Texas Football: 6 Longhorns Recruiting Targets Who Would Start as Freshmen

Zach Shelton@@zachisagingerFeatured ColumnistJuly 18, 2014

Texas Football: 6 Longhorns Recruiting Targets Who Would Start as Freshmen

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    Running back Malcolm Brown is just one of Texas' impact players the program will have to replace in 2015.
    Running back Malcolm Brown is just one of Texas' impact players the program will have to replace in 2015.Eric Gay/Associated Press

    It's well-known that The Opening has come and gone without a single Texas commit in attendance, and it's obvious that Texas A&M is dominating the in-state recruiting.

    The real problem, though, is that the Longhorns are going to need some freshmen to start in 2015, and they lack commits to fill several expected vacancies.

    Just based on graduation, the 'Horns will lose at least five defenders and four offensive players after this coming season. The defensive backfield will need the most help after losing three starters, while the offense will be facing an identity crisis without bruising ball-carriers Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron.

    As soon as Texas adds players like Kendall Sheffield and Chris Warren to fill these voids, you can write them into the starting lineup. The same can be said about the tight end position if the Longhorns ever land a reliable one.

LB Malik Jefferson

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    Linebacker isn't the most pressing need on the roster, but 5-star target Malik Jefferson is a starter the second he walks on any campus in the nation.

    Jefferson flat out dominated The Opening. The 6'2", 215-pound prospect posted the second-highest SPARQ score at the event, per StudentSports.com. His 4.39 40-yard dash was faster than any NFL linebacker has run at the combine in eight years, according to SB Nation's Jason Kirk.

    Jefferson will slow down as he adds weight but will still play with legit 4.4 speed throughout college. That's a four-down player even against the likes of Baylor and Texas Tech. With Jordan Hicks, Kendall Thompson and Tevin Jackson all graduating, there's plenty of room for Jefferson. 

CB Kendall Sheffield

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    As far as filling a position of need, the Longhorns will have a hard time doing better than cornerback Kendall Sheffield

    Quandre Diggs, Mykkele Thompson and Josh Turner all graduate following the 2014 season. Duke Thomas is the only other Longhorns defensive back who has recorded a start, which does not bode well for the pass defense for the foreseeable future.

    Sheffield immediately fills one of those gaps. The 5-star corner has 4.4 speed to go with some solid length for a 6-footer. He's projected as a corner but would fit in just fine as a free safety.

    Per HornsDigest's William Wilkerson, Sheffield is taking an SEC tour this weekend that will prevent him from attending Texas' Under the Lights camp. Given that the Longhorns are nowhere to be found on his Crystal Ball predictions, they need to have a backup plan.

CB Kris Boyd

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    Another well-built cornerback with 4.4 speed, Kris Boyd is the next best thing to Sheffield in the defensive backfield. Of course, adding him to the class will be easier said than done.

    As you can see from his Crystal Ball trends, Boyd has gone from a sure thing to slipping through Texas' fingers. And the more he has backed off the Longhorns, the higher he has climbed in the rankings thanks to a big week at The Opening.

    Texas does have a chance to make up some ground this weekend when both Boyd and his brother Demarco arrive for camp, per Wilkerson. An offer for Demarco should get the 'Horns back in the game for his gifted older brother.

CB Holton Hill

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    Holton Hill was also named an MVP at The Opening and would make for another versatile addition to Texas' defense.

    Listed as a corner, Hill uses his long 6'3" frame to glue himself to bigger receivers. Depending on how much he fills out, that length would make him a tough matchup anywhere along the back seven.

    For Texas' purposes, Hill would maximize his ability to play right away by sticking to cornerback or safety. He will be on campus this weekend as well, giving the Longhorns a chance to make a much-needed impression.

    If Texas strikes out with Sheffield, Boyd and Hill, Roney Elam might be its last chance to land an impact cover guy.

RB Chris Warren

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    In terms of the elusive home run hitter, 2014 commit Donald Catalon gives the Longhorns some security if Johnathan Gray makes a surprise NFL decision. One way or the other, they will still need a power back like Chris Warren.

    Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are heading into their final seasons as Texas' top options between the tackles. Brown is the greater loss, but Bergeron has always been more than adequate as a third option. Without them, the 'Horns lose their ability to soften the middle of the defense.

    Coming in at 6'2" and 232 pounds, Warren can immediately take over those punishing carries. He's not going to shake anyone out of their cleats, but he has enough speed to pick up big yards once he breaks the first tackle.

    Warren will be on campus this weekend, and a verbal could be on the way soon after.

TE Will Gragg

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    Will Gragg has never been considered a Texas lean and will probably end up at an SEC school long before he takes a hard look. But he hasn't ruled out the Longhorns, which means they have to stay on him until the end.

    As Gragg told WholeHogSports' Richard Davenport:

    I met with the offensive coordinator [Shawn Watson] for about 45 minutes,” Gragg said. “He showed me film on what they did at Louisville and the way they were working the seams and working the first down stuff. Stuff I do and plus that really intrigued me and plus I like the history of Texas.

    That's more of a chance than the Longhorns should have with an Arkansas tight end who should know that the position posted six grabs in 2013Per SB Nation's Wescott Eberts, he has already visited once with designs on two more looks before his recruitment ends. 

    If Texas somehow pulls it off, Gragg would see plenty of snaps as Texas' only true receiving threat down the seam. God forbid the man can block too.

Worth a Look: WR John Burt and DT Daron Payne

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    Daron Payne and John Burt both have obvious talent, but their path to starting as freshmen is a little less clear than the rest of this group.

    Starting with Payne, who has Texas in his top three, the 348-pounder will see early action no matter where he plays. It's just difficult to trust a freshman defensive tackle to handle a full complement of snaps, especially since Malcom Brown should still be around in 2015. Maintaining gap discipline and diagnosing plays from the inside just take time.

    If Brown decides to declare as a junior, then Texas would have a hard time giving someone else time over Payne. Then again, the chances are remote that the coaches ever face that decision.

    Burt's situation depends more on how far along he is as a route-runner. The Longhorns will have plenty of competition in their deep stable of receivers, but combining Burt's athleticism with some college-level polish would put him a step ahead.

    Don't be surprised if the Florida product commits before the end of the month.

    All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.com.