- Billy Tucker, Scouts, Football Recruiting
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This inside linebacker class is defined by Jeff Luc (Port St. Lucie, Fla./Treasure Coast), and then, basically, everybody else. While there are some fine inside run fillers listed under the 241-pound Under Armour All-American, Luc is head and shoulders above this overall less-than-stellar group in 2010. The Sunshine State product is one of the better inside 'backers we have seen in the past few classes; his high ranking is even more impressive when you consider how the position as a whole appears to be declining from an elite talent standpoint in recent years.
This might be more because of how the game is evolving and the new requirement of the position than it is because of a down year for upper-tier inside linebacker prospects. With more teams spreading the field on offense, speed and athleticism, even in the middle, have started to take precedence over bigger, less-mobile inside run-pluggers. In some versions of the traditional Cover 2 scheme, the Mike or middle linebacker now must be able to open his hips and drop almost to a deep third position in coverage. The ideal inside linebacker for today's college game can match up in space with quicker skill players and still fill stoutly downhill on short-yardage isolation runs. That skill set does not grow on trees.
This inside linebacker class does boast a handful of well-rounded prospects who can develop into every-down linebackers at the major college level. Many of the top prospects still are on the board, including ESPN's No. 5 overall player, who alone profoundly represents the position in 2010.
Jeff Luc | Highlights
(Port St. Lucie, Fla./Treasure Coast)
Aside from lacking a few inches of height, Luc possesses prototypical measurables and a matching elite skill set between the tackles. With a bulky, chiseled frame equivalent of an NFL middle linebacker, this textbook tackler fills downhill with great explosiveness and displays striking short-area power at the point of attack. His deceptively good redirection skills in space and ability to turn and run with backs in coverage is what puts him into an elite category and makes him one of the most coveted undecided prospects on the recruiting trail.
Khairi Fortt | Highlights
Recently moved inside during our final evaluation process preceding the 150 release, Fortt, like Luc, has the ideal frame for the position and is a very strong inside run filler. He has the strength to shed and the downhill burst to beat blockers to the hole. Fortt shows a bit of hip stiffness redirecting and a lack of great reactive athleticism through fast-moving traffic. Those are the only true weaknesses we see in New England's top-rated overall prospect for 2010.
Though Nelson might be falling under the radar from a national standpoint, we feel the Canes might have stolen a great one out of Gator country. Nelson lacks some height but fits the mold of the undersized, relentless pursuing Miami linebackers of the past who have been productive in college and at the next level. He plays fast, physical and with great explosiveness inside the tackles.
The top prospect from Hawaii this year, Fehoko is as tough and physical as they come, despite playing at just over 200 pounds. He overcomes his marginal size with quick downhill reads and great short-area burst to the football. Fehoko is also a talented pass-rusher who could put his hand down on passing situations at the next level and create havoc off the edge.
(Traverse City, Mich./Saint Francis)
College: Michigan State
This future Spartan is a tall and rugged. Bullough is almost a throwback type of middle linebacker who is only going to get better as he continues to pack bulk on to his large frame. He lacks great lateral agility and is not the most fluid inside 'backer. Still, he is sound, very strong at the point of attack and both a solid shedder and tackler.
On the verge
A sleeper in the middle, Henry stacks the run with good strength and physicality at the point of attack while also showing more-than-adequate lateral agility and the ability to slip the cutoff block. His long arms hint at continued physical development; he seems to be favoring the in-state Sooners.
Nick Forbes | Highlights
(Frederick, Md./Governor Thomas Johnson)
Cal landed a solid inside run-stopper of the future in Forbes; this guy is a blue-collar-type of 'backer who often impresses you more as a total football player. He can fill strong downhill, effectively scrape and chase off-tackle as well as close quickly in coverage. He's just a tough and versatile, well-rounded linebacker prospect.
(Port Royal, S.C./Beaufort)
The top overall linebacker in South Carolina grows on you the more you watch him. All the physical tools are there: size, strength stacking the inside run and outside burst to the football. Needs to polish fundamentals and play with better flexibility, but he's talented, with the versatility to play the inside or strongside position.
College: Oklahoma State
Lavey is a true inside linebacker without a lot of flash. He projects to have good college production in the middle. We like this guy's large frame, explosiveness on contact and the fact that he consistently plays downhill with square shoulder pads, adding strength and limiting cutback creases. He should be ideal versus power-running offenses at the next level.
Brandon Smith | Highlights
Smith might end up moving to defensive end at the next level and eventually into that 2010 positional group as we track his senior-year progress. He's very strong, explosive and physical at the point of attack and knows how to utilize his hands to scrape off blocks. Smith is a bit straight-lined, and lateral agility is an area of concern if he remains at linebacker.
Under the radar
This guy grows on you the more you break down his film. Aside from his direct-pursuit angles to the ball, he shows strong shedding and tackling skills. Holland has good initial quickness and reactive burst to the football between the tackles. Auburn has landed a very fundamentally sound linebacker, a trait often overlooked when projecting college production.
(Memphis, Tenn./Christian Brothers)
Ron Zook can judge talent, and has dipped into Tennessee to put the full-court press on Brown. We would, too; he's a fast and explosive downhill run-stopper who makes a ton of production on or behind the line of scrimmage.
David Wilkerson | Highlights
(Danville, Calif./Monte Vista)
Wilkerson has great size, strength and the short-range burst coveted in a middle linebacker prospect. It's his nose for the football and reactive athleticism that might be most impressive and overlooked skills. Another solid Cal linebacker commit, Wilkerson finds the ball quickly and simply runs through opposing running backs.
Brandon Brown | Highlights
An inconsistent junior season has led to minimal offers, but Brown shows flashes of major D-I linebacker talent, particularly when he pursues with a motor. Can play inside or out and is very active around the football with his quick reads, good short-range speed and superior downhill strength getting over blocks.
It's hard to argue with Penn State's history of finding and developing non-flashy linebacker prospects; they have another one in Mike Hull (Canonsburg, Pa./Canon McMillan), a total football player. Jake Nicolopulos (Anderson, S.C./T.L. Hanna) was one of Clemson's first commitments in February, so he might not have attracted a lot of attention on the recruiting trail, but this thick 220-pounder is disciplined and a fast pursuing downhill run supporter. Notre Dame commit Kendall Moore (Raleigh, N.C./Southeast) brings good scheme versatility and the explosiveness sought after in defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta's heavy-pressure defense. Victor Burnett (Culver City, Calif.) may lack a few inches of desired height but this kid can create havoc in the middle and is deserving of his increased offers. Buckeye commit Scott McVey (Cleveland/Saint Ignatius) is another inside 'backer lacking desired measurables but plays bigger on film and simply flies around the football field. How about the linebacker class Oklahoma State is building? Kris Catlin (San Antonio/James Madison) is another quality defender who could play on the inside joining Lavey and Under Armour All-American outside 'backer Shaun Lewis (Missouri City, Texas/Hightower).
Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc.
With defensive schemes changing at every level, elite inside linebackers are becoming harder to find, writes Billy Tucker.