Tivy High School
Obviously the first thing that stands out about Kyle Prater is his red hair. Very unusual in a football player. So unusual, that when you google it, you find very very few of them. Of course, one you actually find is "Red" Grange, possibly the greatest football player ever. I'm not anticipating that Prater will be among the greatest football players ever, but I think he can be a good college football player.
I'm not sure how Prater will develop from here, and to understand why, you need to know a little more about how I evaluate linebackers. There's no magic formula to it, and I don't claim to be the best at it, or even particularly good. But I do my best, and this is what I know to look for.
1. Strength at the point of the attack. When the opposing team is running right at him, is he strong enough to get off of blocks and make the tackle without being driven backwards? There's not a lot of speed involved in this part of the evaluation. It's mainly about whether the linebacker is the "immovable object" you need when the ball is heading his way in the arms of a strong and quick running back. In Kyle's case, I am pretty impressed with his strength on the point of the attack in his videos. He looks to be stronger and stouter than anyone else on the field, and this would seem to be the strength of his game, at least on his videos. He gets off of blocks and routinely drives the high school running backs backwards towards the line of scrimmage, not letting them get the extra yard or two that would come from falling forward.
2. Sideline to sideline pursuit. When the ball is not coming directly at the linebacker, and he has to take an angle to get to it, how does he do? Can he move through space laterally and get there to make the play? Or does he lag behind and have to take a really bad angle, giving up extra yardage? If Prater is really a 4.5 second 40 guy, that would be outstanding for a linebacker and he would be a sideline-to-sideline monster. While Prater does not look slow in his videos, he does not appear to be playing as fast a 4.5 second 40 would suggest. It may just be that he hasn't learned to play at full speed, or it may be that his lateral quickness is not as good as his straight-line speed.
3. Up-the-field pursuit. This is a little different than going sideline-to-sideline. In looking at this, you look to how the player goes from his linebacker position up the field to either rush the passer, finish off a runner who has been slowed down, or break up a screen. I quite like Prater's up the field pursuit. He seems to know how to avoid blockers, and is pretty nasty once he gets to the ball. This is where we may be seeing his straight-line speed manifested.
There is a lot more, but high school videos almost never show a linebacker in pass coverage. I don't understand why, because surely everyone watching a linebacker wants to know if he can keep up with a tight end or a running back in the pattern. As great as a big hit looks, if a guy is a liability in coverage he will never be an every-down player, and may not be able to play at all.
But probably the most important aspect of a linebacker's makeup that leads to his future success or lack thereof is his football smarts. Linebackers have to play aggressively, but they have to do so within their assignments, particularly in an LSU defense that appear to still be based on Bo Pelini's system. To be a linebacker at LSU, you have to be able to be disciplined in your assignments and make proper reads. You will never ever ever never be able to judge this from a video. Never. You would expect most players to be able to pick it up at least adequately, but if he can't, it doesn't matter how good of an athlete he is. Of course, the better the athlete, the more he can make up for any deficiencies in this area, and I would never expect a truly outstanding athlete to fail at it, but you never know.
Back to Kyle Prater. Kyle's strength at the point of attack would suggest to me that he is naturally a middle linebacker, which is a position that is expected to be a stalwart against the power run. However, his 210# physique is way too small for that assignment. He'd get overwhelmed by blocking guards and centers who outweigh him by up to 100 pounds, and by blocking fullbacks who outweigh him by 30 pounds. He could add weight, but adding 30 or 40 pounds might reduce speed. At 210#, he could be an outside linebacker, but he'd still have to add the usual 10 or 15 pounds, but he'd have to do so without losing any pursuit ability. A tall order.
Kyle participated in the US Army All-America game at the close of his high school season. He was there with other LSU signees like Patrick Johnson and Tyler Edwards, as well as some of the best high school linebackers in the country, and word was he acquitted himself very nicely in practice, but he looked like he might be a little overmatched during the game itself.
This is all to say, at this point I'm not sure exactly where Kyle Prater fits. Perhaps he fits as a blocking fullback himself. He shows decent ball skills and a nice mean streak for the position in his videos.
My overall evaluation is that Prater is a project. He has a really nice athleticism and strength, but a lot of work will have to be done to figure out exactly where he fits.