I write about recruiting sleepers all the time. Back after Signing Day, I recapped this class claiming that while it may have been a "letdown" it wasn't a failure. It's still way, way too early to call, but considering there are around eight guys who could be contributors (some of them major contributors) this season, that's not too shabby. Two big reasons why an average recruiting class rank of 11.25 is "puffed-up poppycock" (as I said in 1955 when I walked uphill both ways to school in the snow), are Debo Jones and Jalen Mills. Both are likely to be contributors this season. Both may even be in line for significant snaps. And both were three-star recruits. We will get into Mills later, but this space will be devoted to my now endless devotion to Deeebooooo.
Watch the highlights. You probably already have. But do it again. Speed? Ahem, check. Aggressiveness? A little. Playmaking ability? Every now and then. Football smarts? One or two. Oh wait, he must play against awful competition? Nope, 5A. Ohhh, I know! He's like 5'8, 175 pounds, isn't he? Nope, 6'2", 200 (now up to 215 reportedly). Ahh, he's a troublemaker? Honor student, actually. Late bloomer? Well, apparently he's been doing that highlight tape for a few years now. So what, exactly was the deal? Why were the services so far behind? Hell, why did LSU wait so long to make a move? I. still. don't. get. it.
After the jump, I pull a 2007 Jacob Cutrera and try to chase down the Darren McFadden-sized question. (Sorry, Jake!)
I can offer no explanation as to why Debo's LSU offer came through late. Hell, I can offer no explanation as to why his offer list was relatively scant (Nebraska, LSU and a bunch of middle-tier BCS schools). I am only an amateur, and I'm nearly sure there is a reason. There has to be a reason. I just haven't the slightest clue what that reason is. Here are things I generally look for when watching linebackers on tape: speed, aggressive, athleticism, intelligence. The tape should pop.
When I put on Debo's tape, I'm never unimpressed. Even after watching it some 15 times now, it still makes me say, "Wow." Missile is an overused adjective to describe fast, aggressive defensive playmakers. But I'm not sure there's a word more fitting. He's coming, and he's coming hard and he's coming fast and when he gets there there will be an explosion.
But let's be honest. Players like that are typically prone to making over-zealous mistakes. They over-pursue. They go for big hits rather than safe tackles. They rely on their speed and athleticism rather than reading, diagnosing and playing smart football. I didn't have the pleasure of watching Debo in person, and I realize I'm subject to a random series of great plays strung together by our athletic department. But I just don't see that in his game. He reads the play and then he lets his aggressiveness take over. Jones' pursuit is purposeful.
His good plays aren't merely limited to run-stuffing tackles, either. He recorded three picks. He plays passing lanes. He can turn his hips with surprising ease. It's not all straight-line speed. He's got range of motion, which bodes well for his future.
Finally, he's a buzzsaw of a tackler. He doesn't hit people. He doesn't even run them over. He demolishes anything in his path. His targets go backward. My favorite clip in the entire reel is the third one. Debo comes on a blitz, shatters the RB, sending him crumbling to the ground, which only barely slows him as he explodes forward again for a sack. In all honesty, sometimes his tapes look like they are recorded in fast forward (I say this in jest, but it may be a legitimate explanation as to why he looks like he's a NASCAR Monster Truck playing with Micro Machines).
I've gushed enough. Likely too much. I'll likely be wrong. I am okay with all of these things, because right now it's fun to imagine we've got our own Patrick Willis on our hands. I'm not sure where the coaches envision him. I'm not sure how he's fitting into the depth chart right now. Would it surprise me if he was starting by season's end? No, not really. Would it surprise me if they opted to give him a RS? A little, but not majorly.
High End: I see an All-American with 1st round NFL talent.
Low End: Special Teams ace that vies, or potential starts, for one or two seasons.
Realistic: It's hard for me to envision Debo not starting for 2-3 seasons, maybe even some of this year. I think there's a tremendous, tremendous chance we have a star on our hands.