- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Before Texas begins its first season under Charlie Strong, we're taking a deep dive into all the talent he inherits in 2014. Our Burnt Orange Breakdown series takes a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from him. We're going down the roster from No. 1 Shiro Davis all the way to No. 99 Desmond Jackson.
No. 85 M.J. McFarland
Junior tight end
Recruitment rewind: A four-star tight end from El Dorado High out in El Paso, McFarland's decision was supposed to come down to Texas and Texas Tech. But he took a junior day visit to UT in 2010, locked in his commitment and never looked back. McFarland put up 2,604 receiving yards and 39 TDs at El Dorado and was able to enroll early at Texas in the spring of 2011.
Career so far: McFarland redshirted in 2011 and walked into some big expectations as a redshirt freshman. He hauled in eight passes for 125 yards and one touchdown in 12 games (four starts) that year, but he suffered a concussion late in the season. McFarland was relegated to a more limited role last fall and did not record a catch in the 11 games he played.
Best-case scenario for 2014: For years, McFarland has been trying to live up to the hype that he could be the Longhorns' next great tight end, its next Jermichael Finley. He hasn't come close to that bar yet, but there's still time for McFarland to become a weapon over the middle. He can be Texas' best pass-catcher at tight end and could get a lot more looks if he breaks back into the starting lineup. After all, Louisville's top tight end last year (Gerald Christian) did get 36 targets and finished with 426 yards and four TDs.
Worst-case scenario for 2014: Geoff Swaim and Greg Daniels have a leg up on McFarland in the tight end room, even with Daniels missing spring ball, and it's entirely possible juco transfer Blake Whiteley rises up and becomes the superior receiver of the group. Simply put, McFarland has to put in a lot of work this summer and has fall camp to prove he deserves to be on the field ahead of that trio.
Future expectations: Swaim and Daniels are both seniors, and Texas does not have a tight end committed for next year. Unless another juco transfer or a game-changer like ESPN 300 TE Will Gragg comes on board, that's going to mean a McFarland-Whiteley tandem in 2015. There's plenty of untapped, unrefined potential in McFarland. If the new staff is able to coax it out of him this fall, an already deep receiving corps gets much better.