I’ll update this weekly and rankings will be a running tally on how players perform throughout the season, not just for the previous game.
Without further ado I present to you my HD Player Power Rankings:
1. Malik Jefferson, freshman linebacker – He was everything the Longhorns were hoping he would be, and then some, against the Irish leading UT with five solo tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss to go with his nine total tackles. Jefferson estimates that he blitzed anywhere from 15 to 20 times and said his instincts started to take over late. That’s a scary sign for opposing offenses if he has already gotten to the point where he is not over-analyzing and just playing.
2. Daje Johnson, senior wide receiver – It would be a stretch to say Charlie Strong would be satisfied if the Daje we saw on Saturday played like that every weekend, but he would be encouraged to say the least. Johnson, who had only 179 all-purpose yards in six games a season ago, led Texas with 112 APY in the season opener. He was a shoe-string tackle away from taking a short dump pass over 60 yards for a TD and looked like his old self on a few other occasions in the passing game. Encouraging for sure. He needs to get more touches.
3. Kris Boyd, freshman cornerback – Sometimes the best way to prove your worth is to lay it all out on the line on special teams. Boyd did just that by forcing a fumble on a punt, downing another punt at the Irish 5-yard line and recording four tackles total. Considering how UT’s starting cornerbacks struggled, don’t be surprised to see Boyd get a longer look in the secondary from here forward.
4. Naashon Hughes, sophomore Fox End – Hughes showed flashes of being the type of playmaker the Longhorns need him to be on defense. He just didn’t do it with enough consistency. All told, though, he was going up against a damn good Irish front and had to be mindful of Malik Zaire’s running abilities, which could have kept him from attacking up field at times. He ended the game with seven tackles and two TFL. His biggest blunder came when he was called for a facemask penalty that led to an ND TD. He will only get better.
5. Connor Williams, freshman offensive tackle – This might sound crazy considering the constant pressure Tyrone Swoopes was under and the lack of a run game for UT. But Williams held his own against a ton of pressure and has to be feeling encouraged after his first start as a Longhorn. Dan Neil said in his first story for HornsDigest that Williams wasn’t only Texas’ best offensive lineman but that he was also UT’s best offensive player. The footwork he saw Williams use really encouraged the two-time Super Bowl champion, which means it should encourage Longhorns fans too.
6. John Burt, freshman wide receiver – He only had one reception but could have had a few others that could have went the distance had Tyrone Swoopes seen him a tad bit earlier. His one reception was a 48-yard grab on a well-thrown ball by Swoopes. Burt just gets it. His long strides are going to be hard for DBs to keep up with, and his leaping abilities are above average for someone his age. The future is bright for No. 1.
7. Johnathan Gray, senior running back – He averaged 5.0 yards per carry. Problem was he only toted the rock eight times, which is incredibly mind-boggling. He should get double that, at least, against Rice. He’ll be in the Top 3 in no time.
8. Nick Rose, senior kicker – You had to feel for Rose, who crushed two 52-yard FGs right before the first half that didn’t count due to ND timeouts only to miss his third attempt. He did nail a 41-yard FG and had a touchback on kickoff.
9. Peter Jinkens, senior linebacker – Jinkens has a long way to go to be the LB that Texas wants/needs him to be. But he did have a game-high 10 tackles and recorded UT’s only sack on Zaire.
10. Michael Dickson, freshman punter – Dickson was absolutely booming kicks in warm-ups, traveling 50+ yards with ease. It took him a little while to warm up during the game but he ended up averaging 42.3 yards per punt on 10 attempts in his first ever collegiate game. He landed two punts inside the 20 and had one downed at the ND 5.
11. Duke Thomas, senior cornerback – Strong pointed him out as one of two defensive players that had a good game. You might be scratching your head but he did have two TFL. But what about that 66-yard TD that Will Fuller caught against him? Wasn’t that his man? In Duke’s defense he thought he had help from Dylan Haines on the back end. Expect the senior to get things buttoned up for Week 2.