There were many reactions to the news of John Chavis' hire back in 2009. The failure of the Malleveto era left a sour taste in the mouths of many fans. The hire of Chavis signaled at least the promise of an established, previously successful coordinator. Some weren't pleased, though we should note they are likely the segment of the fanbase that will never be pleased. The biggest point of excitement would be the belief that Chavis would finally deliver to LSU some elite linebacker production, something we've hardly seen in school history, particularly so during the Golden Era.
Chavis' lengthy history suggested this would be rectified in short order. Yet, we're still waiting that run of elite linebacker play. Season-to-season we've seen highs and lows. Players like Kevin Minter and Kelvin Sheppard have shined. We've reeled in more and more higher rated linebackers. Yet, still we've seen players like Karnell Hatcher and D.J. Welter struggle, despite fitting the mold of what Chavis likes.
The 2012 signing class delivered great promise in talents like Kwon Alexander, Debo Jones, Lamar Louis and Ronnie Feist, yet entering their junior seasons, none have emerged as full-time starters yet. 2014 should be the year we see those recruiting efforts pay off. The 2014 signing class looks to continue to build the depth and talent of the unit. While most eyes focus on Clifton Garrett, linebacker Donnie Alexander, one of the lowest rated members of the class, looks to be a strong prospect all his own.
Louisiana, for whatever reason, doesn't routinely produce top ranked LB prospects. Despite being a talent-rich state, players like Kendell Beckwith only seem to show up every few seasons rather than on a yearly basis. Sure, there's always a handful of D1-level talents, but typically most are development-type prospects rather than nationally ranked thoroughbreds.
Donnie Alexander falls right into that niche of a D1-level developmental prospect. Alexander prepped at Edna Karr HS along with studs such as Gerald Willis III and Speedy Noil. Perhaps this prevented his star from burning as brightly, but he never generated as much national attention despite totaling 234 tackles his previous two seasons while playing 5A football in NOLA. Alexander earned an invite to the Offense-Defense All-American bowl.
He committed to LSU early in the process, back in February of 2013, and it came as a surprise. Alexander's stock increased nominally, likely largely due to him being an LSU prospect, but he never wavered from his decision while picking up a couple of new offers throughout the year.
Alexander ranks as a composite 3-star player, rated an .8703 by 247. That puts him somewhere in the top 40 LBs in the nation and inside the top 500 players overall.
110 - 101 = Franchise Player. One of the best players to come along in years, if not decades. Odds of having a player in this category every year is slim. This prospect has "can’t miss" talent.
100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career.
97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who displays pro-potential.
89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country.
79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.
Tale of the Tape
40: 4.83 seconds
Short Shuttle: 4.38 seconds
Vertical Leap: 27.9"
His testing results aren't great. I can't find full details, but I remember there was an event last season with heavy rains that really produced poor results for a lot of highly thought of players. These results may have been recorded at that event, but I'm not sure. What I do know is that LSU likes him because of his speed at the position and he's somewhat of a S/LB tweener, so I'm thinking the 40 doesn't accurately reflect his on-field speed.
Keeping Alexander's testing numbers in mind, let's take to the tape to see if that lack of athletic ability shows up on tape.
Strengths: Coverage, Instincts/Smarts, Physical
Weaknesses: Tweener, Speed
Coverage: This is the area where Alexander stands out the most to me. He's definitely a S/LB tweener, but shows the fluidity and instincts to be an impact coverage LB. Starting at :08, you see him take a deep drop like a safety. While I doubt he's ever in that position at LSU, it's good to see that versatility. The play at :27 shows how well he reads and closes on the play. At 1:25 you see him flip his hips and stick to his man in coverage. 2:40 is unique in that he's trusted to go out and cover in the slot. He also reads the screen quickly, uses his hands to defeat the blocker and makes the tackle. At 3:28 he does a great job jumping into the throwing lane and breaking up the pass. Finally at 3:36 he drops again, reads the QB's eyes, undercuts the route and gets an INT.
Instincts/Smarts: Whether he's a film rat or just possesses those rare instincts I raved about with Jamal Adams, I'm not sure. Yet, Alexander displays a penchant for being in the right place at the right time. Plays mentioned above at :27, 2:40, 3:28 and 3:36. Check out :47 and see how he reads the blocks, uses his hands to defeat his man and makes the tackle. Whether through feel or study, it's clear Alexander is a player that knows what he's seeing in front of him.
Physical: The blow at :08 shows he likes to mix it up. At :57 he lays another physical blow. Check out this clip for some more big hits.
Tweener: One issue with Alexander is that he may not fall into a true position. He reminds me somewhat of Micah Eugene, who played pretty well as a blitzing/coverage nickel or dime, but really struggled when moved to safety. Alexander does have a bigger frame and I think LSU is looking to build him into a full-time LB, but I worry he may lose some of that explosion when adding weight. If that's the case, he may best be used as a role player, rather than a FT regular.
Speed: The 40 time isn't great, but even on tape he doesn't stand out for his speed. He's adequate, but people do seem to be able to run around him and force him to chase. Curiously, he does seem explosive in shorter areas. He's not as well put together as Kevin Minter, but he showed similar abilities there. Minter was never a true burner when running, but in short areas he could explode and finish plays. That said, Minter was a true MLB, while Alexander is almost certainly an OLB.
Alexander is a prospect I struggle to get a great feel for. At times the tape pops out to me in a big way. I love how physical he is. I love his instincts and athletic ability in coverage. Those are pretty unique traits for a guy who is already in the 200 pound-range and projecting to LB.
On the other hand, most of his highlights show up in the passing game, either in coverage or as a pass rusher. So what does that mean? Why doesn't he show up vs. the run game as he does vs. the pass? There are highlights vs. the run game, but he seems to take poorer tackling angles. He's also an inconsistent tackler. He loves the big blow, but he opts to arm tackle a lot if he can't deliver a crushing blow. He'll need to find a happy medium or it could lead to a lot of ugly moments at the next level.
So what is he? I think he's a LB all the way. I'm just not sure he has the athletic tools to even be a nickel or dime back in the secondary. But his versatility probably does allow Chavis to shift him there from time to time. To an extent, he could be a lesser version of what we had with Mathieu. He does seem to find the football, though he doesn't make nearly the number of game-changing plays.
He's got a solid frame, so LSU should be able to add 15-20 pounds and get him in that 225-230 range they like most of their LBs in. If so, what happens to that lateral agility he flashes? Does he get even slower? Or will all the advanced training help improve his overall athletic ability? There's a lot of question marks here, which is partially why he's rated where he is.
High End: Two year starter. Don't see all-conference in his future, but this guy could be a starter for LSU, which would exceed typical expectations for his recruiting ranking.
Low End: Stud on special teams. I could see this happening as early as next year. He's an aggressive hitter, so if he learns to maintain lane discipline and stand out to Coach Peveto, don't be surprised if he's out there in 2014.
Realistic: I think Alexander becomes a rotational linebacker and sub-package player for us and standout on special teams. Not sure I see him carving out a full-time role unless I'm terribly underestimating his athletic ability. But he can be an effective edge rusher and coverage linebacker. My main question is the size/speed here. He doesn't stand out in either area. That said, he's tough, instinctive and should come in with a chip on his shoulder considering the lack of attention thrown his way on a very heralded HS team.