With the season right around the corner now, we’ve seen discussion about players that could potentially break out this fall, so we decided to get in on that action as well to get things cranked up a week out from kickoff.
Here we each give three players that we think will burst onto the scene this fall as the Longhorns venture into season one of the Tom Herman era.
Sam Ehlinger – QB
No, Sam Ehlinger is not the starting quarterback for the Longhorns. Yet, he will be just as important as Shane Buechele in 2017. Ehlinger embodies the exact type of QB that Tom Herman wants in this offense – he can sling it, he’s tough, and he’s not afraid to tuck it and run through somebody. Make no mistake; Shane Buechele is going to be the starter against Maryland, as he should be. He’s got a full season of experience under his belt, and his accuracy is second to none. Regardless of Buechele’s attributes, Ehlinger is going to make a bigger impact than most think this season. Ehlinger and Buechele are two different quarterbacks. In some situations the freshman is going to be the better option, and is going to show everyone why. After a senior season riddled by injury at Westlake HS, the freshman is eager to prove that he belongs on the biggest of stages. When the spotlight is on, I believe he’ll shine.
Josh Thompson – CB
Not many freshmen from the 2017 signing class have earned consistent praise from the Texas coaching staff. Josh Thompson is one of the few. When Thompson arrived in Austin this summer, he was in the best shape of his life. He immediately began absorbing the playbook and embraced a role entitled “student of the game.” When I think of Thompson, I see a fundamentally sound player. I see a teammate that can always be relied on, even in crucial situations. I see a player that never makes mistakes – a player like Jordan Shipley. Before I go any further, I could be completely wrong. Thompson is indeed only a freshman. He will make some mistakes, as a young Jordan Shipley oftentimes did. I just believe the mistakes will be few. Thompson has made an immediate impact since arriving on campus and will see significant playing time this season. I won’t be surprised when he becomes a star.
DeShon Elliot – S
This is the easiest name to put on this list. Since arriving at Texas, Elliot has made plays. From nabbing two interceptions in his first real playing time as a freshman against Kansas to his lethal hit against Torii Hunter Jr. in the end zone of the Notre Dame game last year, Elliot is always around the ball. It appears that the lights finally flickered on for Elliot this offseason. Behind PJ Locke, Elliot is one of the names that are constantly brought up in a positive light by the Texas coaches. Not only has ‘The Kraken’ improved as a player, he’s improved as a leader too. For a Texas defense that more often than not had their arms up in confusion before a snap last year, this is crucial. The only true difficulty for Elliot at the college level has been pass coverage. He’s never had a problem with coming up on a runner and hitting them at full speed. This offseason, it appears he dedicated great amounts of time to the art of route running. For a safety, understanding route running is what takes him from good to great. For Elliot, I believe this year is his time to take that next step. If he does, he can be a force at the next level.
Lil’Jordan Humphrey – WR
Last Texas witnessed a breakout player in Collin Johnson at the wide receiver position, and they very well could witness another one in 2017 in LJ Humphrey. While Johnson was certainly underrated in that 2016 signing class, for me Humphrey was probably the most intriguing prospect of the bunch. Humphrey has the ability and skill set to be an absolute nightmare on the outside and the idea of putting him opposite of Johnson has to excite the fan base. Humphrey currently backs up Johnson on the depth chart, but I think at some point we will see both players on the field at the same time and it will become an absolute headache for defensive coordinators in the Big 12.
Josh Thompson – CB
After players get signed in February, the message from the coaches to the signees is to show up on campus ready to play. It’s safe to say that message was well received by Josh Thompson, because he worked his butt off and showed up on campus in phenomenal shape and the mindset that he is going to be contributing from day one. Thompson has quickly put himself squarely in the mix to crack the two deep at corner during camp and as long as he doesn’t miss extended time from getting banged up I like his chances of putting himself in the spotlight this fall. He has the mindset and the skill set to contribute at multiple spots in the secondary, and he is his number is likely to be called early this year.
Thompson’s trend line has been fascinating to watch from the time he was simply known as Brandon Jones’ friend, to being a guy some analysts thinking he was going to be a G5 caliber player, to him blowing up and ending up at Texas with a chance to contribute as a freshman.
Taquon Graham – DE
I almost rolled with Gary Johnson in this last spot, but I called an audible at the line of scrimmage and went with another defensive player.
Here’s another 2017 signee who should find himself on the field early on this year. Taquon Graham is a guy I labeled as a must have after seeing him his physical makeup in person last summer at UTL when he told the media he was already up north of 260 and looking like a million bucks. While some tried to throw dirt on Graham during his senior year, people need to be mindful that he played hurt most of the year and when you go back and watch that film when he’s healthy it’s a no brainer that he’s a stud.
It’s obvious that Graham is now healthy and is showing the ability that we all knew he had, as he was one of the first newcomers to get his stripe removed from his helmet during camp and the coaches have been raving about him. Like with Thompson, Graham showed up to campus in great shape and with the right mindset to put himself in a position to contribute early. Many have wondered about depth along the defensive line, and I think Graham will be a guy we see a lot of this year.