The Texas Longhorns are once again in a period of transition. New head coach Steve Sarkisian inherited a talented roster, and, because he didn't take over from Tom Herman until January, inherited a nearly finalized recruiting class without much time to put his stamp on it. Texas finished No. 16 nationally in the 247Sports Composite team rankings, and Sarkisian and his new staff signed only one of the 21 high school players in the group that had not been previously committed to Herman.
Because of the timing, it's even more difficult than usual to determine which new recruits are most likely to carve out an early role or make an immediate impact. It's also possible Sark and his staff could add more players through the transfer portal, so the calculation of team needs and available options may evolve before the Longhorns kick off this fall. However, we explore five newcomers to watch for Texas as it stands now.
Jaden Alexis, WR
Wide receiver isn't necessarily a weakness for the Longhorns given the return of Joshua Moore, who led the team with 30 receptions, 372 yards, and nine touchdowns in 2020, but it's a group that hasn't met expectations in recent years and must also replace a pair of entrants in the 2021 NFL Draft in Brennan Eagles and Tarik Black. Jake Smith and Jordan Whittington have untapped potential and appear poised for starting roles, but there is always room for a slot receiver with excellent top-end speed, such as Alexis. He isn't huge (5-11, 185), but he plays with both strength and quickness, and his pedigree — his father, Rich, was an NFL running back — doesn't hurt.
JD Coffey, S
The strength of Herman's 2018 recruiting class, which ranked No. 3 in the country, was the secondary. The Longhorns signed six defensive backs that cycle, all ranked among the top 115 overall prospects. The three safeties were the crown jewels, all ranked among the top six nationally at the position, yet Caden Sterns is off to the NFL, DeMarvion Overshown has since transitioned to linebacker, and B.J. Foster was relegated to part-time starter in 2020. Times have changed, as Coffey, the No. 157 prospect and No. 7 safety prospect, is the second-highest rated player in the 2021 class for the Longhorns. Coffey is also ranked highest among early enrollees, which could help him solidify a role in Pete Kwiatkowski's first Texas defense.
Darion Dunn, CB
Herman and his staff secured transfer cornerback Dunn in December, flipping the former FCS McNeese starter from NC State on Signing Day. Dunn has good size (6-1, 192), experience (23 career starts), and speed (he also ran track for the Cowboys). Though the Longhorns return three cornerbacks who logged over 500 snaps last season, the group needed depth and the new coaching staff should be happy to have a veteran like Dunn available. Freshmen corners Jamier Johnson and Ishmael Ibraheem could push for early playing time as well.
Ovie Oghoufo, EDGE
The Texas defense didn't rank among the national leaders in most traditional statistical categories, finishing No. 61 in scoring (28.5 points allowed per game), 64th in total defense (406.6 yards allowed per game), and 108th in pass defense (266.4) last year. But the Longhorns fared better in several advanced metrics, including 33rd in Expected Points Added per play and 20th in EPA per rush, both according to cfb-graphs.com, for example. Texas also produced consensus All-American edge rusher Joseph Ossai, one of four starters who left for the NFL draft.
Filling Ossai's shoes should be a top priority, which is why the addition of Notre Dame transfer Ovie Oghoufo was intriguing. Oghoufo, the first transfer to join the Longhorns following Sark's hiring, played in 19 career games across three seasons for the Fighting Irish but had just 2.5 career sacks and 10 total pressures, according to PFF. Still, he has the talent to start (and would have pushed for a bigger role in South Bend had he stayed) and should add more production with an expanded role. LSU transfer Ray Thornton, who racked up 21 pressures in four seasons with the Tigers, joined later and will also be in the mix.
Ja'Tavion Sanders, TE/EDGE
A no-brainer, Sanders was a five-star signee in the 2021 class ranked No. 12 nationally in the 247Sports Composite and second in the state of Texas. Listed as an athlete (and No. 1 for that group of prospects), Sanders could make an immediate impact as an edge defender, particularly with the loss of Ossai. Sanders has the appropriate size for an outside linebacker (6-3, 235) and excellent speed for the position. However, he would also be an intriguing offensive chess piece as a tight end/H-back-type and played offense primarily as a high school senior. Tight end is a deep position for the Longhorns, Sanders doesn't have prototypical size for the position, and he won't be on campus until summer, but he may be too athletic to ignore.