There are certain players we know have the skills to be All-Americans and over the course of the season the stats often help prove that out. Harder to predict are which ones have that knack for the really big play, impeccably timed. In the 4th round of the fantasy draft, I'm selecting a player who's timing of production probably had more to do with the recognition he received than the body of work or the metrics of his production alone.
In the reality draft I'm selecting a player who seemingly has all the tools and the stars aligned to go with them this season. In this Big XII conference season, we anticipate the Horns having their backs against the wall at least a couple times, right? Something they'll absolutely need is a player with a knack for making things happen when chances look slim.
Fantasy Draft 4th Pick (Position & Player): Cornerback | Aaron Ross
There are few players who followed a path to Texas like Aaron Ross'. After being a part of the 2001 recruiting class he had to go back to senior high school to complete NCAA Clearinghouse requirements. He went from being an All-State phenom, to going back to sitting in a high scholl classroom with kids two years younger. Many people would have gotten discouraged and possibly hung ‘em up but Aaron didn't. This first demonstration of resilience and determination resonated throughout his career.
After arriving on campus, Ross was just another cornerback in a defensive backfield inundated with talent. He backed up Nathan Vasher as a freshman and went on to split reps with Tarrell Brown up until his senior year. He only started two games prior to his senior season and merely earned honorable mention in the Big XII as a punt returner his junior year. In his senior season, his first year as a full-time starter, he went from being a return specialist and part-time cornerback to being one of the most productive Longhorn DBs any single season has seen.
As a senior, Ross tallied 80 tackles, six interceptions, 19 BPUs, and three forced fumbles. But again, the timing of the plays he made is what made him so special. In 2006 against OU he contributed to the three turnovers (2 INTs, fumble recovery for touchdown) in the 4th quarter which lead to a 28-10 victory (securing our only back-to-back wins vs. OU in quite some time).
None of us who watched it will forget Ross' forced fumble against Nebraska in 2006 with just over two minutes to play. This turnover allowed the offense to burn clock and gain position for a 22-yard Ryan Bailey field goal (20 mph winds blowing snowflakes everywhere). It was as magical as any Disney film. Ross is the guy who made it all possible.
In this Big XII league, having a guy show up like Ross is invaluable. His experiences both personal and on the field show the resilience necessary to come through when the odds are against you. We'll definitely need to find guys who have the gift of grit and timing in their arsenal. He's yet another great Longhorn I'd love to have back this year.
Reality Draft 4th Pick (Position & Player): Defensive End | Jackson Jeffcoat
There's no way you thought I'd go another pick without grabbing Jackson, did you? He's the other half a tandem I believe will symbiotically work together to create havoc for opponents. I can't help but be excited after his final outing last season vs. Cal in the Holiday Bowl. He dominated the game logging eight tackles and three TFLs (two of which were sacks). I believe he's healthier and primed to produce that sort of play far more consistently this season.
The benefits of having another very talented defensive end on the other side of the line (my first overall pick Alex Okafor) are many and have a lot to do with Alex being pick # 1 over Kenny. Having these bookends is like 1 + 1 = 3, so to speak. First, as a DE you're incentivized to stop the run so you can get to the more rewarding passing downs. His presence will force teams to make tough decisions on what identity they'll have against Texas that week as an offense.
With Jeffcoat capable of winning one on ones, opposing offenses will have to be decisive on what types of personnel they think will give them the best chance against this defense. If they decide to go with 11 (1 back, 1 TE) or 12 (1 back, 2 TEs) personnel, they may feel more secure when it comes to slowing down pass rush pressure but may put a cap on what they can accomplish in the passing game. Conversely, if opponents choose to risk giving either Jeffcoat or Okafor a man-to-man matchup in 10 (1 back, 0 TEs) or 20 (2 back, 0 TEs), they are in for serious trouble and might find out if their second string QB was paying attention that week. West Virginia is one of the few teams who will have the talent and athleticism at QB to neutralize the attack that the Jeffcoat/Okafor tandem can bring. Generally speaking these two are set to go on a rampage in the Big XII this year. Teams will have no choice but to pick their poison.
The other thing that excites me is that it's the defense's 2nd season under Manny Diaz. The DEs coming off the edge should have even greater schematic advantages and this being the Big XII, these guys should have ample opportunities to be great. They defense will be licking their chops this year and Jeffcoat is one I expect to be well-fed when the season is all said and done.
Fifth Draft pick(s) coming soon...