***Asterisk-updated with the latest as of Friday, December 1st***
Malik Jefferson: This one is a no-brainer. As awesome as it would be to see Malik return and roll up another Butkus Award-caliber campaign, he’s a potential first-round talent who put enough together this season to answer many (if not all) of the questions surrounding his game. If he’d gotten to spend a little more time showing his bend and burst off the edge as a pass rusher he’d be guaranteed a spot in the first round, but that’s still his likeliest destination and he won’t slide past the early second. Jaylon Smith had a better overall career but a similar final season and physical attributes, and he went in the early second despite nerve damage that might have kept him from ever playing a down.
Everyone’s favorite Predator is about to get paid. At least we’ll always have Maliksmas.
Pain Level: Moderate-High. This would be “I just ate a Carolina Reaper pepper” scorching if not for the emergence of Gary Johnson, who spent the back half of the season as the Falcon to Malik’s Captain America and legitimately saying, “I do what he does, just shorter.” Rover is in good hands, but the pain potential comes at Mike where you’re either re-upping with Anthony Wheeler, counting on a true freshman in Ayodele Adeoye (assuming he doesn’t get poached) or counting on someone stepping up completely out of the blue. Linebacker is a scary-ass depth chart until further notice.
Connor Williams: The big man did what he had to do in the Putting Up Tape department and proving his health following an early-season knee injury. Even when he was playing and healthy he didn’t build on his 2016 campaign in the way that you’d like, but he’s another guy who’s nigh-guaranteed to hear his name called in the first round. If guys like Jonathan Ogden, Tyron Smith and Joe Staley were in this draft you’d see Williams slip some, but they aren’t and there are teams in the League getting absolutely ravaged by dire left tackle play. Somebody’s gonna elide 2017 from their thought process and call Williams’ name on Thursday night.
There’s late-breaking word that Williams will sit out the bowl game this December to focus on health and draft prep - if you’re planning on keeping a Comfort Bottle handy for this one, here’s your early warning to go ahead and upgrade to a handle.
Pain Level: High. Obviously it’s not a massive net loss from what we saw at the position in 2017...but what we saw at the position in 2017 was somewhere between a cautionary drunk driving video and an outhouse explosion.
Chris Warren III:
This one had been in the wind for a bit - advocates of his move to H-back saw what Warren is but failed to see what he thinks he is. He wants to be an I-formation, downhill runner and we’ll see who gives him that shot.
Pain Level: Moderate. Warren’s loss won’t really be felt at tailback, where he’d already been lapped by Toneil Carter and Daniel Young with another more complete back in Keontay Ingram inbound. While it was a long shot, his embrace of the H-back role could have been a real shot in the arm for an offense that’s now looking at:
- Andrew Beck coming off his second foot surgery
- Cade Brewer coming off a torn ACL and missing 5-6 months of invaluable lifting time and on-field reps
- Stealth-suspsended Reese Leitao
- True freshman Malcom Epps
- Garrett Gray!
As your IT IS ABSOLUTELY MANDATORY TO HAVE A TITULAR TE/H-BACK ON THE FIELD AT ALL TIMES options.
***DeShon Elliott: Elliott has declared that he’s not only out the door but skipping the Poulan Weed Molester Bowl to focus on his draft prep. It’s a very on-the-fence decision for a guy with solid but by no means outstanding athleticism for the next level. If he lands in the right situation, he’ll start to see the field when he’s ready (which will probably be 2019/2020) and have a couple of years to log solid reps and tee himself up for that second contract. In the wrong situation he’ll either get out there early, get cooked by the Travis Kelce’s of the world and land in the dumpster or, worse yet, land as a developmental 5th round dude and then get passed up in a year by a shiny second-rounder and find himself scrapping for reps throughout his tenure. At non-premium positions in any sport, it’s it’s in your long-term interest to ensure that you’re as ready as possible to compete at a high level so that a team makes you a part of its immediate plan and invests solid draft capital in you. Whether that will end up being the case with Elliott remains to be seen.
Pain Level: Moderate-High. Texas has capable bodies in the back end of the secondary, but you won’t plug anyone into the boundary safety or Dime Rover role in 2018 who’ll boast - or maybe even approach - Elliott’s developed skill set. From a physical tools standpoint Chris Brown may be your best combo of striking ability and reasonable range, but he’s not going to be the player in 2018 that Elliott was in 2017. Tell me what else Texas stands to lose up front and in the back and I’ll tell you how bad this will ultimately sting.
Below are guys who are known to be at least considering an early jump to the NFL Draft. As we’ve all endured a collective Marsellus-Wallace-In-The-Basement experience this year, we’ll hold off on detailing the pain level of these potential losses until solid word develops one way or the other.
Holton Hill: Hill’s physical gifts give him late first-round upside, but his Cypress Hill act has probably imperiled his standing to an unknown degree. Teams would certainly be more likely to risk a Friday pick on him if he turned in a stellar (and clean) 2018 campaign, but he’d certainly be drafted on his physical gifts if he goes this year. Hill is apparently playing things like “How I feel about the coaching staff after my suspension” very close to the vest, so this feels like a pure wait-and-see to uncover what he wants to do.
Charles Omenihu: The news that Omenihu is weighing his options isn’t exactly shocking, but everyone involved would be well-served if he came back for his senior campaign. There’s no question that he’s got the physical tools to play in the League for a long time, but he’s a guy where continued development and refinement could make a 2-3 round difference in draft stock while helping to ensure that he’s a significant part of his new team’s plans rather than a throw-in. Orlando’s 4i’s aren’t in the position to rack up counting stats and gen pop-recognizable highlights, but Omenihu did some great things this year if you knew what to look for. He needs to keep building his resume as a tough and versatile dude, and we need him to do it in Burnt Orange next year.
Michael Dickson: The Thunder From Down Under was non-committal when asked if he’d return to Texas for his senior season, and it’s tough to build a major case that he needs to do a lot of refinement work on his craft. Can we sell an Aussie on the value of a Longhorn degree prior to a 15-year NFL career? Here’s hoping.
***Chris Nelson: It sounds like Nelson is exploring his draft options on the heels of a solid but unspectacular junior campaign. The word is that he’s seeking committee draft feedback, and it’s nigh-incomprehensible that said feedback would put him in the first three rounds. If he jumps, that’s some bad ju-ju.
The first-year attrition in the Strong-To-Herman transition stung in some cases (Brandon Hodges, Jean DeLance, Jordan Elliott) but overall it wasn’t outlandish or terribly surprising. But when you follow an offseason of grueling workouts, intense discipline, burned eggs and limp toast (or vice versa) with a 6-6 inaugural campaign where one side of the ball was marked by individual stagnation or regression and mystifying personnel rotations...some guys aren’t going to sign up for a second helping of soggy biscuits.
Guys who are known to be stepping away at this stage include:
Jake McMillon: McMillon chose to walk with the seniors and won’t be returning for his final season on the 40. His play was inconsistent at best following what looked like an emergent 2016 campaign, but he was one of Texas’ best five up front and likely would have been in 2018 as well.
Pain Level: Moderate-High. Even if McMillon had plateaued he was serviceable, and you don’t want to hand more potential depth-chart issues to a staff of non-problem solvers.
Terrell Cuney: He walked with the seniors. Cuney likely wasn’t slated to start in 2018 even with McMillon’s departure, but he’d likely have seen snaps at either guard or center barring terrific injury luck.
Pain Level: Low-Moderate. Cuney’s level of play was...evident to casual observers, but if this offensive season proved anything it was that it’s possible to fall off the floor. Let’s hope that doesn’t get tested next season.
Alex Anderson: He walked with the seniors after the staff made it clear that they’d rather rub a ball of tinfoil on their dental fillings than give him live-game snaps.
Pain Level: He was better in 2016 than Cuney was in 2017. Do with that what you will.
Garrett Gray: Accidentally omitted him the first time, but he walked with the seniors as well and won’t be returning for 2018.
Pain Level: With respect to Gray, his departure isn’t nearly as painful as the reminder that the offensive staff thought that he could be the fulcrum for our 11-personnel identity after Andrew Beck went down. * Sighs, pinches bridge of nose *
As for everyone else...
It’s neither fair nor productive to put guys’ names on the street when discussing who’s reportedly looking for the door or who may be receiving some no-nonsense talk when it comes to potential playing time in 2018 and beyond. Behind the scenes, names are being floated that land in one of three broad categories:
- “Huh - that’s too bad.”
- “Canary in the coal mine that this staff ain’t resonating with the locker room at all.”
- “Somewhere between the coal mine canary flying a lit stick of dynamite under a support beam and a Balrog emerging from the depths of the mine.”
We’ll keep this thread updated as hard news comes out. Keep them fingers crossed.