Power Ranking the Top 10 Linebackers in the 2014 Recruiting Class
Hoza Scott Via 247Sports
The true playmakers of the defense can be found at linebacker, and the recruiting class of 2014 features several true stars in the making.
These are big, strong players who run with the speed and agility of a running back. For instance, the No. 1 linebacker in these rankings runs a 4.65 40, and that's at 6'2'', 242 pounds.
If you're a fan of big plays, hits and fundamental, smash-mouth defense, look no further than the top 10 linebackers of the 2014 recruiting class.
Note: Rankings courtesy of the 247Sports Composite Rankings. All scouting and analysis done from film study via the tapes provided by each recruit's respective 247Sports profile page unless otherwise noted. 247Sports predictions courtesy of the 247Sports Crystal Ball.
10. Zach Whitley, ILB
Weight: 220 pounds
Hometown: Houston, Texas
School: North Shore High School
Committed to Alabama on 5/3/13
Zach Whitley stands out because of his quickness. He's a sideline-to-sideline inside linebacker who's great in pursuit. He can go straight forward and maintain his gap responsibilities, but he's also adept at scraping over blocks, running the alley and making a play in pursuit of the ball-carrier.
Whitley's read step is a bit slow, and that will have to improve if he wants to move up this list. But his natural quickness and ability to get after the ball-carrier will help to make him effective.
It's easy to get excited about what Whitley is capable of at Alabama, especially once he's coached by the Crimson Tide staff. He'll see the field as a freshman and make an impact.
9. Dillon Bates, OLB
Weight: 220 pounds
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
School: Ponte Vedra High School
247Sports Prediction: Tennessee 100 percent
Bleacher Report Prediction: Tennessee
Dillon Bates is an intriguing outside linebacker prospect. He has good size, is physical and should be able to make a lot of plays at the college level. He's always around the ball.
He'll be good at setting the edge when the run is spilled outside of the tackle. He'll also meet blockers or the runner at the point of attack.
Despite his weight, he has somewhat of a small frame. If he bulks up, Bates could be elite at the college level.
Dillon's father, Bill Bates, is a former Tennessee star, and Butch Jones has been doing a great job of recruiting "legacy players."
8. Ronnie Clark, OLB
Weight: 210 pounds
Hometown: Calera, Ala.
School: Calera High School
247Sports Prediction: Alabama 100 percent
Bleacher Report Prediction: Auburn
Ronnie Clark is an athletic outside linebacker. He runs a 4.59 40, according to 247Sports, so he'll be able to run the lane in weak-side pursuit and make a strong tackle at or near the line of scrimmage.
He should also be comfortable in the flats or seams in coverage, and he can be physical enough to spill off tackle and make a play in the backfield.
The big issue with Clark is that he doesn't have great size. In fact, he could almost be a safety recruit.
Clark would fit perfectly in the hybrid linebacker/safety role in Auburn's new 4-2-5 defense.
7. Michael Ferns, ILB
Weight: 238 pounds
Hometown: Saint Clairsville, Ohio
School: Saint Clairsville High School
Committed to Michigan on 8/8/12
Michael Ferns is a big inside linebacker who should excel against the run at the college level. He comes down to the line quickly, thanks to a great read step and reaction time, and he's extremely strong for a high-school linebacker.
He's not afraid to stick his nose in the gap and take on a blocker, and he does a good job of shooting the gap, gaining leverage and making a play in the backfield.
While Ferns can drop into coverage and play on the edges in space, he's much more of a downhill-type player. He'll be comfortable playing between the tackles. That lack of versatility is something that he can work on during his senior year in an effort to round out his game.
Ferns fits Michigan's aggressive downhill linebacker scheme perfectly. He'll be a rotational player as a freshman and will work himself into a bigger role as time goes on.
6. Nyles Morgan, ILB
Weight: 228 pounds
Hometown: Crete, Ill.
School: Crete-Monee High School
247Sports Prediction Vanderbilt 62 percent, Ole Miss 25 percent, Notre Dame 12 percent
Bleacher Report Prediction: Ole Miss
There's much to like about Nyles Morgan as an inside linebacker. He has a big frame, is physical and extremely fast. He runs a 4.53 40, according to 247Sports, which is tremendous for an inside linebacker.
That speed will allow him to be effective in pursuit and enable him to spill over blocks and meet runners before they're able to turn the edge. It will also help him get down to the line of scrimmage and fill a gap before a blocker is able to get the leverage.
Of course, there's also coverage to consider, where his speed will help him backpedal, open his hips and get to the ball.
He does tend to go for the highlight hit in which he leads with his shoulder or leaves hit feet, and that's going to have to improve if he wants to move up this list.
It may look good on a highlight tape, but it's an easy way to get hurt or miss a tackle against skilled players at the college level.
The Rebels were able to land his former Crete-Monee teammate, Laquon Treadwell, last cycle, which could help them land Morgan this cycle.
5. Tre' Williams, ILB
Weight: 230 pounds.
Hometown: Mobile, Ala.
School: Saint Paul's Episcopal School
Committed to Auburn on 5/8/13
Tre' Williams has star potential as an inside or outside linebacker. Right now he's ranked as an inside backer. He's smart and displays good vision and instincts.
Williams is big hitter who can jar the ball out on contact, and he has the quickness to pursue the edges and make a play.
He stands out as a good defender in coverage, which can be a rare skill for inside linebackers.
While he's great at reading the play, his read-step is slow and delayed. That will come with more experience, though, and once it does, he'll be a step ahead of his competition.
With a young and talented defensive line in front of him, Williams can shine at Auburn. He'll be a play-maker and will see the field from day one.
4. Kain Daub, ILB
Weight: 234 pounds
Hometown: Jacksonville, Fla.
School: Sandalwood High School
Committed to Florida State on 4/6/13
Kain Daub is a big middle linebacker who will be physical at the line of scrimmage. He does a good job of controlling his gap responsibilities and can play strong at the point of attack.
Daub isn't extremely fast, but he's explosive and is quick enough to be a tackle-to-tackle player going either right or left. He can run the alley and make a play against the run as a spill player.
The only thing that Daub will need to improve during his senior season is his first read-step. It needs to be quicker and more concise going downhill.
Daub has the potential to be a star for Florida State and he's in a great system to shine. Daub will play often as a freshman.
3. Clifton Garrett, OLB
Weight: 228 pounds
Hometown: Plainfield, Ill.
School: Plainfield South High School
247Sports Prediction: LSU 100 percent
Bleacher Report Prediction: LSU
Clifton Garrett plays with the aggression and reckless abandon that you like to see in a linebacker. He'll scream down to the line of scrimmage and "blow up" a lead blocker, and he can also take on bigger running backs head on.
Garrett also has good speed, so he'll be effective in weak-side pursuit or on the strong edge.
While aggressiveness is a huge part of his game, he's going to need to learn to be more disciplined to avoid being caught up by play action.
It looks like LSU is the leader for Garrett, at least according to his 247Sports interest list. He'd fit in well in the Tigers' aggressive defense.
2. Hoza Scott, OLB
Weight: 220 pounds
Hometown: La Porte, Texas
School: La Porte High School
Committed to Texas A&M on 12/12/12
Hoza Scott is the No. 1 outside linebacker in the nation, according to 247Sports Composite. He has the size to be physically dominant against the run at the college level, and he's also extremely athletic. Scott will be adept at coming off the edge and making tackles in open space.
He'll also be a great blitzing linebacker because of his combination of size, speed and aggressiveness.
Finally, Scott projects to be good in coverage, where he'll be able to make athletic plays in space.
There's not much separating Scott from the No. 1 spot, only the fact that the top linebacker on this list is such a complete player.
Scott projects to be elite and fits in well with Texas A&M's scheme. You'll hear his name called a lot as a freshman.
1. Raekwon McMillan, ILB
Weight: 242 pounds.
Hometown: Hinesville, Ga.
School: Liberty County High School
247Sports Prediction: Ohio State 82 percent, Alabama 18 percent
Bleacher Report Prediction: Ohio State
He has a great combination of size and speed. He runs a 4.65 40, according to 247Sports. He can pursue the play left or right and can make plays on the edges of the line of scrimmage.
That said, he also can play downhill, and he'll be comfortable dropping into the middle zone in coverage.
McMillan projects to be a complete inside linebacker.