don't count out Jacorey Warrick or freshman Roderick Bernard. 

7. Defensive Back

3 of 9

    Diggs can only do so much for a secondary that appears to be full of holes.
    Diggs can only do so much for a secondary that appears to be full of holes.USA TODAY Sports

    Top Player: CB Quandre Diggs

     

    Questions Marks: S Mykkele Thompson, CB Duke Thomas, S Josh Turner, S Adrian Colbert

     

    Why They're Ranked Here: Diggs is a stud at cornerback, but he can only do so much for this group on the back end. Unless his teammates prove that they can hold their own, opposing offenses will simply avoid his side of the field.

    We've seen Thompson, Thomas and Turner all play solid football, just without any semblance of consistency. For everyone other than Diggs, this group's success will depend on how they respond to the new regime. 

    The raw talent is there, but it's unreliable until proven otherwise.

6. Quarterback

4 of 9

    Ash's injury history tapers the expectations for Texas' entire season.
    Ash's injury history tapers the expectations for Texas' entire season.USA TODAY Sports

    Top Player: David Ash

     

    Question Marks: David Ash, Tyrone Swoopes, Jerrod Heard

     

    Why They're Ranked Here: This position is a mess. Ash, its best and most experienced player, is built like a sand castle. As for the backups Swoopes and Heard, neither one has taken a collegiate snap.

    While that all spells disaster for one of the most inconsistently quarterbacked teams in any major conference, the upside remains considerable. Ash's 8.7 yards per attempt would have been in the top 20 (per CFBStats.com) in the nation had he lasted the entire season; Swoopes is a 240-pound battering ram with a huge arm; and Heard was 2014's top dual-threat recruit.

    Tyrone Swoopes does throw a good deep ball. He did to Jaxon Shipley on that 44-yard TD pass.

    -@JeffHowe247, 19 April 2014

    A healthy Ash bumps this position up at least two spots. But if he can't stay on the field, the quarterbacks will struggle until one of the underclassmen adjusts to the college game. Sounds like more of the same for Texas.

5. Offensive Line

5 of 9

    Offensive line coach Joe Wickline has plenty of talent to work with in his first season with the Longhorns.
    Offensive line coach Joe Wickline has plenty of talent to work with in his first season with the Longhorns.Michael Thomas/Associated Press

    Top Players: Dom Espinosa, Sedrick Flowers, Kennedy Estelle

     

    Question Marks: Kent Perkins, Desmond Harrison

     

    Why They're Ranked Here: This is one of Texas' deepest positions, albeit with youth and inexperience. Espinosa is the lone senior and will be joined in the starting lineup by regular contributors in Flowers and Estelle.

    When Perkins was forced to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery this spring, the Longhorns lost a physical presence and their probable left tackle. That thrusts the unreliable Harrison into a starting role after he was jumped by both Perkins and Estelle in 2013.

    But if Perkins can't go and/or Harrison struggles, Texas will still have options. Guard Darius James played left tackle in the spring game, and fellow guard Rami Hammad could easily be a starter by the fall.

    In short, this is Joe Wickline engineering an offensive front littered with big-time recruits. With him calling the shots, these linemen are going to have a nice season.

4. Wide Receiver

6 of 9

    Shipley projects as an elite receiver in 2014.
    Shipley projects as an elite receiver in 2014.Michael Thomas/Associated Press

    Top Players: Jaxon Shipley, Marcus Johnson

     

    Question Marks: Daje Johnson, Kendall Sanders

     

    Why They're Ranked Here: After a down year, Shipley is primed for a big senior season as Texas' No. 1 wideout. And that should only make things easier for breakout candidate Marcus Johnson.

    According to SB Nation's Wescott Eberts, Shipley's preseason groin surgery may have played a major factor in his career-worst season. Fully recovered for the spring game, he showed just how easy he can make it look in what should have been a four-touchdown afternoon.

    Shipley's ability to command double-teams will open things up for fellow starters Johnson and Sanders. Johnson led the team in yards per catch last season and will look to build on that as a full-timer in 2014.

    Sanders and Daje Johnson are the wild cards. Both are capable of big explosions, especially the multi-talented Johnson, but they combined for just 701 yards of offense on 85 touches last season. If neither can find his way, Jacorey Warrick is ready to take snaps out of the slot.

    Then there's the incoming talent. Led by 4-stars Armanti Foreman and Lorenzo Joe, the 'Horns took five receivers in their 2014 haul. Each is a big fall camp away from finding an early role within the offense.

    It's definitely murky behind the core of Shipley and Johnson, but offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has plenty of places to look for other difference-makers.

3. Linebacker

7 of 9

    Even without Jordan Hicks, the Longhorns have incredible depth at linebacker.
    Even without Jordan Hicks, the Longhorns have incredible depth at linebacker.Michael Thomas/Associated Press

    Top Players: Steve Edmond, Peter Jinkens

     

    Question Marks: Jordan Hicks, Demarco Cobbs, Tim Cole

     

    Why They're Ranked Here: Every coordinator dreams of being two-deep at every position, and Vance Bedford is a stone's throw away from being three-deep at linebacker.

    Edmond and Jinkens are surefire starters. The former was one of the best linebackers in the conference before he lacerated his liver (seriously) against Texas Tech, and Jinkens' fiery style of play is right in Strong's wheelhouse.

    As for the other spot, Cole started the spring game but will have to fight tooth-and-nail to do so throughout the season. Hicks should be participating in summer workouts by now, per the Austin-American Statesman's Kirk Bohls, and both Cobbs and Naashon Hughes ran wild against the first-teamers in the spring game.

    As if that doesn't provide Bedford enough versatility, freshman Edwin Freeman can bring a safety's range to the position as well.

2. Defensive Line

8 of 9

    Malcom Brown is ready to become a household name in 2014.
    Malcom Brown is ready to become a household name in 2014.eric gay/Associated Press

    Top Players: DE Cedric Reed, DT Malcom Brown

     

    Question Marks: DE Shiro Davis, DT Hassan Ridgeway

     

    Why They're Ranked Here: All-Big 12 candidates Reed and Brown. Behind these two, this will be one of the conference's best fronts.

    Jackson Jeffcoat was the engine that drove Texas' defense last season, and Reed could be even better. At 6'6" and 271 pounds, he's bigger and more physical than the draft snub and is coming off an all-conference campaign of his own. 

    Brown settled in nicely in his first season as a full-time starter, averaging six tackles and one for loss over Texas' last four games. The explosive 320-pounder will build on that in 2014 and live up to his 5-star reputation.

    What these two need are solid seasons from whoever plays opposite them. For Reed, Davis and/or Caleb Bluiett need to be effective to occupy the extra blockers. The same goes for Desmond Jackson and Ridgeway next to Brown.

    Depth is somewhat a concern, but this group will be dominant so long as its two leaders stay healthy.

1. Running Back

9 of 9

    The ball-carriers will do most of the heavy-lifting for the Longhorns this season.
    The ball-carriers will do most of the heavy-lifting for the Longhorns this season.Michael Thomas/Associated Press

    Top Players: Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray

     

    Question Marks: Daje Johnson, Jalen Overstreet

     

    Why They're Ranked Here: Behind Gray and Brown, this group will carry the load on offense, as it should.

    Gray—who should be back by now, according to Bohls—was on a 1,000-yard clip before he ruptured his Achilles against West Virginia. Brown would have reached the milestone if Texas hadn't ignored him for the first five games of the season. They will be a devastating combination of power and speed in their last season together.

    Backing them up will be Joe Bergeron and freshman Donald Catalon, who can each step up in a pinch should either starter go down with an injury. And Johnson has the skills to contribute here as well.

    Overall, the ball-carriers have the elite talent on par with that of the defensive line. The only difference is they are better equipped to deal with the bumps and bruises.