With signing day approaching, 247Sports takes a look at how the classes are shaping up. With several top prospects still undecided, as well as the potential for commitments to change course, these rankings are not the final product. As it stands, here are the top linebacker classes to date, according to the industry-generated 247Sports Composite.
Raekwon McMillan headlines a talented group headed to Columbus.
1. Ohio State
The Buckeyes have once again reeled in a stellar group of linebackers, headlined by five-star Raekwon McMillan. The No. 2 inside linebacker in the country, McMillan is a physically college-ready run stopper who excels inside the tackle box. Top247 prospect Dante Booker has a nose for the football, a great frame, and the versatility to play all three linebacker positions depending on his physical development. Top247 prospect Kyle Berger was sidelined his senior season with a torn ACL, but on film he plays with incredible intensity, consistently wraps up on contact, and shows the range and proper angle pursuit to be a sideline-to-sideline player, but needs more experience in coverage as he often plays right on the line of scrimmage. Sam Hubbard is another Top247 prospect that has impressed with his size/athleticism combo, and he could end up playing outside linebacker as well.
The Crimson Tide have a trio of Top247 linebacker commitments, led by five-star Christian Miller. A tall pass-rusher that utilizes his wingspan and active hands to disrupt the backfield, Miller has an extremely high motor and possesses tremendous physical upside, regardless of scheme. Top247 prospect Ronnie Clark will likely grow into a full time linebacker down the road, but right now his natural playmaking ability and range should allow him to contribute immediately as a hybrid/star. A man among boys in high school, Top247 prospect Shaun Hamilton is a striker that does a great job at reading and diagnosing the play quickly, and even at 240 pounds, still looks to have room to grow in his upper body. Hamilton should be able to stay on the field on passing downs, as he is a very effective straight-line blitzer. Like Hubbard, Keith Holcombe could end up playing a number of positions, but the talented athlete shows outstanding range and does not give up wasted yardage on tackles.
3. Florida State
There is no doubt that Top247 prospect Kain Daub wins the “off the bus” award as one of the most physically impressive prospects in the 2014 class. A throwback middle linebacker, Daub should be able to use his bulk to contribute early as a downhill run plugger inside and a stand-up pass rusher on third downs. Top247 prospect Jacob Pugh is a prototypical hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker that runs really well and uses his length to keep blockers from locking him up. Top247 prospect Delvin Purifoy has the size to play any inside or outside, and is adept at scraping and maintaining the backside in pursuit of the ball carrier. Purifoy showcases sideline-to-sideline range and explosiveness, but he needs to improve his lower body strength in order to consistently drive the ball carrier back at the next level.
Early Enrollees: Jakob Johnson (Jacksonville, Fla./Ribault)
Commitments: Dillon Bates (Ponte Verde, Fla./Ponte Verde), Chris Weatherd (Athens, Texas/Trinity C.C.), Gavin Bryant (Jackson, Ala./Jackson), Kevin Mouhon (Norcross, Ga./Norcross), Elliott Berry (Fairburn, Ga./Creekside)
The Volunteers have an incoming linebacking group that is big on quantity and quality. Top247 prospect Dillon Bates has great instincts, fundamentals and measurable, which makes sense with him being the son of former Volunteer standout and NFL veteran Bill Bates. Bates times his blitzes well and should be able to hold his assignments in zone coverage as well. Four-star JUCO prospect Chris Weatherd brings an explosive, disruptive force off the edge as a hybrid defensive end/linebacker. Four-star prospect Gavin Bryant has few weaknesses in his game, possessing the ability to win the battle at the point of attack while still showing some physical upside, even at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds. Four-star Kevin Mouhon came back from a groin injury to have a solid senior season, and while he is an inside/outside tweener from a size and speed standpoint, Mouhon is a productive tackler and an inside thumper at times. Jakob Johnson is raw but shows upside due to his size and physical style of play. He could also grow into a defensive end. Three-star prospect Elliot Berry is undersized but moves well enough to track down ball carriers and should be an impact special teams addition. Depending on his physical progression, Jerome Dews could end up playing linebacker down the road, and he flashes the instincts to be a difference maker.
5. Notre Dame
Commitments: Nyles Morgan (Crete, Ill./Crete-Monee), Richard Yeargin III (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School), Greer Martini (Woodberry Forest, Va./Woodberry Forest), Nile Sykes (Lombard, Ill./Montini Catholic)
While Top247 prospect Nyles Morgan might not come downhill quite as well as Hamilton or McMillan, he can still fill the running lanes with authority. Morgan might be more capable on third downs than any inside linebacker in the country because of his ability to blitz, cover ground in pursuit and apply underneath zone coverage. Four-star prospect Richard Yeargin III is a scheme versatile defensive end/outside linebacker tweener that can be moved all over the field as a pass rusher. Greer Martini is another versatile inside/outside linebacker that might be close to maxed out physically, but quickly finds the football and pursues, as well as being highly productive on special teams. It is tough to accurately project how well Niles Sykes will transition into dropping back as he plays out of position along the line in high school, but he fires off the ball extremely well and shows above average instincts as a pass rusher.
Other top classes: LSU, Auburn, UCLA, Texas A&M, Miami
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