Here's a name you already know, but should know even better: Kendell Beckwith. You should know it now, you should know it in two weeks, you should know it in three years, because you are going to be hearing it... a lot. Over the past two recruiting classes John Chavis and company have put in tremendous work to assemble a magnificent group of linebackers. Names like Kwon Alexander, Debo Jones and Lamar Louis already made an impact as true freshmen, and are sure to continue to do so. True freshmen Melvin Jones (who may actually be a FB now) and Duke Riley made up 2/3rds of the 2013 LB recruiting haul.
So excuse my hyperbole when I say, NONE of them are Kendell Beckwith.
35 miles north of Baton Rouge, Jackson, Louisiana, the home of famed Grambling Head Coach Eddie Robinson, is a blip on the radar. The 2000 census reported a population just a shade over 4,000 people. That's smaller than just the number of graduate students who will attend LSU this fall. It's one of those towns that's close enough that it's basically absorbed into Baton Rouge, and many of it's denizens simply become members of Baton Rouge plus. They wouldn't likely tell someone from North Dakota or Canada they were from Jackson, Louisiana. I'd suspect they'd just lump themselves into the Baton Rouge crowd, for ease of conversation.
This is the hometown of Kendell Beckwith. He's a name that's been on the recruiting radar for years in the making. At 6'3", 228 pounds with gazelle-like speed, he was pretty easy to pick out on the field on a given Friday night. The first article which mentions Beckwith on Rivals.com was published in 2010. The article notes that Beckwith entered his sophomore season expecting to play DE. He wound up at QB. And he stuck there under the whole, "The best athlete on the field should touch the ball every play," ideology. I cannot argue.
Though Beckwith played QB throughout HS, his future seemed destined for the other side of the ball. Long, rangy, fast, physical guys are tough to pry away from any DC worth his salt. So, of course, it became en vogue to think Beckwith may follow suit of Landon Collins and pack his bags for Tuscaloosa. After all, why would any elite, Southeast, defensive recruit want to play for any else?
But LSU stayed persistent. Beckwith earned a wealth of honors, maintained his top 100 status and earned a berth into the Under Armour All-American Game, where he planned to announce his decision. By decision day, the scuttle quieted and the future was clear: Beckwith was staying home and heading to Baton Rouge.
Now, it's somewhat difficult to give a clean evaluation of Beckwith, since there is very little tape of him playing LB (his future position), and a lot of tape of him playing QB. In this case, what I'm looking for are transferable skills.
The instant I turn on the tape, I'm struck by Beckwith's size. It's a high-angle shot at a distance, but he looks every bit his listed 6'3". This likely means he's legitimately in that 6'2"+ range. And he's filled out. Compare his tape to, say, Brandon Harris, who is also listed at 6'3". Not only does Beckwith look taller, he's obviously thicker.
Now that's great and all, but the very first play is what makes Beckwith a special talent. It's a simple QB sweep play, but Beckwith exhibits quickness, strength and then breakaway speed. He makes a strong plant and cut up the field, runs through an arm tackle and then turns it up to 11 to streak into the end zone. That's unique athleticism from a guy who is 6'3", 228 pounds.
Now let's fast forward to some defensive highlights. Starting at 1:11 you'll see those skills put into better context. Here Beckwith gets a bit of a precarious jump on the snap. He's clearly trying to time it and misses it, but he's able to gather himself and prevent from jumping offside. In most circumstances when this occurs, the player is about as effective as a blocking sled. But again, Beckwith shows why he's special. The ball is snapped and rather than him becoming an upright blocking target, he flashes unique explosion, blowing through the line and then putting a huge shot on the QB.
So we've touched on his speed and you might be questioning what makes him qualified to be a LB? After all, we've had some mighty fine LB play from guys who are shorter and much slower than Beckwith (ahem, Kevin Minter). Minter made his hay being smart, aggressive and physical. The amazing thing is, we see those same traits in Beckwith. Check the 1:52 mark. Beckwith is lined up as the LDE. The OT actually downblocks and the opposing coach is looking to (hoping/praying) that his two backs can pick up Beckwith so the QB can take the edge. It doesn't quite work out as he drew it up. Beckwith exhibits really sound play-reading abilities and also physicality, by taking on the block, shedding him and keeping his shoulders outside to maintain contain. His short-area explosion rears its head again as he drags the QB down from behind.
It was assumed Beckwith would see the field early once he arrived on campus and we've seen absolutely nothing to dissuade that notion. In fact, the Advocate ran an article today touting him as the potential next "freak" on the LSU defense. You'll notice the article and LSU's official lists him at 246. Take a look and decide for yourself. Not your average true freshman, eh?
Upperclassmen are raving. Coaches seem to feel the same. Beckwith has practiced with the upperclassmen a handful of times. He came in a bit heavy, but I imagine he'll be trimmed down in good playing shape soon. Beckwith isn't directly in line to start right now. Barrow will man the weakside while Tahj Jones and Kwon will likely share time on the strong side. The MLB job is supposedly a competition between D.J. Welter and Lamar Louis, but I think there's a chance Beckwith could emerge there. Welter has struggled in game action and while Louis wasn't terrible as a true freshman, he didn't show enough to make me think he's a lock to hold on to the job if he gets it.
I think we'll see Beckwith in play as early as this year, perhaps even against TCU (and I'm talking defensive snaps here, because it's a lock he'll be on STs).
High End: All-American, high NFL Draft pick.
Low End: Multi-year starter.
Realistic End: Three-year player that enters to the Draft early after an accomplished career.