Longhorn captains prepare for NFL Draft

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Photo Credit: Joshua Guenther | Daily Texan Staff

Even with COVID-19 forcing sports to deviate from regularly scheduled programming, the NFL is still finding a way to hold the annual draft. 

Due to the effects of the pandemic, this year’s NFL Draft will be held virtually. 

Regardless of the format, Texas still has a core group of players hoping to hear their name called throughout draft weekend. 

For Texas, its captains — minus junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger — are the ones who are projected to be picked to play at the next level. All five of them are seniors, but none of them are projected to go in the first or second round. If none of the 32 NFL teams take a substantial leap of faith on any of them, all of them will most likely be selected in the third round (at the earliest) and beyond. 

Wide receiver Collin Johnson could’ve gone pro last year, along with fellow wide receiver Lil’ Jordan Humphrey, but decided to come back for another year. Yet his senior season was not the one he envisioned. 

After three years of increased production, Johnson had a drop off due to a lingering hamstring injury that limited him to only seven games. Coming into the season, he was projected to be an early second to late first-round pick. Now, he’s more likely to go in the third or fourth round, maybe even later. 

“You know the injuries are part of the game,” Johnson said, following Texas’ Oct. 19 win over Kansas. “It's frustrating, especially me in the position I'm in. It's my last go-around at this thing, so it was frustrating. But you just had to manage it and kind of control what you can control, stay positive and things like that.”

Along with Johnson, wide receiver Devin Duvernay and defensive back Brandon Jones are both projected to be late Friday or Saturday picks. Duvernay was able to climb up draft boards all year long. His reliable hands and top-end speed, as well as his ability to move all across the formation, puts him in position to be a useful tool for any offense. 

However, Jones might be the first Longhorn off the board. Jones was one of the most reliable players for a depleted Texas secondary throughout his senior season. Jones was second on the team in tackles and interceptions. According to NFL.com, all three graded out in the same range (5.95-6.00), which is the range for “backup/special-teamer” to “developmental traits-based prospect.”

While those three are locks to be selected, the one question mark is about defensive lineman Malcolm Roach. Roach isn’t projected to go as high as his teammates and is graded a level lower than them. He is projected to go closer to the end of Day 3. Once he gets on a roster — aside from his play — Roach is going to have to lean on his intangibles that made him a leader for the Longhorns in order to make an impression.

“When he's done playing football, (if) he wants to get into coaching, he's always going to have a home with me because he is so accountable,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said toward the end of the season. 

Offensive lineman Zach Shackelford has a draft fate that is the most uncertain among the draft-eligible Longhorns. He is being projected anywhere from seventh round to undrafted, though he is expected to get signed as an undrafted free agent if that is the case. 

Each of the five have very different paths to the draft. With stocks rising and falling throughout the season, it’s a relief to finally have the moment here. The experience of being drafted will be different than most due to the virtual setting. Nevertheless, the thrill of hearing their name called will still be what matters.