UT Draft Class Short on High-Round Players

Thursday night, the Texas Longhorns failed to produce a first-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Friday, they could produce as few as two picks in the second and third rounds.

If that trend holds up, it would be the worst Longhorn draft class in recent memory, and an potential indicator of why things didn't go as well on the field in 2010.

Let's take a look at the 10 previous drafts. In eight of them, the Longhorns produced at least one first-round draft pick. In six of them, the Longhorns produced two first-rounders. And in seven of those classes, the Longhorns put up at least three picks through the first three rounds of the draft.

So when looking at the 2011 draft class, it's not just that the Longhorns aren't stacked with elite prospects. They also don't have many of that next tier of player, the ones just outside of the first-round prospects. Last season, Texas produced five such players, a 10-year high.

But it's one thing just to make an observation that the elite level talent is lower than what it has been. It's another to take a look at why.

The Class of 2006 is often bludgeoned when looking at 2010's failures, and rightfully so. That group should have been Texas's fifth-year seniors, the backbone of a program that desperately needed that foundation. Instead, it's largely a collection of busts, and a textbook example of what can happen when heavy attrition hits.

But again: why? One theory might seem to hold water: the first round of high-commitment Junior Days. According to Greg Powers, Scout.com Midlands Regional Recruiting Analyst, the 2006 class was the first time that players seemed to fall over each other to bite that early commitment hook.

"Everything changed in recruiting, at least around here, after that 2006 year," Powers began. "It all moved up. Players started committing quicker as spots were filled. It affected how players were offered and pursued by other programs instantly. When Texas filled its safety spot that meant a number of kids knew that they were not getting offered and had to look immediately in to option B.

"Now we are getting to see these players who were offered and committed that early in the process over a span of a whole career, including their senior seasons in high school and can more accurately gauge the success of taking and accepting commitments prior to the spring evaluation period. it raises some interesting questions to say the least."

Texas landed 10 commitments by April. A great number, to be sure, but here are the names: Buck Burnette, Dustin Earnest, Montre Webber, Britt Mitchell, Steve Moore, Robert Joseph, Roy Watts, Vondrell McGee, Phillip Payne and J'Marcus Webb. None of those 10 were picked, or will be picked, in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. The best player of the bunch might be Webb, who was drafted in the seventh round out of West Texas A&M.

That's a staggering group, especially considering that those were the players that the staff hand-picked for early offers. Granted, some players with early offers dragged out their recruitments. But regardless, those 10 were both offered early, and their commitments were accepted, meaning that all were high-priority targets.

"In recruiting when talking Texas you usually use Oklahoma as a comparison point and vice versa. They are the two most evenly matched programs throughout the course of the conference. The first year that Texas' early recruiting tactics adversely affected OU was the Class of 2007," Powers said. "Looking back to then, OU took four early commitments. Two of the four never played, one has been battling injuries since his senior season and one is in academic peril and might not get to see out his career.

"Looking back to 2006 and judging the results on the field last season you have to at least raise the question in your head about the success rate of the early commits as a whole group."

There is some light at the end of the tunnel. In 2007, the Longhorns did considerably better, landing 15 commitments by the end of March. One of those was a first-round pick and early entry in Earl Thomas, while another, Keenan Robinson, is an All-America candidate. Curtis Brown was a multiple-year starter and could go as early as the second or third round today. Texas also received solid contributions from Kyle Hix, Michael Huey, Foswhitt Whittaker, Malcolm Williams, Ahmard Howard and John Chiles, though none of those were game-breakers. Hix and Huey were multiple year starters on a struggling offensive line.

Fast forward to 2009, when the pre-March haul included players like Garrett Gilbert, Paden Kelley, Kenny Vaccaro, Alex Okafor and Mason Walters. And that doesn't include high-potential players like Dominique Jones and linemen Thomas Ashcraft and Garrett Porter.

And that trend only continued in 2010 with signees like Trey Hopkins, John Harris, Darius Terrell, Adrian Phillips, Connor Wood, Case McCoy, Carrington Byndom and Greg Daniels, all of whom are fighting for potential starting spots in their second years on campus, by the end of FEBRUARY.

So while the Longhorns were burned with early takes early on in the process, it appears that they've finally gotten the hang of it.

"It might be a little early to start talking about the past two classes early recruiting success, but they have also backed those commitments up with high profile players on the back end like WR Mike Davis, DE Jackson Jeffcoat, LB Jordan Hicks and RB Malcolm Brown," Powers said. "I also feel like the 2012 class in particular is off to a really strong start with top end talents, but there are still some big fish out there."

But when you're watching the 2011 NFL Draft, you can take solace in the fact that, if this year seems to lack the depth of high-level Texas players that we've seen in the past, it doesn't appear to be the start of a recurring trend.

Horns Digest Top Stories