The SEC East attracted a new group of touted linebacker prospects to the southeast during the last recruiting cycle, adding more talent across the board at a position that has dominated throughout the conference in recent years.

SDS has rounded up the incoming linebackers from the 2015 class, giving you the skinny on each prospect as the spring practice season begins:

Editor’s note: Recruiting ranking references are to 247Sports Composite Rankings.


Rayshad Jackson (3-star): Jackson was one of the first players to commit to Jim McElwain and his staff, following linebackers coach Randy Shannon from Arkansas to Gainesville when the assistant coach jumped ship to the Gators. The high school defensive end has great lateral quickness, can cover ground sideline to sideline and has a nice burst when pursuing ball-carriers.


Roquan Smith (4-star): After committing to UCLA, then withdrawing that commitment and later committing to Georgia, the Macon County native has finally found a home for next season in his home state. Smith is not the biggest or most powerful linebacker weighing just 207 pounds, but he’s quick to the ball and more than capable of making plays on ball carriers in the open field, which should benefit the UGA defense in a conference loaded with explosive tailbacks.

Gary McCrae (4-star): Georgia’s other four-star linebacker has a much better frame to fit the position, standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 220 pounds (for now). He has a great understanding of the game and how plays are developing, and he’s a powerful downhill linebacker who makes up for a lack of lateral quickness with great instincts and sound, forceful tackling.

Chuks Amaechi (3-star): The junior college transfer has used the last two seasons to bulk up and round out his game before arriving at the FBS level. Amaechi logged 7 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore last season at Arizona Western College, showing he’s a force to be reckoned with near the line of scrimmage and in pass rushing situations.

Juwan Taylor (3-star): Taylor was regarded as one of the top 25 inside linebackers in the 2015 recruiting class, and Georgia will need him in the coming years after losing Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera this winter. The star recruit has great instincts from the middle of the field, great lateral footwork and sound tackling abilities, giving the Georgia defense the consistent, powerful middle linebacker prospect it will need to compete in the SEC.


Eli Brown (4-star): The No. 2 prospect from the state of Kentucky, Brown is one of just two Wildcats signees rated better than three stars in their 2015 class. The outside linebacker prospect is a bit undersized at just 190 pounds, but what he lacks in size he makes up for with impressive speed, allowing him to cover ground sideline to sideline to make plays. His speed also allows him to play better in pass coverage than most at his position, and when it comes to tackling his lack of size hasn’t compromised his form or the power he generates when laying a hit.

Jordan Jones (3-star): An early enrollee at Kentucky, Jones will add another fast, athletic and slightly undersized outside linebacker to Mark Stoops’ defense. Jones is excellent when it comes to playing in space, using his athleticism to make plays on opposing ball carriers near the edges. He doesn’t have quite the raw talent Brown possesses, but he has the skill set to be productive in the SEC once he puts on some weight.


Terez Hall (3-star): Like both of Kentucky’s linebacker signees, Hall is light but quick on his feet and active in the open field. He’s rangy and can make plays from sideline to sideline, and he’s quick to track down ball carriers with great speed and an even better motor. He has a nose for the football unlike most, as evidenced by his seven forced fumbles as a high school senior last fall.

Franklin Agbasimere (3-star): The native Nigerian didn’t arrive in America to begin playing football until 2013, so while he has an incredible blend of size, speed and athleticism, he is still learning the intricacies of the game and the linebacker position. Agbasimere is also a top-notch track star, excelling in sprints, the long jump and the triple jump, all of which he can translate onto the field in the SEC when his time finally comes.


Sherrod Pittman (4-star): Pittman is still working on developing from a raw athlete into a savvy football player who can be a star in the SEC. He’s not only fast but has great burst and can get from zero to full speed quicker than most, which helps him make up for a lack of instincts when pursuing ball carriers. Pittman is a hustle player, but he must take better angles and improve when it comes to shedding blockers in order to reach his full potential.

Jalen Henry (3-star): Henry is a solid inside linebacker prospect, someone who is good in a number of areas but not great in any one area of the game. He has above-average lateral footwork and is a sure tackler in the middle of the field, but he’ll need to improve his understanding of the game pre-snap to truly blossom for the Gamecocks. Lucky for South Carolina, most inside linebacker prospects need help in this area, and it’s nothing that cannot be overcome with coaching.

Ernest Hawkins (3-star): Hawkins is a junior college transfer who will provide some much-needed depth at the inside linebacker position on the Gamecocks defense. At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Hawkins possesses the relative build of a true college inside linebacker, and he’s an explosive run stopper near the line of scrimmage, as proven by his 9.5 tackles for loss in just seven games last season.

Daniel Fennell (3-star): What Fennell may lack in athleticism he makes up for with intelligence from the inside linebacker position. He’s astute at finding holes at the line of scrimmage and plugging them to stop the run, and has great patience in allowing a play to develop, diagnosing the play and putting himself in position to make a stop. He could improve his tackling and his play in pass coverage, but by the time he’s an upperclassmen he could be an impact player on the South Carolina defense.


Darrin Kirkland Jr. (4-star): Despite enrolling early at Tennessee Kirkland will have to miss the spring practice season, although he’ll still get a headstart on most freshmen when it comes to learning the playbook and developing a relationship with the coaching staff. The No. 5 inside linebacker prospect in the country could see time as a freshman if he gets healthy due to a lack of depth at the position. He’s slow in reading plays as they develop but has great speed and acceleration that allow him to make plays anyway.

Quart’e Sapp (4-star): The Vols top outside linebacker signee in the class has great quickness in open space to make plays on the outside or rush the passer when called upon. At 200 pounds he’ll need to do some bulking up, but he’s swift and athletic and difficult for opposing offenses to contain when operating on his side of the field.

Austin Smith (3-star): At nearly 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, Smith already has an SEC-ready body at the outside linebacker position. He doesn’t move as well as a player like Sapp in open space due to that size, but he is difficult to contain near the line of scrimmage, using his power to make his way to opposing ball carriers. Smith has room to improve regarding his footwork, but those are coachable areas that shouldn’t leave Vols fans feeling concerned.


Josh Smith (4-star): Smith is one of Vanderbilt’s most touted signees of the last 10-plus years, and he has a chance to anchor the Dores defense from his inside linebacker position in the coming years. He possesses great footwork and lateral quickness in the middle of the field, and is a sure tackler who is more than capable of stopping opposing rushing attacks. At 228 pounds he’s close to having an SEC-ready body, and he could begin making an impact as early as this season for Derek Mason’s defense.

Dare Odeyingbo (3-star): At 6-foot-1 and 243 pounds, Odeyingbo is one of the sturdiest high school recruits from the 2015 class. He moves fairly well at his size and has great instincts as a middle linebacker, allowing him to get downhill quickly when needed. His footwork is good but not great and he’s a sure tackler who is rarely blown through by opposing runners.

Jordan Griffin (3-star): Once a Wisconsin commit, Griffin flipped his commitment to Vanderbilt because of its academic excellence and closer proximity to his hometown of Seffner, Fla. He’s a ballhawk as an inside linebacker, as evidenced by his 158 tackles and seven fumble recoveries last season. He’s also a powerful player when he gets moving downhill, and is a better pass rusher from up the middle than most at his position (he logged 9 sacks last year as a high school senior).

Jay Hockaday (3-star): The lifelong Vanderbilt fan is now a member of the Commodores, and he’ll bring some tremendous raw athleticism with him to Nashville this fall. He played inside and outside linebacker as well as tailback in high school, logging 95 tackles and more than 1,600 yards rushing to go along with 38 touchdowns. He’ll play inside linebacker at Vanderbilt, and although he only weights 215 pounds he’s fast, agile and intelligent on the football field, which should give him a chance to earn playing time as his career progresses.