We're getting down to the wire for the 2016 recruiting cycle, and Charlie Strong once again has the Longhorns in position to make a huge splash.
Things are looking good in Austin with national signing day just two weeks away. Last weekend saw the Horns host 19 visitors, and it was a major success. Strong and his staff made big impressions on some of the state's top prospects, entertained some unexpected visitors and even flipped offensive lineman Zach Shackelford from Kansas State.
As we've seen from Strong in the past, this is just the beginning. The third-year head coach picked up six commitments within a week of last season's signing day, and this year could be even bigger.
Strong won't get everyone on his wish list. But he's going after the best, and some of them are sure to end up in burnt orange to make this one of the nation's best classes.
Any Defensive Lineman Who Will Listen
The commitment of 4-star offensive tackle Jean Delance allayed major concerns surrounding the state of offensive line recruiting. Now the Horns need to focus on getting some bodies along the defensive line.
Defensive tackle is now Texas' biggest need in the trenches. The Longhorns have been basically out of competitive race for elite in-state tackles Ed Oliver, Kendell Jones and Jordan Elliott since the summer, leaving them scrambling throughout the process. The Horns might be able to make a push with Jones, but even that seems like a lost cause at this stage in the process.
So, Strong and his staff will have to get creative. Oklahoma commit Chris Daniels, Marcel Southall and Louisianan Stephon Taylor all visited over the past weekend, and Texas seems to have a chance with each. Per 247Sports' EJ Holland, Daniels really likes his chances at early playing time in the burnt orange.
D'Andre Christmas-Giles is another name to watch at the position, but it's been quiet since his official visit in December. He seems to be leaning toward an SEC team after official visits to LSU and Texas A&M.
Defensive end is less of a pressing need with Andrew Fitzgerald in the fold, but the Horns could still use pass-rushers. LSU commit Erick Fowler and Texas A&M commit Mark Jackson each visited Austin on Saturday, and Holland's report states the visits went better than expected. Both Fowler's and Jackson's families love Strong.
When the dust settles, fans can expect at least three of these names to come aboard. Daniels and Fowler are the best bets, while Taylor and Jackson will go down to the wire.
The Rumored "Silent Commits"
Since the conclusion of the big visit weekend, there's been talk of four "silent commitments". If true, the Longhorns have three more excellent football players headed their way.
Shackelford, the offensive lineman who flipped from Kansas State, appears to be the first of the mystery men to make it official. Receiver commit Reggie Hemphill-Mapps tweeted he's one of four, and it would make more sense for Shackelford, who's already enrolled and on campus, to have made the decision well beforehand.
So, who are the other three?
Cornerback target Eric Cuffee seems pretty obvious. The 4-star recruit wanted to announce his commitment at the Under Armor All-America Game, but ESPN didn't have a slot, according to SB Nation's Wescott Eberts. He still showed up unannounced over the weekend and is a near-lock even with a couple of official visits still lined up. He made his official visit to Texas back in December.
McCulloch's a 4-star linebacker who posted the fourth-highest SPARQ score of any participant at The Opening. He's not quite Malik Jefferson, but this is a freakish athlete with an ideal build and skill set for Strong's "Fox" end position. His 247 Crystal Ball is trending heavily in Texas' favor, which aligns with McCulloch's declaration that receiving a Longhorns offer was "the best day" of his life:
Humphrey doesn't have a clear-cut position quite yet, but that's his greatest appeal. The 6'5", 199-pound athlete can play receiver or grow into a tight end role that puts his running back background to good use. His 247 Crystal Ball is currently all Texas as well.
Unless Brandon Jones and Chris Daniels are more "in" than they've let on, these are most likely the "silent commits" from this past weekend. And each of them would bring some exciting talent.
An Elite Safety
With Jean Delance committed, Jones might be the Longhorns' top remaining target. Assistant Jeff Traylor has been all over the nation's No. 1 safety, visiting Jones on Tuesday right on the heels of a successful official visit on Saturday:
Jones would give Texas the speed it needs at safety and would be the most complete player Texas has had at the position since Kenny Vaccaro.
Anderson's less polished at this stage, but he's every bit as exciting as an athlete. The 202-pounder actually outperformed Jones' SPARQ score at The Opening and would likely contribute on special teams were he to enroll.
The Texas staff is acting like Jones is the higher priority at this point, most likely because he's more gettable and more likely to play immediately. For now, consider him a slight Longhorn lean.
A Flip from Patrick Hudson
Despite being committed to Baylor for well over a year, 4-star offensive lineman Patrick Hudson is doing his due diligence late in the process. That due diligence included a surprising visit to Texas on Tuesday, a program that would love nothing more than to flip the massive prospect.
Hudson's been off the radar for a while, but he announced last week he might make the trip to Austin. The 325-pound lineman followed through on Tuesday for a visit. Unfortunately, according to Horns Digest's Jason Higdon, Hudson's family did not join him on the trip, so read into that what you will.
With the four solid linemen already committed, Hudson would be found money for this class. Obviously, it would be enormous to steal a guy this talented from an in-state rival, but he doesn't make or break this class. Delance, Shackelford, Denzel Okafor and Tope Imade are good gets.
Flipping Hudson probably won't happen, but Texas has done a great job making it interesting.
One More Running Back
Whaley's been on top of Texas' list for a while. He's a well-rounded back with good power, quickness and a complete skill set. He has the ability to grow into the total package at the next level.
The problem with Whaley is that he's committed twice to schools other than Texas. The Longhorns remain in contention, but it just doesn't feel like it's going to happen.
That's why it's important to keep an eye on Porter down the stretch. The Katy product has a three-down skill set and adequate size at 5'11", 208 pounds. He's played his recruitment close to the chest, but there's real talent here.
Porter will visit this coming weekend with Texas being the heavy favorite.
A Commitment from Dontavious Jackson
Thanks to their current depth at the position, the Longhorns are almost exclusively going after elite linebackers. And Dontavious Jackson is at the very top of their board.
Texas has plenty of skilled linebackers, but few of them are natural fits to play the "Mike." Jackson, on the other hand, is almost a prototypical fit for the position with great size, instincts and sure-tackling ability. As soon as you turn on the tape, he sticks out like a sore thumb.
Not only is Jackson a great fit for the team, but his commitment means Texas almost surely lands McCulloch as well. The aforementioned outside linebacker alluded to Scout.com's Greg Powers that the two might be part of a package deal, and SB Nation's Wescott Eberts believes other members of said package are already at Texas.
247Sports' EJ Holland reported Strong went to see Jackson on Monday and is still hard after his Alief Elsik teammate Chris Brown. The latter will visit over the weekend, and his commitment would further push Jackson toward the Longhorns. Brown thanked every team that presented him with an offer and announced his final three teams along with the date of his official announcement—Feb. 3:
If Texas gets an official visit from Jackson—scheduled for January 29—this is a done deal.
Hang on to Obi Eboh
Obi Eboh, who has been committed since December, has started taking serious looks elsewhere. The Horns have a chance to keep him, and they need to do whatever they can to keep the physical corner in the fold.
At 6'2", 190 pounds, Eboh's another long, athletic cover man similar to 2015 commits Holton Hill and Davante Davis. It's worth noting Davis was a 3-star recruit in 2015 before becoming a starter opposite Hill, who was a 4-star cornerback last cycle.
Unfortunately, Eboh's pledge is in serious jeopardy after he pushed his official visit back to go see Stanford. The Horns will get another shot this weekend, but their lone cornerback commit is in danger of bolting.
The aforementioned Cuffee and Brown are most likely becoming Longhorns, and Grayland Arnold is also expected to make a visit. None of them fit the mold quite like Eboh does.
Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com.