Power Ranking Top 10 LB Recruits in Class of 2015

Tyler DonohueNational Recruiting AnalystMarch 4, 2014

Power Ranking Top 10 LB Recruits in Class of 2015

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    Texas star Malik Jefferson
    Texas star Malik JeffersonCredit: 247Sports

    Breaking into the linebacker rotation of a top-level FBS program requires elite play in several capacities. Aside from an obvious need for physicality, prospects must display ranginess, quick reaction time and tight tackling form.

    Thousands of linebackers who currently anchor high school defenses have dreams of playing college football. Few will ever emerge among America's elite prospects at the position.

    We continue our dissection of the 2015 recruiting class with a close look at premier linebacker prospects, ranking the top 10 in terms of technique, tenacity and athleticism.

     

    All prospect information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

10. Jeffery Holland

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    Size: 6'2", 230 pounds

    School: Trinity Christian Academy (Jacksonville, Fla.)

     

    Junior Season Highlights

    Jeffery Holland starred at outside linebacker for Florida state champion Trinity Christian. He compiled 45 tackles and 12.5 sacks, per MaxPreps.

     

    Scouting Report

    Holland gets to the quarterback in a hurry. He doesn't delay off the snap against larger offensive linemen and uses impressive agility to evade blockers while blitzing from the edge.

    His physical frame is long, enabling him to get his arms out and disrupt a pass in the pocket. Holland quickly sniffs out play direction and swarms.

    He can drop back into coverage to provide support on obvious passing downs but is most effective in the box.

     

    Recruitment Status

    Holland is heavily considering Florida. He visited Gainesville for games last fall and was on campus for a junior day in February. The linebacker has also indicated interest in Auburn, Florida State, UCLA, Alabama and Ohio State.

9. John Houston

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    Size: 6'3", 205 pounds 

    School: Junipero Serra High School (Gardena, Calif.)

     

    Junior Season Highlights

    John Houston enjoyed a strong campaign for Southern California title contender Junipero Serra. He established a career high with 137 tackles.

     

    Scouting Report

    His reliability as a tackler shines. When Houston squares up his target, he's practically a sure thing to halt the play in its tracks.

    His length makes him an intriguing weapon in pass coverage, where he can be counted on to match up against athletic tight ends and backs. There are still some questions about his ability to get after the quarterback on a blitz, but he is scrappy at the line of scrimmage.

    Houston isn't always able to consistently shed blocks in his pursuit of the ball. His frame leaves room for added size, and that's a necessity at the next level if he aims to compete at inside linebacker.

     

    Recruitment Status

    UCLA and USC are already battling for this local standout. Florida State is a strong option beyond state borders, while Oklahoma and Alabama may remain in the mix moving forward.

8. Sh'mar Kilby-Lane

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    Size: 6'2", 215 pounds 

    School: Hallandale High School (Hallandale, Fla.)

     

    Junior Season Highlights

    Sh'mar Kilby-Lane led the Chargers' defensive effort with 115 tackles and five sacks. He also intercepted four passes.

     

    Scouting Report

    Kilby-Lane is a balanced outside linebacker prospect who plays with a level of ferocity that leaves you wondering how special he could become down the line. His athleticism is reminiscent of a defensive back, and he could probably suit up at safety in a variety of packages.

    Amazingly quick footwork leaves blockers in his wake when he attacks the defensive backfield. He beats linemen off the snap with speed and has the strength to disrupt pass protection.

    Kilby-Lane could still be significantly sounder as a tackler. He leads with his head too often, which puts him at risk of missing a maneuvering player or being injured.

     

    Recruitment Status

    He attended a junior day at Florida State in February. His options include Ohio State, Alabama, Miami and Georgia.

7. Khaylan Thomas

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    Size: 6'2", 210 pounds 

    School: Etiwanda High School (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.)

     

    Junior Season Highlights

    Khaylan Thomas tallied 79 tackles for the Eagles in 2013. He led the team with five sacks and also picked off a pass, per MaxPreps.

     

    Scouting Report

    Thomas has ridiculous range that allows him to control a large chunk of the field on each play. Upon identifying the ball-carrier, he bursts with top-end acceleration and takes accurate angles in pursuit.

    At the point of impact, he has a good habit of hand placement and drives through with a powerful lower body. He is best suited for a role on the weak side, where coaches can count on him to provide reliable pass coverage.

     

    Recruitment Status

    February was a whirlwind month for Thomas, who collected offers from UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah. His list already featured Colorado and Oregon State, among others.

6. Rick DeBerry

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Size: 6'2.5", 245 pounds

    School: St. Christopher's School (Richmond, Va.)

     

    Junior Season Highlights

    Rick DeBerry earned All-Metro honors from the Richmond Times-Dispatch for his performance as a defensive end and linebacker.

     

    Scouting Report

    DeBerry ranks among the nation's best pass-rushing linebacker prospects. He plays primarily along the line in high school and has displayed impressive technique as an interior force.

    He'll be asked to transition outside and cover more ground in college, but expect him to still spend plenty of time near the line of scrimmage as an extension of the front attack.

    He is physically imposing enough to compete for substantial early playing time in 2015, but he needs to develop a quicker reaction to plays that unfold along the perimeter.

     

    Recruitment Status

    The Virginia star has spent time on several campuses, including Tennessee, Penn State, Virginia Tech and South Carolina last season. The in-state Cavaliers would love to land him, but programs like North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Michigan State make this a tough race to win.

5. Leo Lewis

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Size: 6'3", 225 pounds

    School: Brookhaven High School (Brookhaven, Miss.)

     

    Junior Season Highlights

    Outside linebacker Leo Lewis helped lead the Panthers into the playoffs as a defensive stalwart. He totaled 100 tackles and five sacks, according to MaxPreps.

     

    Scouting Report

    Lewis lays the lumber on practically every hit. He wraps up and tackles through his target on a consistent basis, eliminating opportunities for an offensive playmaker to slip away.

    His solid fundamentals extend into coverage containment. He patrols the perimeter with authority and quickly turns his hips to take off when the ball is up for grabs.

    He is stout in short-yardage run situations, winning battles inside with effective upper-body quickness.

     

    Recruitment Status

    Mississippi State and Ole Miss each aim to keep Lewis close to home. However, SEC foes Alabama, Georgia and LSU will be hard to fight off.

4. Kyahva Tezino

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    Size: 6'0", 192 pounds 

    School: Bishop Mora Salesian High School (Los Angeles)

     

    Junior Season Highlights

    Kyahva Tezino helped propel the Mustangs to a state title, leading the squad with 122 tackles. He added a team-high four interceptions.

     

    Scouting Report

    There are obvious concerns about his size, but Tezino is an undeniably explosive athlete. He shows true sideline-to-sideline range against the rush, routinely beating running backs to the edge.

    He takes his role in pass coverage seriously. Quality footwork and attentiveness ensure he doesn't lose his bearings while dropping back.

    He is a ferocious tackler, but he needs help from teammates at times to finish off plays.

     

    Recruitment Status

    Arizona, UCLA and California are among the Pac-12 programs that have made him a priority. Miami entered the mix with an offer last spring.

3. Roquan Smith

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    Size: 6'1", 203 pounds 

    School: Macon County High School (Montezuma, Ga.)

     

    Junior Season Highlights

    Macon County qualified for the playoffs with Roquan Smith leading the defensive charge. He secured 79 tackles, including 23.5 for loss and five sacks, per MaxPreps.

     

    Scouting Report

    Smith is only starting to scratch the surface of his potential at linebacker. He is an athletic specimen who makes acrobatic plays appear routine.

    His squad didn't rank among Georgia's top contenders in 2013, so his efforts may have gone slightly unnoticed along the way. Smith shines in run support, seeking out plays with natural anticipation.

    He should look to improve his technique to shed blockers because he has had trouble escaping the trenches in traffic. Increased size at the next level makes him a promising prospect with room for significant strides.

     

    Recruitment Status

    Georgia is a favorite for his commitment, securing 90 percent of predictions in 247Sports' crystal ball. However, Smith's situation is fluid with offers arriving from Penn State, Florida State, Nebraska and Alabama since January.

2. Malik Jefferson

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    Size: 6'3", 215 pounds 

    School: Poteet High School (Mesquite, Texas)

     

    Junior Season Highlights

    Malik Jefferson made a monumental defensive impact throughout a 12-win season for the Pirates. He picked up 83 tackles and 12 sacks, according to MaxPreps.

     

    Scouting Report

    Jefferson is every bit of the intimidating presence you hope to bring from the second level. He ferociously defends the run, keeping his shoulders square and eyes locked on the backfield.

    His closing speed is special. He accelerates and fully extends to bring down his target, creating jarring collisions. He is relentless in pursuit and is unwilling to give up on an opportunity to make up for a mistake downfield.

    Jefferson is fundamentally advanced to the point where he rarely looks confused during the course of a play. His self-control and awareness make him an ideal presence at the heart of a defense.

     

    Recruitment Status

    Texas, Texas A&M and Baylor are bound to cross paths throughout the duration of Jefferson's recruiting process. Oregon, Oklahoma and Alabama are among his top options out of state.

1. Justin Hilliard

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    Size: 6'2", 230 pounds 

    School: St. Xavier High School (Cincinnati)

     

    Junior Season Highlights

    Justin Hilliard played for a team that finished under .500 but still managed to command attention for his abilities. He compiled 80 tackles and five sacks during the season.

     

    Scouting Report

    Hilliard clearly works on his craft throughout the offseason. He is an unwavering force in several facets of the game.

    His pass coverage keeps quarterbacks guessing, and his hands are good enough to pick off a few attempts per season. He dominates inside, displacing blockers with intensity and raw strength.

    He delivers devastating hits on passers in the pocket. There isn't a play he can't make along the perimeter against the run.

    His impact will be felt immediately on the defense of whichever team he ultimately selects.

     

    Recruitment Status

    Hilliard is caught in a tug-of-war between Big Ten rivals Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa. Meanwhile, Alabama, Arkansas and Florida aim to lure him south.