A team is only as good as its front line, a wave of experienced starters ready to supply leadership in the offseason and in the locker room, while providing the difference between winning and losing close games. But a program is only as strong as the next men up, the players who will be called upon after those front-line the year that those experienced players leave.
One-by-one, we're taking looks at each position on the Texas team, looking only at the sophomores, freshmen and committed recruits for the future. Up now, the tight ends.
There is only one player in the Texas system who is a sophomore or younger, and most of the talk focuses on the 6-foot-6 M.J. McFarland, who has the athleticism to stretch defenses down the field.
A wide receiver in high school, McFarland presents some intriguing receiving options when he's not playing as an in-line player. McFarland rotated through a year ago, and though he wasn't a total regular, he still found a way to make an impact by taking his eight catches for 125 yards, a very impressive 15.6 yards per catch.
He's still developing as a blocker, but McFarland figures to find an even bigger role in 2013 with the Longhorns going to more of a spread look. He can do a lot of the same things that spread offenses with successful tight ends — think Missouri with guys like Martin Rucker, Chase Coffman and Michael Egnew — can do. None of those three were especially great blockers either, but were able to provide serious value in the passing game.
But here's the issue: Texas doesn't have any young tight ends in the pipeline. The Longhorns had a long-time commitment from Belton native Durham Smythe, who fit the old Bryan Harsin offense perfectly. At 6-5 235, Smythe had the frame and willingness as a blocker to develop into a complete tight end, while he was incredibly dangerous as a receiver. But when Harsin left, Smythe reopened his recruitment and eventually signed with Notre Dame.
That leaves the Longhorns looking desperately for tight end help. Texas will probably take one in this class, potentially somebody like 6-6 Anthony Jones from New Orleans (La.) Edna Karr. Jones doesn't have an offer as of yet, but the Longhorns are highly intrigued by his frame and potential receiving ability. If he can impress Texas in the evaluation period, or even in the camp circuit, he could be Texas's first offer at the position in this year's class.
Interestingly, the Longhorns have already offered a tight end in the 2015 class, in Florida State soft commitment Jordan Davis of Clear Lake. Davis is already 6-4 250, and right now, projects as one of the state's top 2015 prospects. But the Longhorns will probably have to show Davis that they're ready to utilize the tight end more if they're going to have a chance to pull him in.
Grade — C-
The presence of McFarland, who has all of the tools to be a special player at the position, means that Texas doesn't drop down into 'D' range. But it's impossible to go any higher when the Longhorns don't have any young developmental players beneath McFarland, nor any recruits truly on the fishing line. This could jump up if Texas were to grab a young player or two in this class, but for right now, this grade is about right.