B/R CFB Recruiting 200: Top 21 Linebackers

Bleacher Report College Football StaffFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2016

B/R CFB Recruiting 200: Top 21 Linebackers

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    Bleacher Report

    After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Damon SaylesSanjay Kirpalani andTyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports composite rankings and provided in-depth analysis on each young athlete. Bleacher Report will run a position-by-position breakdown series of the best college football recruits in the class of 2016. Here we present the Top Linebackers.


    With the advent of spread offenses permeating the college game, the linebackers' responsibilities have changed in recent years.

    One thing that hasn't changed is the level of physicality required to man each linebacker spot, regardless of whether it's inside or outside.

    However, prospects at each position in the middle level of the defense need to be able to be effective in covering running backs and tight ends in order to remain on the field in all situations. 

    The latest edition of the CFB Recruiting 200 series focuses on the top linebackers available in the 2016 class. 

    Bleacher Report scored the top middle linebackers on key metrics such as tackling (35 points), pass rush (15 points), run defense (30 points) and pass coverage (20 points). We also graded the top outside linebackers on traits such as tackling (25 points), explosive strength (20 points), run defense (15 points), pass coverage (15 points) and football IQ (25 points).  

    The cumulative figures from those traits resulted in each prospect's overall grade. 

    How do the nation's best linebackers measure up to one another? 

21. 4-Star ILB Jaquan Yulee

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    Height/Weight: 6'0", 252 pounds 

    High School: Indian River High, Chesapeake, Virginia

    247Sports Ranking: No. 9 ILB, No. 176 overall

    Bleacher Report Score: 91/100

    Uncommitted: Considering Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Maryland and Virginia Tech 

    Last June, 4-star linebacker Jaquan Yulee announced his commitment to Alabama and seemed bound for Tuscaloosa.

    However, earlier this month, he opted to reopen his recruitment. Still, as evidenced by his tweets in the aftermath of the Tide capturing the national title, he's still considering joining the Tide's class when the time comes to make a final decision.

    The No. 4 prospect in the state of Virginia initially pledged to the Tide over programs such as Florida State, Michigan State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. That group of schools, especially the in-state Hokies, could reemerge into his recruitment down the stretch.


    Bleacher Report Analysis 

    Yulee is a throwback middle linebacker who attacks running plays downhill. When he delivers a blow, opponents feel it. He has the speed to make sideline-to-sideline plays and shows great instincts in diagnosing plays. He's also physical enough to take on blocks and find his way to the ball. He will have to work on being an effective option in coverage, but the tools are there for him to develop into a solid middle linebacker at the next level. 

20. 4-Star ILB Krys Barnes

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    Height/Weight: 6'2", 220 pounds

    High School: Liberty High, Bakersfield, California 

    247Sports Ranking: No. 8 ILB, No. 145 overall 

    Bleacher Report Score: 91/100

    Committed to UCLA on March 14, 2015

    The offer list for 4-star linebacker Krys Barnes exploded last year around this time.

    Barnes chose to stay in-state when he committed to UCLA in March over offers from programs such as Arizona, LSU, Oklahoma and USC. 

    According to MaxPreps, Barnes racked up 274 tackles and six forced fumbles over the last three seasons.


    Bleacher Report Analysis

    One thing that stands out about Barnes is his effectiveness in pass coverage. At 220 pounds, he's lighter than normal inside 'backers. In run support, he plays bigger than his size and has excellent instincts in finding the ball. He will likely need to add weight in order to handle the college game's physicality. Still, Barnes is an intriguing prospect who has the chance to develop into a stud in a couple of years.

19. 4-Star OLB Aaron Hansford

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    Height/Weight: 6'4", 230 pounds

    High School: St. Johns College, Washington, D.C.

    247Sports Ranking: No. 12 OLB, No. 144 overall

    Bleacher Report Score: 90/100

    Uncommitted: Considering Duke, Maryland, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Texas A&M and UCLA

    The race to land 4-star linebacker Aaron Hansford appears as if it will come down to the wire. 

    He's already taken official visits to Michigan State, Notre Dame and UCLA. Plus, he has a trip to Texas A&M lined up for the weekend of Jan. 22. 

    Whether or not he uses his final official visit for the last weekend before signing day remains unclear. However, Maryland is a school fighting to keep the Washington D.C. product close to home for college.


    Bleacher Report Analysis

    Hansford is an intriguing prospect at the next level for a few reasons. He played some receiver in high school, and he looked outstanding playing outside linebacker when I saw him at The Opening last summer. His athleticism and comfort with playing in space is something that sticks out. He moves more like a rangy safety than a bulky linebacker. On defense, he shows great instincts and speed in flying to the football. He may be a little light at 210 pounds, but assuming he can put on some solid weight, he could be a candidate to thrive in a hybrid role mixing responsibilities of a linebacker and defensive back at the next level.

18. 4-Star OLB Camilo Eifler

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    Height/Weight: 6'1¼", 215 pounds

    High School: Bishop O'Dowd High, Oakland, California

    247Sports Ranking: No. 11 OLB, No. 143 overall

    Bleacher Report Score: 90/100

    Committed to Washington on July 9, 2015

    Washington has fielded one of the Pac-12's most consistent defenses in recent years, and the Huskies are looking to reload on that side of the ball in the 2016 cycle.

    The Huskies' top pledge in the current cycle is 4-star linebacker Camilo Eifler—who announced his commitment to the Huskies last summer at The Opening.

    Eifler committed to the Huskies over offers from Michigan, Oregon, Texas A&M and UCLA.


    Bleacher Report Analysis

    Eifler moves in pass coverage like a big safety in the box more than an oversized linebacker. He's very effective dropping into zones and reading quarterbacks' eyes. As an outside linebacker, his speed and ability to chase plays from side to side make him a unique prospect. He will need to add some weight at the next level, but his versatility makes him a candidate to contribute early in his career at Washington.

17. 4-Star ILB Brendan Ferns

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    Height/Weight: 6'2", 215 pounds

    High School: Saint Clairsville High, Saint Clairsville, Ohio

    247Sports Ranking: No. 7 ILB, No. 137 overall

    Bleacher Report Score: 93/100 

    Uncommitted: Considering Notre Dame, Penn State and West Virginia

    Although 4-star linebacker Brendan Ferns is one of the top players from the state of Ohio, it appears as if he will be heading out of state to play his college football.

    He scheduled an official visit to Penn State in January, with Notre Dame and West Virginia being programs he could also visit before arriving at a conclusion in his recruitment.

    As a senior, Ferns registered 118 tackles—including 10 for loss with two sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.


    Bleacher Report Analysis

    In addition to being a stud linebacker, Ferns played both running back and receiver for his prep squad—which is a testament to his athleticism. When looking at Ferns' body of work, it's hard to find any discernible flaws. He's able to play both man and zone effectively in pass coverage. He's a tackling machine who lives in the opponent's backfield. He's also got the ability to blitz and get after the passer. Overall, Ferns has the look of a player who could contribute the moment he steps foot on a college campus.

16. 4-Star OLB Daelin Hayes

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    Height/Weight: 6'4", 249 pounds

    High School: Skyline High, Ann Arbor, Michigan

    247Sports Ranking: No. 10 OLB, No. 133 overall

    Bleacher Report Score: 89/100

    Committed to Notre Dame on Dec. 10, 2015

    The recruitment of 4-star linebacker Daelin Hayes began with an early commitment to USC.

    However, he backed off that pledge in October after the dismissal of then-Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian, and he pledged to Notre Dame two months later over Michigan State and Ohio State.

    Hayes is an early enrollee who will be on campus in South Bend in January.


    Bleacher Report Analysis

    Hayes has a defensive end's size, but he still moves with an outside linebacker's athleticism. He's at his best when he's rushing the passer and creating havoc in the backfield. He does show good instincts in pass coverage, but that may be an area he needs to improve on if he stays at outside linebacker. Overall, Hayes has a high ceiling as a playmaker at the next level. 

15. 4-Star ILB Lokeni Toailoa

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    Height/Weight: 6'1", 212 pounds

    High School: Wilmer Amina Carter High, Rialto, California

    247Sports Ranking: No. 6 ILB, No. 132 overall

    Bleacher Report Score: 91/100

    Committed to UCLA on March 23, 2015

    UCLA was among a handful of Pac-12 schools that built a strong 2016 class with a number of pledges in the spring. 

    Among their early commits was 4-star linebacker Lokeni Toailoa, who pledged to the Bruins over offers from Arizona State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oregon and USC, among others.

    Toailoa is an early enrollee who will be joined in Westwood by his brother, Leni—who is a 3-star safety also committed to the Bruins.


    Bleacher Report Analysis

    Toailoa is a speedy linebacker who has the athleticism to chase down running plays from sideline to sideline. Although he's on the linebacker scale's smaller end at 212 pounds, he packs a punch with his tackles. He's also very effective covering backs and tight ends, which should serve him well in the Pac-12. He will need to add some mass to deal with the college game's physicality. However, his versatility is a skill that can help him become an impact player for the Bruins.

14. 4-Star ILB Shaquille Quarterman

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    Height/Weight: 6'¼", 233 pounds

    High School: Oakleaf High, Orange Park, Florida

    247Sports Ranking: No. 5 ILB, No. 108 overall

    Bleacher Report Score: 90/100

    Committed to Miami on June 24, 2014

    Three of Miami's current 2016 pledges committed to the Hurricanes back in June 2014—including 4-star linebacker Shaquille Quarterman.

    Quarterman selected the 'Canes over offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson and Florida, among others.

    Over the last two years, Quarterman racked up 238 tackles—including 14.5 for loss with six sacks and a pair of forced fumbles.


    Bleacher Report Analysis 

    Quarterman is a tenacious linebacker who fights through blocks and has great form and technique in making tackles. One thing that stood out to me in watching him at the Nike Orlando Opening Regional was how fluid he looked in pass coverage, which also shows up on his film. Quarterman isn't the fastest linebacker, but his instincts make him a player with a chance to develop into a multiyear starter on the college level.

13. 4-Star OLB Carter Coughlin

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    Height/Weight: 6'2¾", 221 pounds 

    High School: Eden Prairie High, Eden Prairie, Minnesota

    247Sports Ranking: No. 9 OLB, No. 92 overall

    Bleacher Report Score: 89/100

    Committed to Minnesota on March 12, 2015

    The 2016 cycle's top player from the state of Minnesota is 4-star linebacker Carter Coughlin

    Coughlin pledged to the in-state Gophers over offers from Michigan State, Ohio State, Oregon and Pittsburgh, among others. 

    Coughlin is one of only two linebacker pledges on the Gophers' current commit list.


    Bleacher Report Analysis

    Coughlin is a fierce hitter who does a great job of fighting through blocks to make plays in the backfield. He has the speed and instincts necessary to make plays all over the field. His best way to get on the field early may be through special teams, where he's a force on kick- and punt-coverage units. Still, he's versatile enough to become a linebacker who can wreak havoc from sideline-to-sideline as he continues to develop his game.

12. 4-Star OLB Keandre Jones

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    Height/Weight: 6'3", 198 pounds

    High School: Good Counsel High, Olney, Maryland

    247Sports Ranking: No. 8 OLB, No. 90 overall

    Bleacher Report Score: 90/100

    Committed to Ohio State on Jan. 18, 2016

    The second pledge in Maryland’s 2016 class came from 4-star linebacker Keandre Jones.

    However, Jones began to look around in the aftermath of the coaching change in College Park. 

    Earlier this month, Jones flipped to the Ohio State Buckeyes after making a visit to Columbus shortly after the dead period ended.


    Bleacher Report Analysis

    Jones is a rangy linebacker who covers a ton of ground in a hurry. His length helps him be disruptive as a pass-rusher and as a tackler in open space. Jones has a safety's size and a defensive end's skills, making him a very interesting prospect at the next level. Assuming he adds bulk to his 198-pound frame, Jones could be a dominant player in a couple of years.

11. 4-Star ILB Dontavious Jackson

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    Height/Weight: 6'2", 239 pounds

    High School: Alief Elsik High, Houston, Texas

    247Sports Ranking: No. 4 ILB, No. 89 overall

    Bleacher Report Score: 90/100

    Uncommitted: Considering Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Michigan and Texas

    One of the top defensive players in the Lone Star State for the 2016 cycle is 4-star linebacker Dontavious Jackson.

    As Josh Newberg of Noles247 noted, Jackson has plans to take official visits to Florida and Alabama in addition to possible unofficial visits to schools such as LSU, Texas and Michigan in the month of January.

    As a junior, Jackson racked up 165 tackles—including 27 for loss with six sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception.


    Bleacher Report Analysis

    Jackson is a ferocious hitter with a penchant for shooting gaps to create negative plays in the backfield. He's also serviceable in pass coverage. At the college level, Jackson will have to make adjustments in taking on blocks in the run game. However, he's got the size and athleticism to be an effective three-down linebacker in college.

10. 4-Star ILB Rahshaun Smith

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    Height/Weight: 6'3", 239 pounds

    High School: IMG Academy, Bradenton, Florida

    247Sports Ranking: No. 3 ILB, No. 78 overall 

    Bleacher Report Score: 91/100

    Committed to Clemson on January 2, 2016

    In the spring, 4-star linebacker Rahshaun Smith committed to Clemson before reopening his recruitment later in the summer.

    However, he chose the Tigers again for a second time at the Under Armour All-America Game—with Auburn and LSU finishing as his other finalists.

    Smith will be an early enrollee for Clemson, where he hopes to see the field early and often in the 2016 season.


    Bleacher Report Analysis 

    I've seen Smith a few times, both in a camp setting and during a game. What impresses me most about Smith is how natural the art of leadership is for him. He has qualities his teammates and peers respond to. On the field, he's a physical player who punishes ball-carriers and receivers who penetrate his area. He's athletic enough to drop into coverage, and he also brings value as an aggressive blitzer capable of creating havoc. Based on what I've seen, I wouldn't be surprised to see Smith become a starter or a heavy contributor by the end of his freshman year.

9. 4-Star OLB Erick Fowler

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    Height/Weight: 6'1", 226 pounds

    High School: Manor High, Manor, Texas

    247Sports Ranking: No. 7 OLB, No. 75 overall

    Bleacher Report Score: 92/100

    Committed to LSU on June 13, 2015

    LSU has had a great deal of success recruiting in the state of Texas under head coach Les Miles.

    The 2016 class has four Lone Star State natives on board—including 4-star linebacker Erick Fowler.

    Fowler chose LSU over offers from schools such as Alabama, Baylor, TCU, Texas and Texas A&M.


    Bleacher Report Analysis 

    When I got the chance to see Fowler in person at The Opening, my first question was to see if he was athletic enough to stand up and play linebacker. He answered those questions with a strong week in Oregon. With that said, his best college position may still end up being at defensive end. Fowler is an animal off the edge, and his skills as a pass-rusher are elite. His quickness and power are the traits that make him a top prospect. Overall, Fowler is a versatile player who can be effective lining up at multiple positions at the next level.

8. 4-Star OLB Curtis Robinson

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    Height/Weight: 6'2¾", 210 pounds 

    High School: Mater Dei High, Santa Ana, California

    247Sports Ranking: No. 6 OLB, No. 71 overall 

    Bleacher Report Score: 91/100

    Committed to Stanford on April 13, 2015

    Stanford's highest-rated defensive commitment came in April from 4-star in-state linebacker Curtis Robinson.

    Robinson chose the Cardinal over offers from Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon and UCLA, among others. 

    According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports, despite still hearing from the Irish and the Bruins, Robinson remains locked in with the Cardinal.


    Bleacher Report Analysis

    Robinson is an active linebacker who wreaks havoc whether he's coming off the edge or blowing up run plays by attacking the interior of the offensive line. He's also comfortable in space—whether he's trying to catch up to a speedy back or receiver or if he's in coverage. Size is an issue, as he will need to add weight to handle the college game's physicality, but he has the frame necessary to hold it. Overall, Robinson fits the mold of ultra-athletic defenders who can create problems for offenses in a number of situations.

7. 4-Star OLB Michael Divinity

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    Height/Weight: 6'2", 218 pounds

    High School: John Ehret High, Marrero, Louisiana

    247Sports Ranking: No. 5 OLB, No. 63 overall

    Bleacher Report Score: 90/100

    Committed to LSU on Jan. 2, 2016

    LSU has a desperate need for linebackers in the 2016 class, and they held a pledge at one point from 4-star in-state standout Michael Divinity.

    However, the No. 5 prospect from the Pelican State backed off that pledge last month and made the choice to recommit to the Tigers over Texas A&M earlier this month.

    Divinity also held offers from programs such as Florida State, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Oregon and UCLA.


    Bleacher Report Analysis

    Divinity is a versatile player and the prototypical outside linebacker you want to combat spread offenses. He's comfortable in coverage and has great instincts in attacking ball-carriers in space. He's also adept at getting into the backfield and disrupting run plays and generating pressure on the quarterback. He's a little light at just under 220 pounds, but assuming he can add some muscle, Divinity has a chance to be an early contributor for the Tigers.

6. 4-Star OLB Jeffrey McCulloch

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    Height/Weight: 6'2½", 230 pounds

    High School: Aldine Davis High, Houston, Texas

    247Sports Ranking: No. 4 OLB, No. 59 overall

    Bleacher Report Score: 90/100

    Uncommitted: Considering Alabama, Florida, Notre Dame, Stanford and Texas

    One of the top remaining uncommitted defensive players from the state of Texas is 4-star linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch.

    Nicknamed "The Shark," McCulloch has already taken official visits to see both Notre Dame and Stanford. 

    In January, he will visit Alabama and Texas before making a final decision.


    Bleacher Report Analysis

    McCulloch is a physical force who plays with great power and leverage. He has natural pass-rushing skills coming off the edge, and he works well as a tackler or cover man in space. He's more advanced in playing against the run at this stage. But with his size, speed and instincts, he could develop into a starter at the next level early in his career.

5. 4-Star ILB Tre Lamar

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    Height/Weight: 6'4", 240 pounds

    High School: Roswell High, Roswell, Georgia

    247Sports Ranking: No. 2 ILB, No. 57 overall

    Bleacher Report Score: 90/100 

    Committed to Clemson on July 17, 2015 

    After piling up more than 35 offers, 4-star linebacker Tre Lamar committed to Clemson last summer.

    Lamar chose the Tigers over Alabama, Auburn, Florida State and Georgia, among others. 

    While schools such as Auburn have continued to pursue Lamar, he's remained firm in his pledge to the Tigers.


    Bleacher Report Analysis

    After seeing Lamar in person at a camp last spring, the first thing that struck me was how fluid he was at 240 pounds. He's an instinctive player who is physical enough to fight through blocks and speedy enough to corral running backs in open space. He also shows great awareness in pass coverage, but that's a challenge that will undoubtedly be tougher for him on the college level. 

4. 5-Star OLB Caleb Kelly

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    Height/Weight: 6'3¼", 215 pounds

    High School: Clovis West High, Fresno, California

    247Sports Ranking: No. 3 OLB, No. 25 overall

    Bleacher Report Score: 92/100

    Uncommitted: Considering Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Oregon

    With four official visits in the books, the race to land 5-star linebacker Caleb Kelly is nearing a close.

    As Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports detailed, Oklahoma is the heavy favorite to land the Golden State stud, with Notre Dame and Oregon serving as the main challengers trying to keep him away from Norman. 

    Alabama, which could get an official visit from Kelly in January, could also become a factor if he makes a trip to Tuscaloosa.


    Bleacher Report Analysis 

    Length, speed, power and versatility are traits that make Kelly such a coveted prospect. As illustrated by the 21 sacks he racked up as a senior, he's a menace for offensive linemen to deal with because of the variety of pass-rush skills he brings to the table. That length helps him get off blocks, but he will likely need to add more muscle to his 215-pound frame. Overall, Kelly’s ability to be disruptive in so many ways is what makes him a candidate to be a star at the next level.

3. 5-Star OLB Lyndell Wilson

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    Height/Weight: 6'2", 220 pounds

    High School: Carver High, Montgomery, Alabama

    247Sports Ranking: No. 2 OLB, No. 15 overall

    Bleacher Report Score: 92/100

    Uncommitted: Considering Alabama, Georgia and Florida

    Since the beginning of his recruitment, most in the recruiting world figured 5-star linebacker Lyndell Wilson would stay in-state to play his college football.

    Alabama is one of three finalists, along with Georgia and Florida.

    However, with less than a month remaining until signing day, the Tide will have to make a strong push toward the finish line in order to keep Wilson from escaping the state to a conference rival.


    Bleacher Report Analysis 

    I've seen Wilson multiple times on the camp circuit and in a live game. His lateral quickness jumps out immediately. He can try too hard at times to deliver the big blow, but he packs a punch when he unloads on ball-carriers. He has great instincts in finding the football, and he's athletic enough to be able to play man coverage against tight ends and backs out of the backfield. Overall, Wilson has the skill set to develop into a big-time player if he continues to develop and work on his game's finer details.

2. 5-Star OLB Mique Juarez

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    Height/Weight: 6'1½", 231 pounds

    High School: North High, Torrance, California

    247Sports Ranking: No. 1 OLB, No. 11 overall

    Bleacher Report Score: 94/100

    Uncommitted: Considering Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, UCLA and Washington

    Early in the process, 5-star linebacker Mique Juarez was committed to in-state power USC.

    However, he reopened his process in the fall with UCLA being the prime school linked to him after his decommitment, as detailed by Wiltfong.

    According to Chad Carson of 247Sports, Juarez was named a 2015 USA Today first-team All-American linebacker.


    Bleacher Report Analysis 

    Juarez is a freakish athlete who starred on both sides of the ball in high school. But his ball skills in pass coverage on defense are what make him one of the elite talents in the 2016 cycle. He covers like a bigger corner or even a safety, and he has a penchant for creating turnovers—whether it be interceptions or forcing fumbles. He's physical enough to hold up against the run, and he has characteristics that make him ideal to play a hybrid role that meshes the responsibilities of linebackers and defensive backs. Overall, Juarez has the skill set to become a dominant defender in college.

1. 5-Star ILB Ben Davis

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    Height/Weight: 6’3”, 240 pounds

    High School: Gordo High, Gordo, Alabama

    247Sports Ranking: No. 1 ILB, No. 10 overall

    Bleacher Report Score: 93/100

    Uncommitted: Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Notre Dame

    The state of Alabama has three players in the 2016 class who have garnered a 5-star ranking—with linebacker Ben Davis being the Yellowhammer State's top player.

    Despite the fact his father was a former star player at Alabama, the younger Davis has done his best to keep an open mind with his recruiting process.

    However, it would be a major upset if he landed anywhere other than Tuscaloosa on signing day.


    Bleacher Report Analysis

    From an athletic standpoint, Davis is everything you would want in a middle linebacker. He also played receiver in high school, which shows just how much of a freak he is at 6'3", 240 pounds. At linebacker, Davis is a disruptive force who can withstand the position's physical rigors and deliver blows in the run game. He's one of the rare athletes who can also play on the outside in certain situations. He's an intriguing option as a blitzer, and he's also a pass-coverage asset because of his athleticism. Overall, Davis has an enormous amount of potential at the next level.


    *All analysis completed by B/R National Recruiting Analyst Sanjay Kirpalani.

    Recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.