Another dramatic college football national signing day gave Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong his second-straight top-tier recruiting class at UT. Now it's time for him to get this 2016 class on the same path as last year's group.
With 10 commits within the final 24 hours of the process, Strong and the Longhorns became the story of signing day. In that span alone, the Horns marched from No. 33 all the way into the top-10 before getting bumped back to No. 11.
Considering where this class started, the fans, players and coaches ought to be just fine with the Big 12's top class.
The madness started on Tuesday afternoon when running back Kyle Porter made the surprising decision to commit. From there, it was win after win for Strong's program. The day was highlighted by a flip from LSU commit Erick Fowler (4-star outside linebacker), the addition of four defensive tackles and the huge pledge from No. 1 safety Brandon Jones.
Of course, this is just the beginning with Strong. His last class, a 27-man haul that ranked 10th in the country, ended up featuring six regular starters and 21 contributors.
That's what makes this 2016 group so exciting. Not only is there plenty of talent for Strong to develop, but the class fills pressing needs at quarterback and safety as well as in trenches.
Winning the state wasn't so bad either.
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Longhorns Back to Winning Texas
Aside from landing some top-notch recruits, Texas' biggest achievement with this 2016 class was proving it's once again a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the state's best players.
It's no secret that the state of Texas has some of the best football talent in the country, and it's a well that every national power wants to tap. Just this cycle, eight different programs have grabbed at least one of the state's top-10 talents. Five of the programs are from outside the state.
That being said, this is the second-straight year that the Longhorns have landed the best class in the state. Led by Jones, the Horns have 11 of the state's top-50 recruits, which is four more than any other program. Six of those players didn't decide until the final day of the cycle.
Whereas Texas won the 2015 cycle thanks to the recruitment of linebacker Malik Jefferson, as noted by SB Nation's Wescott Eberts, the Longhorns had to fight for all of these guys. The Horns especially scored big head-to-head wins over Texas A&M with Jones, 4-star outside linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch, 4-star offensive tackle Jean Delance and 4-star cornerback Eric Cuffee.
Much of this has to do with the December drama in College Station, Texas. The Aggies lost former 5-star quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray in very public fashion, then had to give the dreaded vote of confidence to head coach Kevin Sumlin. That stroke of bad luck gave 5-7 Texas the edge it needed to close strong.
Charlie Strong opens presser by crediting his assistants but says "the best pitch was our players" like Malik, Omenihu, Elliott, Locke.— Ryan Autullo (@AutulloAAS) February 3, 2016
However, the Aggies' misfortune doesn't take away from what Strong, his staff and his players did to bring this class together. It was a total effort, and that's why the Horns once again have some of the best players the state has to offer.
Who Will Make an Early Impact?
As previously mentioned, the Longhorns put their last class right to work in 2015. Even if the hope is that the 2016 class doesn't have to get thrown into the fire, there's talent at Texas that belongs on the field.
Jones, McCulloch and Fowler, Texas' top-3 defensive recruits are no-brainers for early action. Jones can play either free safety position, thanks to his 4.3 speed (per Inside Texas' Justin Wells) and uncommon physicality, and should provide instant depth at the very least. Meanwhile, "The Shark" and Fowler are already terrific pass-rushers—players Strong can always find a use for.
How good is Shark? In some ways every bit as good as 46 on the edge. Violent with his hands, coils and strikes, pursues. Not as athletic.— Not Inside Texans (@EricNahlin) February 3, 2016
Fowler profiles as a guy who can rush and set the edge, but love his build and initial quickness as an ILB. If he hits his fits it's NFL.— Not Inside Texans (@EricNahlin) February 3, 2016
The question is whether a freshman can provide help at defensive tackle. Defensive tackles Poona Ford and Paul Boyette have no obvious backups, meaning Texas' five commits at the position will get all they can handle.
Moving to the offensive side of the ball, wide receiver Collin Johnson deserves fans' full attention. The early enrollee comes in as at 6'6"and 200 pounds. He catches and blocks like a grown man. Physically, he's miles ahead of every other receiver on the roster.
Big fan. Willing, physical blocker, has really excellent ball skills, catch radius. Can make really touch catches. https://t.co/lU6CbrviXj— Wescott Eberts (@SBN_Wescott) February 3, 2016
As with the defensive side of the ball, freshmen will factor into the O-line rotation. Three-star commit Zach Shackelford has already made a move to center, and he looks like he's making a move for the job as an early enrollee. Jean Delance is too athletic to count out at right tackle.
Dark Horse of the Class: OL Denzel Okafor
Charlie Strong called 3-star defensive end Andrew Fitzgerald the "dark horse of the class" in Wednesday's press conference, but the cat's already out of the bag on him. Fitzgerald dominated the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, which justifiably made him the No. 205 prospect in the nation.
Leaving him out only makes this slightly easier, but 4-star offensive guard Denzel Okafor gets the nod.
All three of Texas' 3-star linemen have good potential. Shackelford is legitimately making a play for a starting job, and Tope Imade is a dancing bear at 6'4" and 327 pounds. These guys aren't just throw-ins.
Okafor is interesting, though. At 6'4", 295 pounds, he has enough length to swing out to tackle, and his mobility makes him an ideal fit for O-line coach/running game coordinator Matt Mattox's scheme.
Much like senior guard Kent Perkins, Okfaor can help Texas anywhere it needs him, and Inside Texas' Eric Nahlin loves his fundamental skill set. It may not be this year, but Okafor will be an impact player up front.
As a bonus, fans are going to be shocked by Porter, the late running back commit. Maybe it's because his recruitment was so low-key, but he has the power, quickness, vision and receiving skills to be special.
The Longhorns basically stole one of the best backs in the nation.
Most Important Offensive Recruit: QB Shane Buechele
Until the Longhorns find a quarterback, every one of them who the program recruits will be the most important member of the class.
This time around, the microscope is on 4-star quarterbackShane Buechele. However, the state's top quarterback comes in with one important distinction—he's already a polished passer.
Whereas Tyrone Swoopes, Jerrod Heard, Kai Locksley and even Matthew Merrick were recruited as raw passers, Buechele's got that part of his game down. As Inside Texas' Ian Boyd notes in his breakdown, he gets the ball out quickly, accurately and on time, no matter where he's asked to throw it. He's also a decent athlete to boot.
The issue for the early enrollee will be getting to where he can physically and mentally handle the college game. Buechele's not a big prospect by any means, and there's a reason quarterbacks usually spend a year holding a clipboard.
Strong on QB Buechele: "He's going to have a chance to compete." With new OC, "We'll be able to know right away whether a guy can do it."— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) February 3, 2016
Ideally, an incumbent will be able to hold the job for a year or two while Buechele gets his bearings. After that, he will put up some huge numbers in offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's offense.
Most Important Defensive Recruit: S Brandon Jones
Texas' five defensive tackles form the most important group of signees on the roster. But if you're singling out one player on the defensive side of the ball, 4-star commit Brandon Jones is in a class by himself.
As previously mentioned, Jones brings everything you could ask for from a safety. He's incredibly fast, knows how to punish ball-carriers and has a nose for getting his hands on the football. Jones can play either safety spot, and it wouldn't be surprising at all to see him man the nickelback position at some point.
A future Texas secondary with Brandon Jones, Kris Boyd, Holton Hill, DeShon Elliot, and anyone else would rival the amazing 05 and 09 groups— Ian Boyd (@Ian_A_Boyd) January 24, 2016
Before long, he's going to be one of the leaders in a secondary that's already packed with elite talent.
Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com.