Depth and versatility highlight ILB class
The 2011 inside linebacker class is very strong as a whole and elite up top with seven prospects landing in the ESPNU 150, which is the most since 2008.
What makes this group so distinct is the number of scheme-versatile prospects represented. The upper-tier prospects in this class are all solid, downhill run stoppers, but several could play on the strong side (SAM) thanks to their length, range and coverage skills -- which makes them all the more coveted. Their collective skill set also goes beyond the short area, which makes them ideal for today's college defenses that will have them match up more in space versus spread offenses.
Tony Steward (St. Augustine, Fla./Pedro Menendez) headlines this class and is a step above the rest. The next three prospects were highly debated and any of them could have been ranked No. 2. This group will be closely tracked through senior game footage and all-star game performances.
Top prospectsTony Steward (St. Augustine, Fla./Pedro Menendez)
Ht.: 6-1 | Wt.: 225 pounds | Stars: 5 | ILB rank: 1 | ESPNU 150 rank: 10
He is perhaps the hardest-hitting linebacker we have evaluated since starting the ESPNU 150, including Jeff Luc (Port St. Lucie, Fla./Treasure Coast), who was a man amongst boys at the position last year and boasted five-star status. To put it into perspective, Steward is a step faster and has a bit of a larger frame for continued physical development than Luc. Great pursuit speed, explosion and awesome power are what first standout when watching Steward.
James Vaughters (Tucker, Ga./Tucker)
Ht.: 6-2 | Wt.: 230 pounds | Stars: 4 | ILB rank: 2 | ESPNU 150 rank: 42
If you want to find this recent Stanford pledge on film, just look for the ball. He's always around it making plays. Vaughters has great size and range aided by a high motor and a reckless abandon-type of attitude. He is the complete package because he can scrape off blocks in the wash, chase plays down to the sideline, drop in coverage and punish opposing ball carriers as a tackler.
Curtis Grant (Richmond, Va./Hermitage)
Ht.: 6-3 | Wt.: 220 pounds | Stars: 4 | ILB rank: 3 | ESPNU 150 rank: 44
He grew on us during the ESPNU 150 evaluation process. Grant's great blend of size, range and athleticism became more apparent as we viewed additional film. While fluid for his size and capable of matching up with backs in coverage, his slow diagnosis skills and inconsistent hand technique through traffic give us some concern.
ILBs to watch• Any other year, Steve Edmond (Daingerfield, Texas/Daingerfield) would rank in the top three and he could still end up there before all is said and done. The Texas pledge utilizes great strength in shedding blockers between the tackles and can beat them to the point of attack with downhill quickness. One of the better well-rounded inside linebackers in this group, Edmond is also college-ready and ahead of the curve from a key and diagnosing standpoint. • Lawrence Thomas (Detroit/Renaissance) was a highly scrutinized and cross-checked prospect during the ESPNU 150 evaluation process. The Michigan State pledge possesses prototypical size and straight-line speed. Plus, his good athleticism and downhill strength are apparent shortly after you turn on his film. He does lack a quick-twitched burst and we question his lateral agility through the fast-moving wash at the next level. • Out of this impressive group, Anthony Wallace (Dallas/Skyline) may be the most pure inside linebacker. While limited in some areas, he's one of the best at filling his middle-run gaps and is a punishing tackler. He's a hard-nosed, high-motored linebacker with an old school feel.
NotesMany of the country's top prep programs are producing some of the best prospects at the ILB position this year, including Vaughters, Wallace, Blake Renaud (Concord, Calif./De La Salle), Cody Kurz (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure), Steven Daniels (Cincinnati, Ohio/St. Xavier), Leilon Willingham (Denver/J.K. Mullen) and Tre Madden (Mission Viejo, Calif./Mission Viejo).
Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for ESPN Recruiting and has close to a decade of coaching experience at the college and high school levels.
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