The Texas Longhorns have been largely irrelevant since Mack Brown’s firing (“resigned”) from Texas in 2013, due to a combination of bad coaching and the success of rivals Oklahoma and other in-state programs. Under new coach Tom Herman, they’ve turned a corner, and many fans wonder if Texas is finally back. Their group of prospects for the 2020 NFL Draft can certainly get them there.
The 2020 NFL Draft class
In the years since the 2010 class, where UT produced six drafted prospects (most notably Earl Thomas), UT hasn’t produced more than five in a season. While that is still quite a bit, most of their classes have been 2-4 prospects. For a program like Texas, that’s paltry.
The 2020 group could have seven, yes, seven draftable prospects, with some of them capable of being top-100 picks. That 2010 class had five prospects go in the top-100 picks and the 2020 class could rival that.
QB Sam Ehlinger
Make all the jokes about Sam Ehlinger being a fullback, but Ehlinger has guided Texas to a winning record the past two seasons while manning the QB job. He threw for other 3,000 yards last season with a 25:5 TD:INT ratio (or 5:1 for you math nerds). Many people believe him to be a serious Heisman contender next season. In a league starved for quarterbacks, Ehlinger’s prototypical size and athletic ability could push his draft stock up in time for the 2020 NFL Draft.
WRs Collin Johnson & Devin Duvernay
Collin Johnson is a height and weight freak at 6’6 220 lbs. He’s bigger than every defensive back in the Big 12, and he just bullies them every game. He’s got phenomenal body control and a freaky catch radius, and he’s at his best on those 50/50 balls. He doesn’t lose those battles. He needs to take his game to the next level before he becomes a top WR prospect, as his route-running and nuance is still developing. Still, Johnson looks like a prospect that will have some fans in the NFL.
Texas WR Collin Johnson went FLYING for the TD catch!
The Longhorns took down No. 17 TCU! pic.twitter.com/5b1EAZADyw
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) September 23, 2018
Duvernay isn’t quite the player Collin is, as Duvernay stands only at 5’11. However, he’s a lot more athletic and, dare I say, projects better to the modern NFL than Johnson does. The NFL thrives off of speed and separation nowadays, and Duvernay does it better. He’s been timed at a 4.38, and his explosiveness is evident in games. Johnson and Duvernay are two opposite players, but both complement each other well and could have big years in 2020. I would not be surprised if both are picked relatively high in the 2020 NFL Draft.
C Zack Shackelford
Shackelford does his best work as a pass protector with good hand placement and footwork, although he’s a bit inconsistent in this regard. He’s got 27 career starts under his belt, which is a good thing to have going into his senior season. He’s a good athlete at center and a leader for the Longhorns. The NFL has a problem at center, which is a pivotal position for the offensive line, given the increased talent at interior defensive line over the last few years. Athletic pass protectors are a boon for teams nowadays and increasingly valuable.
Shackelford has some tough competition for top center prospect, and the position rarely gets drafted first-round, but I believe he’ll be an early-to-mid Day 2 prospect for the 2020 NFL Draft. He has to stay healthy and prove his consistency, but his skillset can’t be overstated. If Shackelford gets drafted in the first three rounds, he’ll be the second Longhorn OL drafted since 2009 (1st was Connor Williams in 2018).
G Parker Braun
Out of all of the prospects listed, Braun is my pick to be the lowest drafted. He’s a grad transfer from Georgia Tech. He’s been named to two All-ACC teams and Phil Steele has him as a preseason first-team All-Big 12 for this 2019-2020 season. Those honors are cool and all… but relatively meaningless for translating to the pros (see: Mitch Hyatt).
Braun is transferring from Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack to the up-tempo spread of Texas’s offense. He’ll need to undergo a fundamental overhaul from top to bottom, as well as prove his ability in pass protection. While he can run block with the best of them, run blocking is becoming less and less valuable in today’s league. He’s got a shot to still be drafted, but color me off the hype ’till I see it.
DE Malcolm Roach
Roach was a phenomenal freshman for Texas, but injuries have hampered him the last two season. With Charles Omenihu off to the NFL, Roach has a chance to step into that leadership role and produce for the Longhorns defense next season. He’s impressed his coaches with his intensity and hard work this offseason.
He’s strong as a bull and looks to be a good athlete, but the injuries are a worry. Having a great senior season can erase the doubts about Roach’s potential at the next level.
S Brandon Jones
I’ve previously broken down Brandon Jones and why I believe he can be a first-round selection come the 2020 NFL Draft, but I’ll add him in here as well. Jones is an elite athlete who hits hard. The NFL loves chippy, rangy athletes at safety, and Jones fits the bill perfectly. If Texas wants to be back, Jones will be an enforcer on the back end of their defense next season.