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January 7th, 2010 was the last time Texas Longhorns football was truly a national contender. That night, star quarterback Colt McCoy was injured in the first quarter of the National Championship game against Alabama. Texas would go on to lose, and has yet to win double digit games in a season since then.

It’s turned into a running joke any time Texas won a big game to suggest that they are “back.” Not unlike golfer Tiger Woods, who hadn’t won a PGA Tour event since 2013 before Sunday. It’s funny in a way, because Texas Longhorns football and Tiger Woods the elite golfer are both officially back, and we found that out over the same weekend.

Texas has consecutive victories over ranked opponents, beating USC and TCU in back to back weeks. It’s no secret why Texas is winning football games: their talented defense. In my opinion, Texas boasts up to 6 potential 2019 NFL Draft selections, and they held USC and TCU to 14 and 16 points respectively. The catalyst of their defense? Junior Safety Brandon Jones.

Brandon Jones was one of the most highly regarded recruits in recent memory for Texas. As Texas High School Defensive Player of the Year, a High School All-American, and the top ranked safety in his recruiting class (247 sports), Jones was Charlie Strong’s only final gift to Texas.

In his freshman season, Jones appeared in 12 games with one start. It wasn’t until last season that he took over as the full-time starting strong safety. At 6’0 and 205 pounds, Jones’ size, athleticism, and physicality took over and he produced 51 solo tackles on the season. Now a draft-eligible Junior, Jones is already closing in on his sophomore year production.

In three games, he’s accumulated 29 tackles (18 solo). His game by game tackles numbers: 10, 9, 10. Jones has been a vacuum, tackling everything in sight with sound technique. Texas has begun to use Jones as a versatile piece: playing near the line of scrimmage, as a blitzer from depth, in man and zone coverage, and as an alley running force. To get an idea of his current role, think Patrick Chung of the New England Patriots.

Entering the season, we knew that Jones’ strength was his ability to close space on a ball carrier and tackle. It was clear on his 2017 film that his athleticism and technique would help him accumulate tackles as he gained more experience and began to process the game faster.

The questions surrounding Jones, and why I pushed him to #2 on my Preseason Top 5 Big 12 Safeties, were his ball skills. While he is more than capable in man coverage, he would too often get lost with the ball in the air. His lack of ball skills only allowed him to break up 2 passes with no interceptions last season. This is an aspect of his game that is still a question mark, as he hasn’t been in position to make many plays on the ball so far in this young season. However, his range as a safety is improving, and with it could come more opportunities to break up passes by playing the ball or with hits on the receiver.

Jones’ flies over to lay the wood on this play, and even though the receiver holds on to the ball, this type of hit will dislodge a lot of passes down the line.

In Texas’ most recent game against TCU, Jones had an interception and a fumble recovery. As a player who is constantly flying to the ball, multiple takeaways were only a matter of time. Additionally, Jones was used as a blitzer and altered the passer’s throw on three occasions with hits. Each hit was clean, as his form and timing didn’t allow for roughing the passer or targeting. For a safety with hit stick ability, this is invaluable as the game of football polices hit with more regularity.

While he has yet to participate in a combine, it seems clear that Brandon Jones will test like an elite athlete. As a sprinter in high school, he ran a 10.63 second 100 meter dash. For those of you who are unfamiliar with track and field times, that’s top 100 sprinters in the country type of fast. Additionally, Jones has been used as a punt returner for the Longhorns, with 2 long returns in their week 1 game against Maryland. A player who can play in the backend of the defense, near the line of scrimmage and in the box, and return kicks? Freak.

Jones may not be a lock to declare, but he is on pace to hit over 100 tackles from his Safety position this season. His athleticism and production will surely entice NFL teams in the first three rounds of the Draft. If Longhorns defense continue to play at a high level, Texas will be in store for a big season and return to the national scale for Bowl selections. With a player like Jones out there, it’s hard not to picture this happening.