The top 10 Texas football players you need to know for 2016. These are the Longhorn stars to watch out for.
1. LB Malik Jefferson, Soph.
The superstar, potential gamechanging recruit of last year was the one guy Charlie Strong really needed to get, and now should be the catalyst of the improving defense. He took over the starting job as a true freshman and more than just looked the part, fighting through a late injury and early on inconsistencies to be the team’s second-leading tackler making 61 tackles with 2.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss with a fumble return for a touchdown.
Now he should be moved around a little bit to put him in a better position. Really fast and really quick, the 6-3, 238-pounder is about to be used more like a pass rusher on the outside to turn him loose into the backfield. He can play in the middle if needed, but he’s too athletic and too good to not be far more disruptive.
2. CB Davante Davis, Soph.
A very big, very tough corner, the 6-2, 199-pounder out of Miami was a nice part of the puzzle early, and then he took over the starting gig late and looked like a potential star at times. While he wasn’t the tackler Holton Hill was, Davis was terrific in the open field with 30 of his 35 tackles solo stops. He came up with one pick, but he’ll grow into more and more of a tough playmaker when the ball is in the air, and be an intimidating factor against the smaller receivers. He’ll be able to shove around anyone he can jam. With a little more experience, he’s going to grow into a special defender.
3. CB Holton Hill, Soph.
A tall, lanky corner who can hit, he turned in a terrific first season taking over the starting job early on and earning all-star recognition making 49 stops with four broken up passes to go along with a pick-six against Oklahoma State. At 6-2 and 195 pounds, he’s a good-sized, smart defender who was mature enough to make plenty of good plays right away. He’s still learning on the fly, but he’s a baller who isn’t afraid to get involved. If he gets a little bigger he has next-level safety upside, but he’s plenty strong as a corner.
4. RB D’Onta Foreman, Jr.
Very smart and very tough, the 6-0, 241-pound Foreman was the breakout star of the offense up until he got hurt late in the year. Chris Warren ended up finishing the year as the wow back, but Foreman did his part with four 100-yard games including 117 on just nine carries against Oklahoma, and 112 yards on 18 carries against TCU. On the year he finished with a team-leading 681 yards and five scores averaging over seven yards per pop before suffering his hand injury. Now he’s back as a devastating part of a powerful rotation.
5. RB Chris Warren III, Soph.
Warren hung around for a few carries here and there as a true freshman, and then he came from out of the blue to look like the next big thing for the Texas running game – literally. He’s 6-2 and 255 pounds generating terrific power and pop, with just enough speed to get by. He ran for just 88 yards in the first ten games of the season, and then came the home finale against Texas Tech and then came the show. He got the ball 25 times, and the Red Raiders didn’t have any answers giving up 276 yards and four scores, averaging 11 yards per pop. With 106 yards against Baylor in the follow-up, he was held in check by the Bear defense swarming around him, he was still effective in the win.
6. QB Shane Buechele, Fr.
One of the stars of spring ball, he threw his hat into the starting quarterback ring with a strong final scrimmage while looking like the pure passer the offense hasn’t had in a while. Not all that big at 6-1 and 191 pounds, he’s built a bit like a kicker but has an ultra-accurate arm. He can drive the ball deep, but he’s at his best in a groove on the short-to-midrange throws. No one expected him to show up early this offseason and become a factor, but now he’s going to get every look in fall camp – he might be too good to keep off the field.
7. QB Jerrod Heard, Soph.
Can he come back healthy? The 6-2, 203-pounder took the season by storm completing 58% of his passes for 1,214 yards and five touchdowns with five picks, while rushing for 556 yards and three scores highlighted by a 115-yard day against Oklahoma and 163 on the ground against Cal. Out this spring with a shoulder problem, the door opened up for the other two options, but with his spark and his skills, he’ll still be the one to beat once he returns to fall camp – as long as he’s healthy and okay. With the smarts and with the athleticism to be the one who takes the job for good, all he has to do later this summer is be consistent.
8. QB Tyrone Swoopes, Sr.
Expected to the main man early on in his career, he’s shown moments of greatness here and there, but he’s just not the steady, consistent passer needed to take over the full-time quarterback role. That’s okay – he’ll find a way to make a massive impact again. At 6-4 and 254 pounds he’s a huge player with tremendous power whenever he gets on the move. He only threw for 537 yards and four touchdowns when he got his chances, but he was deadly when put in the “18-wheeler” package rumbling for 451 yards and 12 scores.
He had his moments over the years, throwing for over 300 yards three times in 2014, including a 334-yard day against Oklahoma in a tough loss, but he didn’t do enough to move the offense. Even so, he’s still in the hunt for the starting job and will get more than his share of key opportunities no matter what.
9. OT Connor Williams, Soph.
Great from the start, he took over right away playing every game at left tackle earning all-star honors. While he’s not massive, the 6-6, 288-pounder has a nice frame and can blast away for the ground game. Still growing, he was plenty terrific as a true freshman, especially considering he wasn’t considered a superstar prospect. But he found his role right away and was stunningly steady.
10. OG Patrick Vahe, Soph.
The versatile 6-3, 326-pound big blocker should be one of the key parts of the rebuilding of the line and the offense. A natural guard who could play anywhere on the line, he’s a center if he needs to be, and he’s got just enough of an athlete to play right tackle. He missed the last few games of last year hurt, but before he was growing into a killer for the ground game. He’s got next-level skills for the interior, but first he should be one of the Big 12’s top run blockers, likely on the right side.