January 15th is the commitment deadline for draft-eligible non-seniors to head to the NFL, and with that date having passed, the Longhorns did not lose any underclassmen to the NFL.
The players with the best cases to turn pro all opted against it. Why did these individuals return for their senior seasons? That depends on each unique situation
DE Cedric Reed
The Big 12 leader in forced fumbles decided to return to school off a 10 sack season. Reed typically played outside in Texas’ three man fronts and four man front, but interim defensive coordinator Greg Robinson bumped him inside at times. Reed is remarkably productive for his size, and age, and would have gone on the second day of the NFL draft, but he doesn’t yet feature a wide array of pass rush moves, and does show a tendency to try to run around offensive tackles at times. Still, this skill set will play in the NFL with some seasoning, as length and reach will always give quarterbacks major problems. Reed’s return is a great keep for new head coach Charlie Strong, as he enters the 2014 seasons as the top player on the UT defense.
RB Malcolm Brown
I thought Brown was one of the three most pro-ready backs in all of college football, so this one surprised me. He’s a fluid runner, as pretty much all players at the position in the pros are, but Brown is such a weapon in the passing game both because of his usefulness as a receiver, and willingness as a blocker. Brown would go in the top 50 picks in the draft, and he was the best player on the team down the stretch with Johnathan Gray out. With Gray back next year, Brown might remain in the starting lineup, but given that the carries are going to have to be split between three guys who have pro skill sets, I’ll admit to this one surprising me.
RB Joe Bergeron
Joe Bergeron really came on late in the season, and was the second best offensive player on the field for Texas in the second half of the year. He has feature back ability in college, and will play on Sundays. However, Bergeron (in part because of his playing time) only projects as a late round selection, and the decision to exhaust his college eligibility in 2014 is not as surprising as Malcolm Brown. The life of an NFL special teamer can wait. He may only be the third best back on the Texas roster, and will run into the same problem as Brown being that Texas will have to split the carries next year until someone emerges in a more prominent role.
CB Quandre Diggs
Diggs was Texas’ no. 2 CB, slot CB, and primary punt returner in 2013. He was often targeted by offenses, with mixed results. He is wisely going to take his opportunity to step in as the top corner on the roster next season with Carrington Byndom headed for the NFL following graduation. He will be taking advantage of the defensive backs expertise of new DC Vance Bedford in 2014, and will try to help solidify the back end of the defense while preparing himself for the next level. Diggs had a fantastic return year as a freshman in 2011, but has been somewhat quiet on returns since.
QB David Ash
David Ash projects to be Charlie Strong’s quarterback in 2014 and probably didn’t spend too much time thinking about the NFL prior to January 15. To make himself a prospect for the NFL, he needs to improve both physically, and on the stat sheet. Staying healthy will be critical for him in 2014, as well as for the Longhorns. Ash was fantastic in 2012 as a first year starter, and if he can show scouts that he can play at that level while at the same time playing a full season, that’s what will put him on the radar for professional organizations.