#1 ... QB Sam Ehlinger
Physically developed as a freshman at 6-2, 215 pounds, Ehlinger fits the pass/run ideals at QB in the Tom Herman offense. Herman on Wednesday called Ehlinger an alpha male, and that's exactly what he is.
I was at the Westlake-Katy game this season when Katy had taken complete control of the game in the third quarter, and Ehlinger willed Westlake to victory in the 4Q by doing it all, scrambling for first downs on third-and-long, extending passing plays with his feet by scrambling from one side of the field to the other before throwing a perfect TD strike with time running out.
At the most critical position on the field, he's incredibly confident, accurate and has a competitive fire his teammates will absolutely feel and respond to.
Do I think he'll beat out Shane Buechele? I'm not sure. But he's not here - enrolled early - to be anyone's backup. And Texas is the benefactor of having two QBs with the "it" qualities of Buechele (poise, quick decision-making, accuracy) and Ehlinger. With the lack of depth at QB - the most important position on the team - Ehlinger ranks No. 1 on my list.
#2 ... K Josh Rowland
Don't laugh. There's a reason Rowland was the first of the commits after Tom Herman took over as coach. As Longhorns' fans learned last year - hitting extra points (at Oklahoma State) and FGs (at K-State) MATTERS!!
Having the offense move the ball down the field, into FG range, only to come away with no points can erode a team's collective psyche. Time to get back onto the FG kicker roll Mack Brown was on with the likes of Justin Tucker, Hunter Lawrence, Ryan Bailey, Dusty Mangam, etc. (you get the picture)!
#3 ... JUCO ILB Gary Johnson
Watch his film and see how he attacks gaps and takes great angles to make plays in the backfield from 12 to 15 yards away.
Has speed and lateral quickness to get in the mix for playing time immediately. There's excellent competition when you consider Malik Jefferson, Anthony Wheeler, Ed Freeman, Jeffrey McCulloch and Erick Fowler, etc. But I'm excited to see Johnson get on the field, and I think he'll be out there - either in a rotation or more prominently at 6-1, 225 now and probably more like 240 by fall camp.
#4 ... RB Toneil Carter
Even though Herman said RB Daniel Young may be the most underrated signee in the class, Carter is the versatile back who can catch the football. And Herman craves/demands a RB in his offense who can line up in the backfield, motion out to receiver and make defenses pay either way.
Former Texas RB Duke Catalon caught 40 passes in UH's offense last season. Considering Chris Warren will be the between-the-tackles RB in 2017, Carter has a chance to come in as an early enrollee and compete with Kirk Johnson as the versatile, pass-catching, speed-sweep-running back.
You all know I love me some Kirk Johnson. But there's nothing wrong with having a talented back who can come in and compete for that role - especially with KirkoGrinds' injury history.
#5 ... TE Cade Brewer
Wait. What? The 210 or 223-pound TE from Lake Travis (or whatever folks have his weight listed at)? At No. 5? Doesn't he need time to add weight and become a blocker? Surely he won't play for a year or two right?
Cade Brewer is the best pass catcher and route runner in this recruiting class - and it's not even close. And I LOVE Damion Miller and think Jordan Pouncey has a chance, too. But Brewer blows them away in terms of route running and being a hands catcher who catches EVERYTHING.
I've said Brewer's a David Thomas starter kit - and I absolutely believe that. (Amazing that DT was listed at 6-3, 210 on signing day in 2002 ... Cue the Twilight Zone theme.)
If you got the chance to see Cade Brewer torment defenses at 6A state champ Lake Travis, nothing I'm saying comes as a shock. If you didn't get the chance, you'll soon see what I'm talking about.
Lake Travis coach Hank Carter told me Cade Brewer has the best hands and body control of ANY pass catcher he's EVER had - at receiver or TE. Ever.
This kid is a football player and will do whatever he needs to do to get on the field ASAP and succeed - and when he does (this season), he'll be a matchup nightmare for defenses ... again. And he'll have all of you saying, "Chip, Cade Brewer reminds me of David Thomas! You were right!"
Remember where you heard it first.
#6 ... OLB Marqez Bimage
I feel like Bimage is to this year's class what Malcolm Roach was to last year's class. And I'm going to watch and compare the college careers of the 6-3, 230-pound, 3-star Bimage and the 6-4, 220-pound, 5-star DE/OLB K'Lavon Chaisson.
Honestly, after watching Chaisson work so hard to dupe people in order to keep his college choice a mystery, I think Bimage comes with less drama and more chips on the shoulder than Chaisson.
Now, before everyone accuses me of hyperbole and lazily trying to raise hopes and overcook their grits on Bimage, watch his film at Brenham.
Look at the fire he plays with coming off the edge. Watch how he uses a speed rush to the outside but also counters that rush with a crossover step to the inside that leaves slower OTs almost falling backward without any contact. Look at the way he tries to ensure the most physical impact possible when he closes in on a ball carrier. Look at the desire he plays with, repeatedly diving for the feet of scrambling QBs to get the sack.
I can easily see Bimage get some playing time this season as a backup or in a rotation with Roach, Breckyn Hager and senior-to-be Naashon Hughes. But I know that Bimage plays with the physical intensity and love of contact Herman is planning to build the UT program with. He fits in perfectly with the collision-loving play of Roach and Hager - and that alone gives him a chance to get on the field in a rotation in 2017.
#7 ... DE Ta'Quon Graham
I've heard mixed opinions about Graham. Here's why Graham is No. 7 on my list: he's got athleticism you can't coach at SDE or WDE in a 3-4. Can you coach up that athleticism and get it in position to succeed? Oh yeah. And that's what I think Tom Herman, Todd Orlando and Oscar Giles will do. Graham's value to the class also increases, in my opinion, because of the loss of DE Lagaryonn Carson (academics).
In Orlando's 3-4, Graham, who is 6-3, 251 pounds, will be a SDE or WDE competing with Charles Omenihu, Jordan Elliott, Andrew Fitzpatrick, D'Andre Christmas, etc. Texas needs depth and play-making at those DE positions and Graham has the tools to be a difference maker.
#8 ... RB Daniel Young
It was interesting listening to Tom Herman talk about Daniel Young, a physical back who runs angry, as maybe the most underrated member of the Texas 2017 class.
As I reported in last week's HD ONLY, Herman has made it known internally he'd love line up Patrick Hudson at LG next to All-American LT Connor Williams and pound the ball behind them with 250-pound RB Chris Warren III. Then, picture Young as probably the 220-pound understudy of Warren come this fall.
Young figures to provide quality depth/insurance behind Warren this season.
#9 ... CB Kobe Boyce
I watch Kobe Boyce's film and he reminds me of a cross between former UT corners Chykie Brown and Curtis Brown. Boyce is fearless in making plays on the ball, and makes things happen when he gets his hands on the ball.
He also comes downhill and creates big collisions by throwing his shoulder into a ball carrier. (That will have to change at UT - I can already hear Todd Orlando and Jason Richardson yelling, "Wrap up! See what you're hitting!")
#10 ... TE Reese Leitao
I like Leitao's frame at 6-4 and 234. He has broad shoulders and looks like he could easily grow to 250.
Leitao can block, but he needs to get better in that area. He's not the natural pass catcher that Cade Brewer is, but he's a grinder, wants to be good and the importance of tight end (and lack of depth) in UT's offense (and Leitao's role as a lead blocker on counter plays, etc) will help ensure his impact.
Leitao will be competing with Andrew Beck and Peyton Aucoin as the blocking TE.
#11 ... WR Damion Miller
Miller begins the group of players in the 2017 class who I think are likely to have an impact on the program beginning their sophomore season.
I like Miller. He's long. He's fast. He's a hands catcher. But he's still raw as a route runner. But I think Miller has a chance to be a good one. He's just at a really crowded position right now.
#12 ... S Montrell Estell
I think Estell has a ton of upside. He's long and fast and needs to become more physical. He will remind a lot of Texas fans of Mykkele Thompson.
#13 ... S/CB Josh Thompson
The description of Thompson is almost identical to my description of Estell. Tons of upside. He's a former teammate of S Brandon Jones at Nacogdoches, so he'll have an allie and mentor in the secondary who can help speed him along.
#14 ... DT Jamari Chisholm
At 6-5 and 290 pounds, Chisholm has size you can work with. But one game (against Tyler JUCO), he's posting 10 tackles, one sack, four TFLs and three QB hurries in a 65-14 loss, and the next game he disappears. He didn't make Scout's JUCO top 100.
Sustained effort needs to be improved. Getting Chisholm to play hard all the time will be the biggest challenge. But he looks great getting off the bus! With the talent in front of him at DT, if that talent stays healthy, it wouldn't shock me if Chisholm only sees garbage time at Texas - unless that switch can be flipped and stay on.
#15 ... OT Sam Cosmi
It may take a year or two, but I saw enough of the 6-5, 260-pound OT from Atascocita in the playoffs to think Cosmi can be developed into a productive player at Texas. Probably a redshirt candidate in 2017.
#16 ... OG Derek Kerstetter
Kerstetter's size (6-5, 280) almost puts in the OT category, but his feet aren't good enough to play OT at this point. Whether Kerstetter ends up at OG or OT, he actually has a decent punch and kick step in pass protection. Needs to play lower when run blocking.
There's size to work with, and, like Sam Cosmi, in a year or two, Kerstetter could be a productive OL for the Horns.
#17 ... WR Jordan Pouncey
Pouncey's size - at 6-3, 186 pounds - jumps off the screen. But he's so raw as a route runner, I'd be surprised if he doesn't redshirt in 2017. The physical tools - size, length and speed - are the reasons you coach the heck out of this kid and hope you end up with something in a couple years.
#18 ... DE Max Cummins
I kind of feel the same way about Cummins that I do about WR Jordan Pouncey: nice size (Cummins is 6-6 and 245 pounds). But he's so raw and played way too high against mediocre competition that you hope you can coach the heck out of him and turn him into a SDE in a year or two.
Looks like a redshirt candidate to me.