1) Jaxon Shipley, wide receiver
Most people would argue for Malcolm Brown here, and I wouldn't necessarily argue with you. But the Longhorns' lack of experience and quality depth in the slot means that Shipley, who has torn through summer workouts, could start as soon as Week One against Rice. Like his brother, Shipley is an ace route-runner with more polish than you'd expect from a young player. And hopefully like his brother, his ability to get open from the slot could open things up for the Longhorns' outside receivers in the passing game.
2) Malcolm Brown, running back
Like Shipley, Brown will be a major part of the offense as a freshman. But unlike Shipley, Brown faces more of an obstacle to playing time. And even if he wins the job, he figures to split time with backs like Cody Johnson and Fozzy Whittaker, each of whom started a year ago. For his part, Brown appears to be the ideal blend of the two. Though he's not quite the power presence that Johnson is, and he's not quite as quick as Whittaker is, he's a power back with deceptive quickness and speed who can add a home run element. As a high-schooler, Brown earned a comparison to former Longhorn great Cedric Benson, though Brown is probably more physical as a runner, with slightly slower feet.
3) Sedrick Flowers, offensive guard
One of the bigger positives on the recent roster release was that Flowers was listed at 290 pounds. The talented guard appeared to have it all at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl practices with the exception of bulk. He's mobile, plays aggressively and has uncommon flexibility. He did the splits while joking around in warmups. And if Flowers has acquired the requisite bulk to play the position, he could push onto the two deep sooner rather than later. At 6-foot-3, he's definitely an interior prospect, and he has the athleticism and intelligence to play any of the three non-tackle spots. He could be this year's Trey Hopkins.
4) David Ash, quarterback
Many people would call this too high. But if Garrett Gilbert struggles, this could be too low. Ash came in and impressed his teammates in the spring, throwing a great ball and showing that you don't have to be an upperclassman to get in your teammates' faces when they make a mistake. The quarterback depth chart is still somewhat open, but don't be surprised when Gilbert trots out to start the first game, nor when Ash surfaces as Gilbert's primary backup. Should Gilbert struggle, he likely won't have as long a leash as he did a year ago. And that means that Ash could see the field sooner rather than later.
5) M.J. McFarland, tight end
The clean bill of health for players like D.J. Grant and Blaine Irby has given the tight end position more hope for this season, though Texas coach Mack Brown said at Big 12 Media Days that Bryan Harsin's offense required a lot of multiple tight end sets. That reliance on the position means that the Longhorns are looking for four strong players at the position. That creates a unique opportunity for McFarland, a high school wide receiver who has bulked up to 245 pounds on his 6-6 frame. McFarland is a good athlete who can make plays down the seam.
Others to keep an eye on:
* Joe Bergeron, running back — The Longhorns could have a use for Bergeron's versatility. He could play anywhere from single back to H-back to fullback and give Harsin's offense plenty of options.
* Garrett Greenlea, offensive tackle — Greenlea will be one to watch, and not just for this season. He's returning from an ACL injury that caused him to miss his senior season, though he's supposedly at 100 percent now.
* Josh Cochran, offensive tackle — Like Greenlea, Cochran could find his way onto the two-deep at a less-than-stacked tackle position. Unlike Greenlea, Cochran isn't returning from injury. One or the other could play as a true freshman.