ILB class instinctive if not distinctive
2012 group doesn't have flash of last year, but still should produce an impact
Not quite the inside linebacker class of a year ago, the 2012 group still is very solid group. It's an instinctive group with a more hard-nosed feel to its game than the speed and flash we saw at the position in 2011. Last year's ILB class was filled with immediate-impact-type talent, but we still feel the upper-tier prospects in this inside linebacker group are just as instinctive and physical, and those attributes could allow for early contributions at the next level as well.
Dalton Santos (Van, Texas/Van) is the top-rated inside linebacker at this time. Unlike last year with five-star Tony Steward (Clemson) headlining the group, this class does not have a clear-cut premier middle backer. In fact, from a grade standpoint, there are just small discrepancies separating the top five.
Per usual, there are some linebackers in this group who could project on the outside as well, and where they eventually play in college may be dictated by their continued physical development and/or scheme of the program with which they sign.
6-foot-2, 240 pounds
At first glance, Santos looks like your typical downhill run-plugger with great bulk and strength. But he's more than that as you continue to watch tape. Don't be fooled by the No. 78 jersey he wears; Santos is as tough as a nose tackle, but has the range of an outside linebacker. This punishing tackler will blow up the inside run but also scrape off tackle and chase plays down, sideline to sideline, with deceptive speed and closing burst. His best attributes may be his instincts and first-step quickness to beat blockers to the point of attack. We are a bit surprised the recent Oklahoma State decommit has not garnered more attention on the recruiting trail from the in-state Longhorns.
Reggie Ragland (Madison, Ala./Bob Jones)
We first saw Ragland almost a year ago at the Hoover 7-on-7 tournament, and walked away impressed with this massive, long-limbed linebacker who lumbered a bit and looked to still be growing into his frame. Fast forward a year and the now-6-foot-3, thickly built, 245-pound monster of a linebacker looks like a college-ready ILB from a physical standpoint. A powerful downhill run-stopper with deceptive lateral agility, athleticism and range to chase plays down, Ragland just needs to develop more fundamental polish. He could play any of the linebacker positions in Alabama's 3-4 defense, and DE is not out of the question with added bulk.Ukeme Eligwe[+] EnlargeTom Hauck for ESPN.comFSU commit Ukeme Eligwe plays safety in high school and could play ILB or OLB for the Seminoles.
(Stone Mountain, Ga./Stone Mountain)
College: Florida State
Eligwe is a guy we discussed putting in the outside linebacker group, and he could very well play there in Tallahassee. He has the scheme versatility to play either inside or out in DC Mark Stoops' 4-3 system, and that flexibility is valued and has helped land him high on our linebacker board. An impressive athlete who takes snaps at safety in high school, we see a guy who can effectively shed and stack the run between the tackles with good overall short-range tools and lateral movement. We feel his coverage and space defense skills would need to be improved to play outside, but it's a possibility with his athleticism.
Michael Rose (Kansas City, Mo./ Rockhurst)
Rose is a guy we feel has been overlooked because of his lack of ideal height and speed. However, in our eyes, an inside linebacker's playing leverage and reactive athleticism among the fast-moving traffic can be more important than his actual measurables. Rose is well built and balanced, and his ability to diagnose the run and fill quickly under the cutoff block is as good as any in this class. He's a very instinctive and fundamentally sound linebacker who routinely makes plays with inside-out angles on the ball, resulting in a lot of stops near the line of scrimmage. Bo Pelini is one of the best at judging and developing defensive talent, and he has a great one coming to Lincoln in Rose.
Joe Bolden (Cincinnati/Colerain) / James Ross (Orchard Lake, Mich./Saint Mary's)
6-2, 225 / 6-0, 217
Bolden and Ross are two of the toughest and more instinctive inside linebacker prospects this class has to offer. Both have added importance to a rebuilding Wolverine defense with their potential to play both inside or out. With Royce Jenkins-Stone (Detroit/Cass Tech) looking to man the middle for Greg Mattison's defense there is a good chance Bolden and Ross could slide outside or align in the middle if the former Ravens DC incorporates some 3-4 principles with two middle linebackers. Either way, they each find the ball in a hurry, can tackle and have great pursuit habits aided by intense motors.
Aaron Porter (La Habra, Calif./La Habra)
Although his offer list is still impressive, we feel Porter's national recruitment may be deterred some because he is playing out of position in high school. However, there is no argument from us that prep coaches need to deploy their players where they can make the biggest impact. Porter wreaks havoc off the edge with overpowering strength and explosiveness, but we feel his tools are better suited between the tackles at the next level, as he shows flashes of great upper-body strength and physicality by shedding blockers at the point of attack. Porter is more of productive defender in a phone booth than out in space.
Kaiwan Lewis (Hammonton, N.J./Saint Joseph) is one of the thickest linebackers in this class, and the Jersey native will surprise you with his feet and lateral agility. Virginia commit Kwontie Moore (Norfolk, Va./Norfolk Christian) is a linebacker who could move up our board based on his fall performance. He's a fast and physical defender who makes a ton of plays near the line of scrimmage, but we are looking to see if his coverage skills can be improved. Future Longhorn Alex De La Torre (Denton, Texas/Billy Ryan) has football bloodlines and it shows with his smart and instinctive style of play. Joe Robinson (Temecula, Calif./Chaparral) is one of the more explosive blitzers and pass rushers in this group, but in our opinion, he lacks the length and range to stay outside. Nick Dawson (Charlotte, N.C./Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology) is the top-rated LB in North Carolina. He has four-star size and strength, but we would like to see more fluidity in coverage. On the field, there may not be a more physically impressive linebacker than Derek David (Rockdale, Texas/Rockdale). It's a strong class for inside linebackers and overall talent in Missouri. In any other year, high-motored Donavin Newsom (St. Louis/Parkway North) would likely be the top ILB in the state. Vanderbilt currently sits just inside our top 25 with a class that features a lot of solid front-seven commitments, including tackling machine Jacob Sealand (Tucker, Ga./Tucker), who plays much bigger between the lines than his size would indicate.
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2012 POSITIONAL BREAKDOWNS
ESPN Recruiting will be breaking down every position throughout the month.