Analyzing every SEC team’s LB commitments for the Class of 2017
Excellent linebacker play has become a staple of some of the SEC’s best defenses, and there are plenty of talented players in the incoming recruiting class.
Linebackers can come in all shapes and sizes; versatility is one of the most important aspects of the position. This can make it difficult to project a player’s career at the position, but all the more intriguing to watch unfold.
With an eye toward next season, we’re analyzing the SEC recruiting commitments for each position in the Class of 2017. Today, we will break down the incoming crop of linebackers.
It’s a loaded position for the SEC as 17 of the top 50 prospects are committed to the conference, according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings.
No surprise, Alabama leads the way: The Tide has commitments from four of the nation’s top 11 linebacker prospects.
Dylan Moses (5-star, No. 1 OLB): The defensive prize of Alabama’s class, Moses should be the Tide’s next great linebacker. As a senior, Moses racked up 147 tackles and two sacks. He has all of the tools to be a star at the college level and beyond. Perhaps Bleacher Report said it best in their evaluation of him, “When it comes to defensive players, he is the closest thing college football recruiting has seen to a LeBron James prospect.”
VanDarius Cowan (4-star, No. 5 OLB): Cowan’s arrival on campus will come later than expected, but it is still very much anticipated. One of the best pure pass rushers in this class, Cowan should be a lethal player coming off the edge from the linebacker position. He’s another South Florida prospect who has an explosive first step and is very athletic when pursuing the ball.
Markail Benton (4-star, No. 6 OLB): Benton is another athletic linebacker for the Crimson Tide who thrives in a wide range of situations. He could benefit from added strength, which will help Benton become a better tackler, but he already has terrific mobility and potential as a pass rusher or coverage backer.
Christopher Allen (4-star, No. 9 OLB): Plucked from LSU’s backyard in Baton Rouge, Allen gives Alabama another stand-up pass rusher in the mold of Tim Williams or Ryan Anderson. He has solid play recognition and should end up as a true every-down linebacker.
Kyrei Fisher (3-star, No. 61 OLB): Fisher flipped his commitment from Minnesota and gives the Razorbacks a potential impact player. Fisher, 6-2, 230, already displays natural coverage skills and a quick burst off the edge.
Derrick Munson (3-star, No. 62 OLB): A sound tackler, Munson is more of a hybrid safety/linebacker at this point, but he should find a permanent position at Arkansas. His versatility is definitely a positive, and Munson has the makings of a coverage linebacker who can hold his own against the run.
Josh Paul (3-star, No. 87 OLB): Paul is far from a finished product, but he offers the most upside in this linebacker class. A multi-sport athlete out of New Orleans, Paul should benefit from focusing solely on football and has the natural athleticism and frame to blossom with some help from the coaching staff.
Top remaining targets: Thomas Johnston
Tadarian Moultry (4-star, No. 3 ILB): One of the rising linebackers in the 2017 class, the Birmingham product should have Auburn fans excited. He isn’t a polished pass rusher yet, but that’s about the only aspect of his game that isn’t ready to go. Adept at handling both the run and the pass, Moultry should push for playing time immediately. At 6-2, 225, he’ll need to add weight.
Kenney Britt (4-star, No. 12 ILB): Britt is a true middle linebacker prospect. A fearless downhill tackler, opponents will know when Britt is the one tackling them. He will likely be a bit of a liability on third downs early in his career, but he is an asset against the run.
Chandler Wooten (3-star, No. 26 OLB): The only outside linebacker in Auburn’s 2017 class as of now, Wooten has great speed and can make plays all over the field. As a senior, Wooten recorded 125 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss and two sacks. He has the potential to develop into a good pass rusher.
Top remaining targets: Tyler Taylor, Thomas Johnston
Ventrell Miller (3-star, No. 37 OLB): Although he’s listed as an outside linebacker, Miller might be better suited to play inside for Florida. Miller, 6-0, 227, is a compact, powerful player who should be ready to contribute right away against the run. He could be a liability in pass defense, however, and still needs to develop as a pass rusher.
James Houston IV (3-star, No. 43 OLB): Houston is a tremendous athlete who should emerge over the next couple of seasons for the Gators. His game could use a little polish, but he already possesses good instincts and the type of playmaking ability that simply can’t be taught. He’s from American Heritage in South Florida, the same high school that produced Georgia RB Sony Michel.
Top remaining targets: Levi Jones
Jaden Hunter (4-star, No. 11 OLB): Playing defensive end in high school has helped Hunter refine his skills as a pass rusher, and he should be one of Georgia’s best players coming off the edge in a couple of years. The son of former UGA great Brice Hunter, he is a 6-2, 212-pound athlete who is fast enough to track down running backs and hold his own in coverage.
Nate McBride (4-star, No. 5 ILB): McBride is a baller, plain and simple. He has elite speed, explodes through the ball carrier and can work in coverage or blitz the quarterback. An injury cost McBride his junior season, and he will need to work hard in the weight room to get back into peak playing condition.
Walter Grant (4-star, No. 14 OLB): Grant should provide Kirby Smart and his staff with a good project. All of the physical tools are there for this 6-foot-4, 240-pound linebacker, but Grant lacks the intuition and know-how needed to play the position in the SEC. He likely won’t contribute immediately, but Grant could be an impact player in the future.
Hunter (No. 15 overall), McBride (No. 17) and Grant (No. 20) give the Dawgs three of the nation’s top 20 linebacker prospects.
Top remaining targets: Leonard Warner
Jamin Davis (3-star, No. 60 OLB): A linebacker with good natural skills and promising upside, Davis might not be ready to crack the rotation from the start, but he has a lot to offer.
Patrick Queen (4-star, No. 17 ATH): Queen played a variety of positions in high school, but he mainly operated as a running back. It looks like the Tigers have a linebacker spot in mind for the 6-0, 209-pound Queen, and he has the physical tools to become a great defensive player. His athleticism is already apparent, and he’s not afraid to attack the hole. It might take some time for Queen to become comfortable with the pace of the game on defense, but he appears to have a bright future.
Top remaining targets: Willie Gay, Tyler Taylor, Ellis Brooks
Tyler Dunning (3-star, No. 25 OLB): It might take some time for Dunning to develop into a well-rounded linebacker. In the short term, his only real contribution could come as a pass rusher, but Dunning is not yet a punishing tackler or good defender in coverage. Dunning finished his senior season with 36 tackles, three tackles for a loss and three sacks.
Top remaining targets: Willie Gay, Mohamed Sanogo
Aubrey Miller (3-star, No. 38 OLB): Miller is a raw prospect, but he has a lot of tools to work with moving forward. He relishes contact and is showing early signs of developing into an effective pass rusher. He won’t make an impact right away, but he is a nice project for the Tigers.
Jamal Brooks (3-star, No. 48 ILB): Brooks should be able to compete for early playing time. His ceiling isn’t as high as some other prospects, but Brooks is already a good inside linebacker who is playing near his potential. In his final two high school seasons, Brooks registered a combined 308 tackles, eight forced fumbles and five sacks.
Breon Dixon (4-star, No. 11 ILB): Although Dixon is just 6-0, 218 pounds, he plays much bigger than his size would indicate. He is an aggressive linebacker who fights off blockers in run defense and knows how to read routes effectively in coverage. There isn’t much more that can be gained physically out of Dixon, but with experience, he could become a very productive player.
Josh Clarke (3-star, No. 33 OLB): Clarke has the potential to grow into his 6-3 frame and develop into an effective outside linebacker for the Rebels. Another New Orleans product, he already possesses rare athleticism and his length is an added bonus. As a junior, Clarke racked up 149 tackles, 18 sacks, six forced fumbles, six interceptions and had three touchdowns.
Brenden Williams (3-star, No. 5 JUCO ILB): Williams is a former wide receiver who has converted to play linebacker. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound defender has the athleticism one would expect from a former receiver, which has helped him become an effective player in pass defense. Williams had 89 tackles in just nine games last season, and he should provide an immediate impact.
Top remaining targets: Willie Gay, Mohamed Sanogo
Hamsah Nasirildeen (4-star, No. 10 OLB): It will take some effort for Nasirildeen to fill out his 6-3, 210-poud frame, but once he does, he should be a playmaker at outside linebacker. He possesses great speed and has played receiver and defensive back. As such, he’s confident in coverage who will jump routes and beat receivers to the high point of the ball. With time, Nasirildeen has the potential to become a standout defender in the SEC.
Sherrod Greene (3-star, No. 32 OLB): Greene’s tangible measurements won’t wow anyone, but he doesn’t care about any of that once he’s on the field. A terrific run defender, Greene needs to work on his pass coverage.
Davonne Bowen (3-star, No. 57 OLB): It might take some time for Bowen to find his role on the Gamecocks’ defense. At 6-2, 220, he could become a hybrid type player. He knows how to make the most of what he has to work with, but Bowen may be a couple of years from becoming a steady contributor.
Damani Staley (3-star, No. 78 OLB): Another undersized linebacker, Staley (6-1, 200) offers some upside as a pass rusher in the future. The son of former South Carolina running back Duce Staley, he recorded a whopping 50 sacks in his junior and senior seasons at Ridge View HS, in Columbia.
Eldridge Thompson (3-star, No. 7 JUCO OLB): Thompson is a good linebacker in space, but he can struggle at times against physical offensive linemen. With experience at the JUCO level, Thompson figures to have an inside track at a contributing role with the Gamecocks next season.
Will Ignont (4-star, No. 13 ILB): Ignont projects to be a powerful run-stopping linebacker. He still needs to add some polish to many aspects of his game, and he can be a liability at times in pass coverage, but Ignont has a lot of physical tools to work with and should become a good anchor.
Solon Page III (3-star, No. 39 OLB): There is a lot to like about Page, especially his impact in pass coverage. A hybrid safety/linebacker, Page needs to add some size to his 6-2, 207-pound frame, but he has a great nose for the ball in run defense and can hold up in both zone and man schemes.
Shanon Reid (3-star, No. 40 OLB): Reid is very similar to Page in that his smaller size (6-1, 202) is really the only thing holding him back right now. Reid is a reliable tackler who will punish opposing backs, and he has great range in pass coverage and can make an impact as a blitzer.
Anthony Hines (4-star, No. 2 ILB): With excellent size for an SEC linebacker, Hines (6-2, 225) should be able to hold his own from the beginning. He is a hard hitter and has natural instincts when it comes to defending the run. Hines is still a bit raw in play recognition and pass coverage, but he will bring plenty to the table while he develops those other skills.
Santino Marchiol (4-star, No. 14 ILB): Marchiol will provide a lot of consistency on the interior of the linebacker corps. He’s a skilled defender against the run and shows a lot of promise in zone coverage, but he lacks the speed to match up man-to-man. As a junior, Marchiol recorded 129 tackles. He played at IMG Academy, so he’s familiar with facing elite offensive players already.
Devodrick Johnson (4-star, No. 18 OLB): Johnson played quarterback, safety and wide receiver in high school, but he should move to linebacker once he adds some more size (6-1, 210). He’s a fluid athlete who has excellent closing speed and will only improve with more reps on defense.
Hines (No. 4 overall), Marchiol (No. 32) and Johnson (No. 37) give the Aggies one of the SEC’s best incoming linebacker classes.
Top remaining targets: Levi Jones
Dimitri Moore (3-star, No. 46 OLB): Weighing less than 200 pounds, Moore will need to add a lot of muscle to his 6-2, 195-pound frame in order to succeed in the SEC. He possesses some natural instincts, especially in space, but will need a bit of time to work with the coaching staff.
Colin Anderson (3-star, No. 56 OLB): Anderson is very much a sleeper in this recruiting class and could develop into a very good linebacker. He is equally capable against the run and the pass. He had offers from four other SEC schools.
All rankings courtesy of the 247Sports Composite