Offensive Line (4)
I think this could be the most underrated position group in the class.
"College ready" isn't defined by virtue of the fact that a prospect weighs the same as a starting NFL linemen. Several women at the local Cracker Barrel share the same qualifier. If you read my fitness series, you know that adding weight and strength to large, genetically gifted young men isn't very hard, but great feet, a natural anchor, wingspan, competitive motor and coordinated explosiveness aren't as trainable. Those traits define college ready. Not how well you punish the bathroom scale. Texas continues to remake its OL with this in mind and I really like the potential of the youngsters after a strong 2015 haul.
OL take time to develop and if any of these recruits are pressed to play early, it will be desperation as much as their ability prompting it.
Denzel Okafor- 6-4, 290
Okafor was lightly regarded by recruiting services well into his senior year (one had him as a two star) but senior film and the elevated interest from major programs eventually saw him upgraded to a national level recruit. Okafor is slotted for guard and it's probably his best position, but I think he's the rare athlete who could play every position on the offensive line. He has a big wingspan, good lateral movement, exhibits good effort and the athleticism to operate in space. Plenty of OL can generate an initial punch, but they slide off of the defender, overextend, or won't finish. Or they're content to screen the defender and call a tie victory.
Not Okafor. He's humiliating defenders like an Iverson crossover. Okafor's film shows an OL who stalks, locks and repeatedly finishes. Check out the play at 2:37 if you want to see how he treats a gap-stunting linebacker. Not nicely. From a developmental perspective, he's going to have to get his pads down when battling interior DL, but that's a standard no-shit observation and an evolutionary adjustment all HS OL not named Dan Neil are tasked with. I really, really like Okafor and consider him one of the best prospects in the entire class regardless of position. He's in the Connor Williams mold with respect to athleticism, motor and physicality and I like the upgrade in energy, aggression and dynamism that he brings.
Jean Delance- 6-5, 295
Delance has similarities to last year's signee Buck Major. He's the prototypical athletic OT. Flat belly, long arms, room to carry 310 and maintain athleticism and the physical characteristics required to match the edge-rushing freaks he'll be tasked with neutralizing. Delance's upside will be almost solely determined by skill acquisition and refinement. Right now he's a giant Great Dane puppy winning at the dog park with strength and size. Some of his big man habits like a superfluous wasted step or a lateral hop and stand on a pull compromise his efficiency and are things Mattox will work to correct. Delance can be a tad slow on his pass set-up, but that's because he sets up differently each time and he doesn't know to flatten out or take a deep drop depending on the DE's alignment. Once he engrains proper habits and stops thinking, he'll operate at a speed that matches his athletic ability. While most Longhorn fans were all too happy to wish Joe Wickline happy trails, Delance is Joe's kind of project. He'll be an interesting test of Mattox's ability to teach and develop a raw athlete with a NFL body.
It's worth noting that Delance's film shows a steep increase in confidence, aggression and production from his junior year to his senior season. In fact, you see significant growth even within his senior season. That trajectory is a good sign and part of why he's so highly touted. Given the choice between a good athlete who must acquire skills or a veteran polished kid with marginal athletic ability, always take the former.
Zach Shackleford- 6-3, 290
Watching Shack play and then seeing his unassuming picture out of pads is a little like taking off Jason's mask in Friday the 13th and revealing Ned Flanders. I love his attitude and unfiltered aggression. Apparently, Bill Snyder did too as the Purple Wizard left his lair to actually visit Shackleford for a home recruiting visit - an honor he last reserved for Red Grange.
Zach played offensive tackle for Belton, but the early enrollee's future will be inside. Shackleford has a great natural anchor. That's a diplomatic way of saying he has the posterior chain of a rhino. He has a naturally low weight distribution and he can fix himself in a spot or root out others from theirs.
Shackleford's baseline athletic ability won't be confused with Denzel Okafor, but he's a country strong center candidate who should disallow penetration in the running game, work capably off of combo blocks on squatty 1 techniques and prevent A gap blitzes from ruining the passing game (cue 2015 Longhorn lowlights). If he exhibits the leadership and brains to make the line calls he could contribute on the depth chart immediately.
The Shack Attack seems to take special joy in driving defenders into the ground and concludes all of his pancakes with a 300 pound topping. That nasty attitude has been sorely lacking on the Texas OL for too long and it would be nice to see it return in force. He's a better athlete in short areas than he's given credit for even if the back end of his 40 might be timed by a sundial. He's not taking going to crush any NFL combine tests or the weight room, but when you put pads on him, he seems to become a different entity altogether. I'm curious to see how that plays out at the college level.
Tope Imade- 6-4, 320
The 320 pounder is the biggest of the 2016 OL recruits and certainly looks the part. It's amazing how well some of these guys carry their weight at a young age. He's projected inside at guard. Despite his mass, Tope has pretty light feet and that combination suggests that he'll have little trouble holding his ground inside and forming a strong interior wall for pass protection. Imade isn't all that explosive at the point of attack, but he's so massive and his feet are so active that he grinds defenders down just by putting his weight on them and keeping it on them. As he gets stronger, he'll have a chance to add a strong initial punch. A great big raw ball of clay looking to be molded.