Texas National Signing Day 2016: 5 Takeaways from Longhorns' Class
Thanks to an unbelievable finish, Charlie Strong and the Texas Longhorns have recruited another top-10 class to Austin.
Strong's 10 commits over the final 24 hours of the 2016 recruiting cycle have become the talk of the nation. Of those commits, six are ranked among the top 300 players in the country, including No. 1 safety Brandon Jones.
The amazing close to the 24-man class has vaulted the Horns to No. 11 in the 247Sports composite rankings, good for the best in the state and tops in the Big 12. With this group, Strong has addressed key needs and proven once again that he can close a recruiting class as well as anyone in the country.
Most of all, he got himself a quarterback who will fit his offensive system.
Strong Does It Again
Write it down, because it's as official as it gets—you can't ever count Strong out on the recruiting trail.
Last cycle, it was the December 18 signing of 5-star linebacker Malik Jefferson that took Strong's class to another level. Once that domino fell, 12 other recruits joined the class to take it from a middling group to a top-10 haul that would eventually define the 2015 season.
Somehow, Strong was able to top that effort this time around.
Thanks to 11 commitments over the past week, the Longhorns have once again broken into the national top 15. This from a class that rated below No. 50 for a spell and was ranked 33rd just one day prior, as noted by 247Sports' Barton Simmons.
Even more impressive, Strong did this without a huge signing like Jefferson turning the tide. Instead, he and his staff nailed an enormous visit weekend in mid-January, stayed after the elite prospects they coveted and turned past recruits like Jefferson loose.
Texas' six highest-rated recruits all committed after the new year. Very impressive job by the coaching staff.
The result is the craziest signing day finish in the country and one that injects serious talent into Strong's program.
Longhorns Starting to Regain Control of the State
Texas didn't just secure its second straight top-15 recruiting class. It did so while once again beating out Texas A&M for the best class in the state.
After handily beating out the Horns in 2013 and 2014, the Aggies looked poised for a multiyear run of dominance on the recruiting trail. You name it, they had it—the big-name head coach, the Heisman Trophy winner in Johnny Manziel, new facilities and even a helicopter.
But over the past year, it's become apparent that Kevin Sumlin's grip on in-state recruiting has loosened. Losing Jefferson to the Horns surprisingly tipped the scales in 2015, but things got ugly this year. In the wake of transfers by former 5-star quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, Sumlin's job security became just uncertain enough to take some luster off the state's lone SEC program.
Sumlin's since become safe from the chopping block, but not before Texas could capitalize on the turmoil. The Longhorns moved in on several of the Aggies' top targets, snatching up Jeffrey McCulloch, Eric Cuffee, D'Andre Christmas-Giles and, most notably, Brandon Jones.
How surprising is that last one? Jones was once such a sure thing that TexAgs.com made a documentary about his recruitment to the Aggies. Now he's the highest-rated member of Texas' class.
They have to start winning to maintain it, but the Horns have taken advantage of an opportunity to take back some of the control they ceded over the past five years. That's an enormous accomplishment from a team that didn't even make a bowl last season.
Getting It Done in the Trenches
The Longhorns desperately needed to add depth in the trenches with this 2016 class. They ended up doing so in spectacular fashion.
As with the rest of the class, the Longhorns started painfully slow in addressing glaring needs up front. As of the new year, 3-star guards Denzel Okafor and Tope Imade were Texas' only offensive line commits, with 3-stars Andrew Fitzgerald (at the time), Malcolm Roach and Gerald Wilbon holding down the fort on the defensive side.
That might have been fine, but Texas has no depth to deal with another small class. On offense, they need to replace two starters and recently lost potential replacement Jake Raulerson to transfer. Along the defensive line, starters Paul Boyette and Poona Ford have no obvious backups, with Alex Norman having medical issues, per SB Nation's Wescott Eberts.
Help finally came on January 2 with the commitment of All-American offensive tackle Jean Delance. Two weeks later, the Longhorns then flipped early enrollee Zach Shackelford from Kansas State, solidifying the offensive line.
Pulling in defensive tackles was a little more suspenseful. Former Michigan commit Jordan Elliott, former Oklahoma commit Chris Daniels, former Tennessee commit Christmas-Giles and Marcel Southall all committed within 24 hours of signing day to give Texas one of the best defensive line hauls in the country.
In all, the Longhorns come away with four offensive linemen, plus blocking tight end Peyton Aucoin, and seven defensive linemen. You can also factor linebackers McCulloch and Erick Fowler in here as well since at least one will end up playing off the edge.
These 13 recruits give Texas truly elite talent along both sides of the line of scrimmage, which typically leads to wins in the long run.
Back Seven Stockpiling Elite Talent
The defensive line isn't the only position group that got a huge boost on signing day. Thanks to some blue-chip signings, there's going to be some great talent behind that group as well.
Texas' biggest signing comes in the form of Brandon Jones, the nation's No. 1 safety. Able to play center field or in the box, Jones is the most complete player Texas has had at the position since Kenny Vaccaro and is drawing even loftier comparisons to former Longhorns:
Brandon Jones being compared to Earl Thomas. I've heard that comparison several times with him.
Jones, 4-star nickel Cuffee and safety Chris Brown add to a secondary that was looking good way before these three joined the class. The Longhorns pulled in an elite haul in 2015 with Holton Hill, Davante Davis, Kris Boyd, DeShon Elliott and P.J. Locke. And they also return starting safeties Jason Hall and Dylan Haines. That's some excellent young depth, especially in the Big 12.
The amazing part is this group probably isn't the most loaded on the defense. Studs McCulloch and Fowler each picked Texas on signing day, joining Jefferson at linebacker. In these three, Texas has a trio of rangy, explosive talents who should make opposing quarterbacks miserable through 2017.
It's hard to imagine Texas having a better two-year run at these positions.
Longhorns Get Their Man at Quarterback
He's no longer the highest-rated member of the class, but there's little doubt that Shane Buechele is the face of this 2016 class.
The state's top quarterback, Buechele is the purest passer Texas has had on the roster since Colt McCoy. The 6'2" slinger won the Golden Gun accuracy competition at the Elite 11 and was in serious contention for MVP honors at the nation's premier quarterbacking event.
In Buechele, InsideTexas' Ian Boyd sees a potentially elite player:
Texas landed exactly the kind of QB prospect they’ve been missing for the last several years. A kid with skills that translate to the college game, who has physical upside as he grows into his eventual college S&C body, and who has that wonderful combination of field vision and arm strength that has eluded UT’s QBs for the last half-decade.
Of course, the young quarterback doesn't come without his deficiencies. He looks smaller than his listed weight of 185 pounds and will absolutely have to put on weight before he can be trotted out onto the field. Then there's also the learning curve inherent with being a true freshman quarterback.
The good news is Buechele's an early enrollee and, as stated above, has the skill set to be an excellent player in Sterlin Gilbert's offense. His quick release, accuracy, escapability and ability to consistently make the right decision with the ball give him by far the highest ceiling of any quarterback on the roster.
Buechele shouldn't be asked to start in his first year, but his level of technical skill gives him a decent chance to earn the opportunity.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com.