The prevailing attitude of the NFL is "what have you done for me lately?" Any skeptic needs only to look at the New York Jets' release of the Mile High/Meadowlands/Media Messiah, Tim Tebow to know it's the truth. There's little time for reflection, lest teams like the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots catch you sleeping and somehow trade for all of your team's next year picks. With that in mind, and with all due respect to the three Texas Longhorns drafted in the 2013 NFL Draft (We wish them well.), we turn our eyes toward the burnt orange horizon and examine which Texas Longhorns have a chance to make an early impact in the 2014 NFL Draft.
The only Longhorn that appears to be a lock as a first round selection in 2014 is defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat. Jeffcoat missed out on a chance to crack the top ten this weak year's Draft, after he was sidelined for the final six games of the season with a ruptured pectoral muscle. The beautiful thing is that NFL defenses always hold two elements at a premium; pass rushing and cornerback coverage. Assuming Jeffcoat stays healthy enough to play the entire 2013-2014 season for Texas, there's no way he drops past the twentieth pick in the NFL Draft, especially after three defensive ends were chosen in a watered down draft this year (Dion Jordan and Ziggy Ansah both were picked more based on their ceiling than actual on-field production). While on the field, Jeffcoat kept up with teammate and now Arizona Cardinal, Alex Okafor, and often outplayed him.
Jeffcoat possess size and speed, along with the NFL pedigree passed down from father Jim Jeffcoat, and he should fit in nicely regardless of a team's preference of 4-3 or 3-4 defense. The two questions that remain to be answered are whether Jeffcoat can live up to the hype surrounding him and a Longhorn defense looking to remove the taste of last season out of their mouths, and if he can stay healthy. A common phrase thrown around in the NFL is that you can't make the club in the tub. Jeffcoat has to stay on the field, plain and simple. If he does, a top ten pick isn't out of his reach.
Once you get past Jeffcoat, the waters become a bit cloudier. Corners Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom both have a lot to prove after the 2012 season, but it looks like Diggs will have the most to gain as he makes the move to a nickel position. We already saw Kenny Vaccaro capitalize off his versatility as a defender, when the New Orleans Saints snagged him with the fifteenth pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, and Diggs is using the same blueprint, along with his above-average instincts at the position, to propel himself up next year's draft board.
Byndom will benefit greatly from the early entry of Alabama's Dee Millner and Florida State's Xavier Rhodes in the 2013 Draft. His stock fell after a rough 2012-2013 season (His performance against West Virginia stands out) but he has a chance to bounce back in a big way. Byndom has all the potential in the world and a knack for finding the ball. He just needs to prove that he can play an entire game without surrendering big plays, not exactly an easy thing to do in the pass-happy Big 12. If Byndom cleans up his game, he will soon clean out an NFL owner's wallet.
Receiver Mike Davis is certainly filled with potential and looks like an NFL receiver. After all, you don't get the nickname "Magic Mike" with your off-the-field vocational skills (The NCAA doesn't allow for student-athletes to have jobs anyway, remember?). It's difficult to gauge exactly how good Davis can be, due in part to the game of "Longhorn Musical Chairs" that Texas has had to play at the QB position and because Davis hasn't played consistently at a pro level for an entire season. It was a wise choice for him to come back to school in an effort to improve his game overall. Still, he can take over at times and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite's transition to an up-tempo offense can only serve to help him, as defenses could lose him down the field as they struggle to keep up. Davis is unquestionably one of the ten best NFL receiving prospects for next year's draft, so he will find a home in the pros. The question is with what team.
Games are won in the trenches, and there are few players on Texas you'd rather go into battle with than Mason Walters. The fifth-year senior guard brings a lunch pail mentality to every single game and an NFL-ready body with his 6'6", 320 frame. The biggest draw to Walters' game is his flexibility at the offensive line position. You can put him at guard, tackle, and center knowing he's not going to get your quarterback killed. He also has started the last 38 games for the Longhorns, so you know he's dependable. NFL teams love reliability and versatility, and it's not hard to envision a team like the NFL Giants taking Walters. They took Justin Pugh, a player with that same level of position flexibility, with the nineteenth pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Videos courtesy of The University of Texas Athletics Department and Godzillatron74