To paraphrase Tribe Called Quest: His name is Malik, the six foot one freak. I don't need to extoll his virtues any more. When I hear that a 5-10, 185 pound cornerback uncorked a 4.39 40, a 4.1 shuttle and a 40 inch vertical at the combine, I wonder where the NFL will draft him. When I find out those numbers were posted by a 215 pound junior in high school, you're well into freak territory. Malik is an elite athlete in every sense - blowing out traditional combine measurements, but also demonstrating real fluidity, suddenness and change of direction on the football field. The only positional high school tape I've seen that's more impressive belonged to Waco's Derrick Johnson. How did he turn out? No pressure, Malik.
Jefferson's high school coach played him in a hybridized "off" position - often simulating OU's use of Eric Striker - which allowed him to blitz from the flat, peek into the backfield and run down the ball with a clean look while not having to sweat the heavy traffic. He can still do many of those things in college as he's more or less the perfect spread busting linebacker, but he'll still need to learn to play a more traditional form of football if we have him slated for WLB.
He gave himself a nice jump on the process as an early enrollee and he has the potential to start or split time as a true freshman. Jefferson is a not a big-framed guy - his teammate Deandre McNeal is a naturally bigger dude - so it's important that Texas bring his weight along slowly and not try to get him to 240 tomorrow. His size and rawness may cost him some run-stuffing ability at the point of attack, but our primary goal will be to cover him up, keep big bodies off of him and let him run down ballcarriers like a cheetah let loose in a petting zoo.
Hailing from the Shaun Lewis tree of spread-busting LB body types, I love Townsend's instincts and his versatility. He can line up as a traditional LB, he can cover the flat, he can blitz and run. Townsend isn't a big guy - he goes 6-1, 195 right now - but he should put on good weight over time. I like Townsend, but his primary challenge will be finding playing time in a conference and on a defense where a base nickel is our preferred modus operandi, the SLB is a situational contributor and competition at WLB will prove incredibly stiff as Strong continues to grab and develop the skill sets he loves there. Basically, Townsend isn't just competing with just other LBs for playing time - he's competing against big safeties and our nickel backs. Guess what positions our staff particularly excels at developing and evaluating? Tough row to hoe. I think we redshirt him, bring him along and see if his skill set demands the football field vis a vis the alternatives. If Texas ever goes to a base 3-4, the logjam will free considerably. At minimum, he's great depth and a special teams contributor.
Many fans believe that their recruiting classes are all criminally underrated and that Rivals or 24-7 has a deep seated bias against their athletes. While simultaneously believing that recruiting rankings either represent nearly perfect knowledge or "that stars don't matter at all!" It's a complicated contradiction. And then there are the Aggies, who elevate any sense of persecution to an actual art form. Every year, they light a memorial candle on the day that Rivals ranked Manziel as a three star. WE MUST NEVER FORGET.
The fact is that some in our class are underrated, most are probably properly rated (at least by year's end when the offers and new film come in- some early evals are patently lazy bullshit) and I can name a few guys in our current class who are probably getting too much credit.
One of our least heralded recruits, Hager is probably properly rated as a LB prospect (I don't see the lateral ability to play inside or at traditional OLB at an elite level), but I suspect that our strategy to extract maximum value involves placing him on the line of scrimmage, quite possibly with a hand in the dirt, weighing somewhere between 245-265. Hager has a naturally big frame (he's a bigger kid than his Dad) and a huge chip on his shoulder and he'll put a sleeping bag in the weight room. Being at Texas means a lot to him. Give him a redshirt, 4,000 calories a day and let's see what happens.
Cecil likes to talk trash and knock out ball carriers. I'm a fan of both traits in my MLB. While I love Cherry's style of play, he's a two down linebacker in a conference that treats most downs like 3rd and 8. Click that link if you want my comprehensive scouting report. The 240 pounder's ability to unleash violence in a small area is considerable and Strong's defense does constrict ILB responsibilities such that he's not going to find himself manned up on a Baylor track guy, but he'll need to demonstrate some additional niftiness a la former Strong pupil Preston Brown to get on the field. Cherry is an absolute take and we need to have at least two or three run stuffing big boy linebackers on the roster at all times. Those that don't pan will end up at FB or DL.
By the way, Cherry worships Strong and sends him weekly videos of his workouts to demonstrate his dedication. We're talking about Cherry finishing a set of power cleans and then throwing the weight down while screaming "Texas....raaaaaa!" Those kind of videos. I want to rent a screen at Alamo Drafthouse, invite you all, and watch them all back-to-back.
Wheeler's picture wins the Tevin Jackson Dark Alley Avoidance Award, but unlike Jackson, he has film where he's doing actual linebacker things and not just shooting gaps. The bewitching thing about Wheeler's potential is that he began his career outside (and was fairly dominant there) but was moved inside so he couldn't be schemed around. In fairly short order, Wheeler went from a cautious learner to a badass operator, scraping and sticking with the best. He was a big part of Skyline's 14-1 season.
He has a frame that will hold 245 effortlessly, respectable athleticism, good effort and a real willingness to bring it. The bottom line is that middle linebacker is an incredibly instinctive position - such that physical requirements can often take a back seat to anticipation, understanding when to submarine a block or play it honestly, diagnostic ability and a nose for the football. I find it incredibly difficult to project those abilities each time you go up a level and the NFL struggles with it too. If Wheeler has those gifts, we've got a three year starter. I must admit that I tend to factor in a DISD discount in my risk assessment as those players seem to inordinately struggle at times with academics or adaptation to a college environment, but Strong's history of addressing these issues is pretty good. If he can open up a viable and sustainable developmental pipeline there, he has a real shot at tapping into some talented athletes and changing some lives along the way.