Texas Football: Top Prospects Who Must Finally Step Up in 2014

Zach Shelton@@zachisagingerFeatured ColumnistMay 29, 2014

Texas Football: Top Prospects Who Must Finally Step Up in 2014

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    Can Shiro Davis rise to the occasion as an every-down defensive end?
    Can Shiro Davis rise to the occasion as an every-down defensive end?Michael Thomas/Associated Press

    Recruiting is an inexact science, and not every highly regarded signee is going to become a star. But if guys like Shiro Davis and Josh Turner can finally step up, then it will make a world of difference for the Longhorns.

    At a program like Texas, which is supposed to attract the best players in the country, you expect at least most of the top 10 members of each recruiting class to become a starter at some point in their careers. Usually, that group consists of the high-end 4-stars who should only take a year or two to find their paths.

    If not, then it becomes reasonable to question whether those players will ever pan out. A year on the active roster, plus an additional redshirt season for the projects, should yield some results on the field. This is especially true if a player is supposed to be a starter in the upcoming season based on the current roster situation.

    Sure, it can take more or less time. But if this guy is a top-10 recruit and you need him to start, he needs to be ready to do that earlier on in his career. That said, the need is less of a pressing matter if there is somebody in place to handle the job.

    So to ask a former top recruit to finally step up, he must have been a top-10 recruit for his class, have spent at least one season on the active roster and must be an expected starter for the upcoming season. 

    The Longhorns have eight players fitting that description, and all of them need to have career years in 2014 for Texas to have a successful season.

     

    Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

DE Shiro Davis (Class of 2012)

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    247Sports Composite Grade/Rank/Pos. Rank: .9533/97/8 (OLB)

    One of the nation's top outside linebackers in 2012, Shiro Davis has yet to follow through on the excitement he delivered by flipping from LSU on national signing day. Then again, he has never really had the chance before his upcoming junior season.

    A defensive end at Texas, Davis arrived on campus behind Alex Okafor, Jackson Jeffcoat, Cedric Reed and Reggie Wilson. The first three all went on to become All-Conference performers, while Wilson was a dependable contributor throughout his career. There just hasn't been much playing time available.

    This season, that excuse has been thrown out the window. Jeffcoat and Wilson have both exhausted their eligibility, leaving 3-star recruits Caleb Bluiett and Bryce Cottrell as Davis' only competition to start opposite Reed. 

    Davis played well in his limited action as a sophomore, recording four of his 15 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He will have to at least double those numbers as a starting junior to deter teams from blanketing Reed on every snap.

QB Tyrone Swoopes (Class of 2013)

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    Ash's injury may thrust Swoopes into the starting role sooner than expected.
    Ash's injury may thrust Swoopes into the starting role sooner than expected.Eric Gay/Associated Press

     247Sports Composite Grade/Rank/Pos. Rank: .9188/193/8 (ATH)

    It's far from an ideal situation, but Tyrone Swoopes would be Texas' starting quarterback if the season started today. That doesn't inspire as much confidence as it did when he first committed to the Longhorns.

    The expectations could not have been higher when Swoopes' ended his recruitment in February 2012. Thanks to the quarterback's impossibly long strides, the 6'4" prospect was immediately hailed as the next Vince Young by a fanbase desperate for an answer at the position.

    But after an unimpressive showing at The Opening, recruitniks began to backpedal on Swoopes. His lack of passing acumen caused his reclassification as an athlete, which took him off the national radar.

    Since then, Swoopes has excelled after enrolling early in 2013, quickly climbing the depth chart. Once the season began, Swoopes became a victim of that success when the coaching staff burned his redshirt for the sake of 13 garbage-time passes.

    This season, the coaches may have no choice but to take the leash off the sophomore and his raw talent. David Ash has been unable to stay on the field, leaving Swoopes and 2014 recruit Jerrod Heard as the team's only true quarterbacks.

    For Texas to have any success in that scenario, Swoopes will have to become at least a lesser version of the player so many hoped he would be.

WR Kendall Sanders (Class of 2012)

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    Will steadier quarterback play turn Kendall Sanders loose?
    Will steadier quarterback play turn Kendall Sanders loose?eric gay/Associated Press

    247Sports Composite Grade/Rank/Pos. Rank: .9492/108/7 (CB)

    Listed as a cornerback by 247Sports, Texas recruited Kendall Sanders to play receiver because of his superb athletic ability. He has yet to put it all together for a prolonged stretch, but a serviceable quarterback could make all the difference.

    Possessing long arms, 4.4 speed and a 40-inch vertical, per Rivals, Sanders has all the tools to become a reliable deep threat for the Longhorns. He got his chance last season, starting seven games and seeing snaps in every game he played. 

    However, it was Sanders' 2012 classmate, Marcus Johnson, who stole the show. Johnson led the team with 15.9 yards per catch, while Sanders managed just 9.8 on his 37 receptions.

    There is some indication that Sanders' season would have taken on a different tone had Ash stayed healthy, as Ash found the 6'1" receiver for a 63-yard touchdown against Kansas State. But that argument loses water when you note that Johnson broke out with Case McCoy running the offense.

    Either way, Sanders has to turn his physical gifts into production now that Mike Davis is out of the picture.

S Josh Turner (Class of 2011)

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    Productive at times, Turner must find consistency in his game as a senior.
    Productive at times, Turner must find consistency in his game as a senior.Michael Thomas/Associated Press

    247Sports Composite Grade/Rank/Pos. Rank: .9588/82/7 (CB)

    Along with Quandre Diggs, Oklahoma native Josh Turner was projected to help Duane Akina continue the DBU tradition. Akina has since departed, and Turner is fighting for whatever NFL future he may still have.

    Almost too small to even play corner, the 180-pound Turner projects to be one of Texas' starting safeties in 2014. He has appeared in 37 games for his career but with just five starts, an indication of his inconsistent production. 

    For what it's worth, Charlie Strong told the media this spring that, "Josh Turner is really doing a good job at free safety." But Strong likes his safeties to have a physical element to their game when he employs his 3-3-5 defense, so Turner will hard-pressed to fend off bigger players like Adrian Colbert and Chevoski Collins.

    For Turner to fulfill the expectations with which he arrived on campus, he will have to turn into a reliable and impactful every-down safety. 

     

OG Sedrick Flowers (Class of 2011)

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    Sedrick Flowers (right) has to emerge as a leader on Texas' young offensive line.
    Sedrick Flowers (right) has to emerge as a leader on Texas' young offensive line.Eric Gay/Associated Press

    247Sports Composite Grade/Rank/Pos. Rank: .9698/58/2

    Though he played in all 13 games last season, fourth-year guard Sedrick Flowers has started just one game for the Longhorns. It's time he started looking like the 5-star lineman the Longhorns recruited him to be.

    After being buried behind incumbents Trey Hopkins and Mason Walters, the junior projects to be one of Texas' most reliable lineman. He and senior Dom Espinosa are the veterans of this group and will have to be some of the best in the Big 12 to offset the losses of three starters.

    Flowers played well all of last season, and there is every reason to believe he will break out as a junior.

OT Kent Perkins (Class of 2013)

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    247Sports Composite Grade/Rank/Pos. Rank: .9801/38/6

    Swoopes got most of the hype, but tackle Kent Perkins was Texas' only true freshman to start a game in 2013. This season, he will have to step up as a regular starter. 

    Perkins isn't as massive as Desmond Harrison, but the 6'5" sophomore has the size, length and pass-blocking savvy you look for in a tackle. He should be the team's starting left tackle next season, even if Shawn Watson has said that he will move to guard.

    Watson's statement could be the result of Perkins' knee injury, which held him out of the spring game and will keep him on the shelf until fall camp. Should it actually take that long, then the talented lineman will have some work to do before he fully breaks back into the rotation.

    He is one of the team's most talented players, and the Longhorns will need him when they face UCLA and Oklahoma early in the season.

     

DT Desmond Jackson (Class of 2011)

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    Though talented, Desmond Jackson has never been able to lay claim to a starting role.
    Though talented, Desmond Jackson has never been able to lay claim to a starting role.USA TODAY Sports

    247Sports Composite Grade/Rank/Pos. Rank: .9754/41/3

    Like several other members of this list, Desmond Jackson has seen plenty of snaps throughout his career. He just hasn't been able to nail down a starting role for himself.

    Starting 11 games as a freshman, Jackson seemed to have laid claim to the starting defensive tackle spot beside Malcom Brown. Then Chris Whaley emerged last season thanks to his versatility, and Jackson was relegated back to a backup role. Even worse, the Longhorns gave up almost 35 points per game over their last four with Jackson seeing an increased workload.

    With Whaley out of the picture, Jackson and Brown are the only returning tackles with starting experience. Given the attention Brown and Cedric Reed are expected to attract, Jackson has to be able to win his matchups to keep the defense honest.

    If he proves unable to do that, the Longhorns will have to turn to the inexperienced Hassan Ridgeway or freshman Poona Ford.

LB Demarco Cobbs (Class of 2010)

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    Demarco Cobbs was ineffective in 2012 but has the tools to excel under Charlie Strong.
    Demarco Cobbs was ineffective in 2012 but has the tools to excel under Charlie Strong.Michael Mulvey/Associated Press/Associated Press

    247Sports Composite Grade/Rank/Pos. Rank: .9750/45/5 (ATH)

    Until this spring, Demarco Cobbs was a lost cause—another failed recruit from the class of 2010. Now he looks like Charlie Strong's secret weapon.

    Even before he missed all of last season with a knee injury, Cobbs was an afterthought. He turned in a terrible sophomore season in 2012, averaging just three tackles per game and earning a reputation for missing them at a comical rate, per Burnt Orange Nation's Wescott Eberts.

    Then Cobbs burst back onto the scene in April's spring game, tallying eight tackles and breaking up a pass against the second team. Though all spring game caveats apply, he finally resembled the rangy difference-maker his metrics indicated he could be.

    This is interesting because Strong's 3-3-5 defense has a role tailor-made for a player who's 6'2", 225 pounds and runs a 4.5, per NFLDraftScout.com. In such a scheme, Cobbs' athletic ability would allow him to play the hybrid role that requires a safety's speed in coverage and a linebacker's size in the box.

    If Cobbs proves he can handle such a role, he will make a major impact on at least half of the snaps.

Backups Who Need to Step Up

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    When healthy, 5-star linebacker has been one of Texas' best all-around defenders.
    When healthy, 5-star linebacker has been one of Texas' best all-around defenders.Michael Thomas/Associated Press/Associated Press

    The following players were also top-10 recruits from their respective classes but do not project to take over a starting role this season.

    LB Jordan Hicks (Class of 2010): It's the same story for Hicks as it was last season. If healthy, the former 5-star recruit is going to be good, if not great. The difference this time around is that his injuries have forced younger players into action, so losing him will not be as devastating.

    OT Desmond Harrison (Class of 2013): An absolute monster at 6'8" and 310 pounds. Harrison will be in the rotation and could easily become the starter as long as he stays the course. Per HornsDigest.com, he has handled the academic issues that plagued his first season.

    CB Antwuan Davis (Class of 2013): The state's former second-ranked corner brings good size and excellent speed to the position. Look for him in nickel situations and possibly at safety if that position needs another body. There's no doubt that he will be a starter in 2015.

    S Adrian Colbert (Class of 2012): It feels like we are always waiting on Colbert to break out and take control of a safety spot. He has the size and the 4.4 speed to play either position on the back end, and the opportunity has been there since last season. Perhaps this is the year he follows through on that potential.