Several rookie Longhorns hope to make NFL roster spots

Michael Shapiro

Perhaps the harshest evidence of Texas’ struggles over the past two seasons is not its 11–14 record, but its dearth of NFL talent. 

Since head coach Charlie Strong began his tenure in 2014, just six former Longhorns have been drafted, with only one coming in 2016.

Defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway was the lone Longhorn selected in the 2016 NFL Draft after the Indianapolis Colts took him in round No. 4. The 6-foot-3, 303-pound lineman is already drawing praise from Colts coach Chuck Pagano in training camp, proving to be key cog in Indianapolis’ defense.

“You’ve got a big strong man in the middle of the defense,” Pagano said to Colts fan site Horseshoe Heroes. “He understands what’s going on.”

While he may hold the highest profile, Ridgeway isn’t the only player from Texas’ 2015 team competing for an NFL roster spot. 

Cornerback Duke Thomas had the shortest trip of any former Longhorn to the professional ranks, signing an undrafted free agent deal with the Houston Texans. Thomas currently sits near the bottom of the Texans’ secondary depth chart but did appear in the team’s first preseason contest, recording two solo tackles.

Two Longhorns made their way out to the Atlanta Falcons after the draft. But only one remains on the Falcons’ roster. Running back Daje Johnson was cut from the team in late July, while kicker Nick Rose looks to give veteran Matt Bryant a run at the starting job.

Rose’s success stems from his booming leg. The kicker struggled with consistency and accuracy at Texas, but he sports a range of more than 60 yards and specializes in kickoffs. If Atlanta has an extra roster spot, it may opt to keep both Rose and Bryant for the season. 

Wide receiver Marcus Johnson is fighting for a spot on the Eagles’ roster. He signed with Philadelphia in April after hauling in 61 catches and four touchdowns in four years as a Longhorn. Johnson failed to record a catch through two preseason games. 

None of the Longhorns from the 2015 season hold an impressive NFL resume thus far. While Texas still highlights former luminaries Jamaal Charles, Earl Thomas and Derrick Thomas as pillars of its professional success, those players stem from Mack Brown’s tenure — not Strong’s. But there will still be plenty of Longhorns in the NFL when the season kicks off on Sept. 8, with 42 Texas players currently on rosters.