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Better Know a Freshman: Clifton "C.J." Garrett

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Clifton Garrett is one of the best linebacker prospects in the country. Could he make an impact in 2014?

Bud Elliott

Here we are again, praying for that stud-elite linebacker. It's a prayer we've offered up so many times, year after year, signing class after signing class. There have been a mixture of solid to very good players in that span. Kevin Minter stands out, but alas we only got one truly terrific year of production from him. Players like Kelvin Sheppard were true leaders and very good players, but perhaps not "studs." Quality play came from Perry Riley and Ali Highsmith. So yeah, a lot of good players, but never someone we'd consider the very best at their position.

Which only stands out because we do have a sample case of that for every other position. We've had Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Mo Claiborne at corner. We've had Eric Reid and LaRon Landry at safety. We've had Glenn Dorsey at defensive tackle. We've had Marcus Spears at end. But not since Bradie James have we truly had that multi-year, anointed superstar LB to rely on.

The 2012 signing class brought in Kwon Alexander, Lamar Louis, Ronnie Feist, Debo Jones, Trey Granier and Lorenzo Phillips, a group were proof positive would give us not just an elite stud linebacker but perhaps even a deadly core. As we enter their junior seasons, we've not yet seen that. Last year we inked Kendell Beckwith, a guy many thought could immediately stepped in at mike LB and begin a three-year reign of terror. Instead, he played sparingly as a pass-rushing sub on the d-line. Now here we are again with Clifton Garrett. Could he finally be the stud that breaks through and gives LSU a multi-year LB stud talent?

Background

Early on, it was obvious Clifton Garrett would be a big-time recruit. As a Junior he began being courted by all your national powerhouses, specifically those centered in the Midwest. Offers came from Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Wisconsin. Then Oklahoma and Ole Miss, Nebraska and Arizona State. Iowa and Kentucky. Florida, Clemson, LSU. You name the school, they wanted him.

Garrett took visits a plenty, especially to Ohio State, the school largely considered his favorite early on in the process. But he stopped in at Iowa and Wisconsin. The Spring of 2013 arrived with Garrett kicking his recruitment into full gear. He tripped to Arkansas and Ole Miss. Then Alabama. Touring the Southeast, he, of course, made a stop at LSU for the Spring Game. It would be the most important visit of his career.

Garrett raved about the visit. He quickly named LSU his leader. He planned to still take his visits to places like Florida, Ole Miss, Tennessee, and, of course, rounded it out with an official trip to LSU. By this point, the momentum was obvious. The other trips were just for fun. December 17th, just a few weeks after his official visit to LSU, Garrett took to a podium in his HS gym, pulled off a hoodie and revealed... Toonces. In one of the only times we could be happy about seeing Toonces, it happens to be this.

Garrett never wavered and proclaimed he knew LSU was the choice dating all the way back to that Spring Game visit earlier in the Spring.

On the field, Garrett's premium play earned him both Class 8A All-State as well as U.S. Army All-American accolades. He finished 2013 with 139 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 4 fumble recoveries. He ranked as a 5-star with a .9857 rating on the 247 Composite.

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

Height: 6'2"
Weight: 228 pounds
40: 4.78
Short Shuttle: 4.78
Powerball: 39"
Vertical Leap: 33"
SPARQ: 90.36

Garrett competed at 2013's the Opening and posted some solid athletic times. Anything 90+ in the SPARQ suggests an elite-level athlete. 4.78 is a solid 40, especially for someone already near 230 pounds. The short shuttle is somewhat troubling, as you really hope your linebackers to have good short area burst. It's more important than speed even. Garrett's was the lowest of any LB at the Opening. That said, it's possible he's never competed in this drill before or any number of other reasons for the average time. The 33 inch vert shows some explosive ability and the 39 inch powerball is exceptional.

Film Study

Strengths: Open Field Tackling, Aggressive Mentality, Physical, The Rest

Weaknesses: Coverage Experience, Sideline to Sideline Speed

Strengths

Open Field Tackling: Garrett is a phenomenal tackler. Often times young players get big-hit happy and eschew good form. Garrett shows the ability to levy a huge shot, while wrapping up and taking the ball carrier down. Look at :49, how he delivers a blow and takes the ball carrier to the ground. :55 again, quality tackle in the open field. 2:18 you'll notice he consistently hits low and with power. He's not going for head shots but devastating body blows. 3:04 you just love the form. He attacks, squares up and explodes from the hips for a powerful blow. 3:14 just another strong, strong tackle.

Aggressive Mentality: Garrett plays with a very aggressive edge to his game. You've seen how physical he tackles, but he attacks the football with a kill or be killed mentality. At :06 he attacks downhill and aggressively fills a hole. :21 is the play you've been dying to see. Talk above aggressive attacking a hole, taking on a blocker and making tackle. That's dream LB play. You see he consistently doesn't shy away from contact, but embraces it. 1:46 is maybe my favorite play on the reel. Good lateral pursuit but he explodes through the hole for a physical tackle. 1:56 boy does he get downhill. 2:03 he is relentless in pursuit, never giving up on the play. 3:46 he sees a gnarly double team, takes it on and fights right through.

Physical: Watch :15 and you see this dude runs fearlessly right into contact. 2:13 he wins in the hole. This guy isn't going to get trucked often. 2:49 while playing offense, he lays a nasty crack back.

The Rest: At :31 he uses his hands to discard blockers, a very good sign for a young player. 1:19, you get to see his playmaker side as he pursues from behind and forces a fumble.

Weaknesses

Coverage Experience: There's very few clips of Garrett in coverage. At 3:28 you see he looks pretty comfortable flipping his hips and moving out there. He'll need to continue to develop his skills there. He's just not been asked to do it a ton at this point.

Sideline to Sideline Speed: I don't watch Garrett and see a burner. His speed is fine, but he's not going to be Kwon Alexander. He'll probably run more like Kelvin Sheppard which is plenty good enough. Sheppard also ran in the 4.7s, but I think the primary difference is that Garrett is much more willing and physical at the point of attack. Garrett should be faster than Kevin Minter, so we know he has plenty of speed to play the position. That may make him more of an ideal MIKE than a WILL or SAM for Chavis.

Summary

LSU's 2014 linebacker corps looks like one of the stronger units in the SEC on paper. We can gnash our teeth about D.J. Welter another time, but that aforementioned 2012 signing class should finally break through. There's also massive hope that Kendell Beckwith can step into the spotlight like so many hoped from him last season. If these players all do rise up, playing time on defense may be hard to come by for Garrett. That said, he'll arguably be the most talented LB on the team when he steps on the field. Both Kwon and Kendell are more athletically gifted, but Garrett is a better prospect than both coming out. He hits all the major check marks you hope for the position.

Now, can he pair together the mental side of things? That will be his biggest hurdle. Les Miles specifically named him at SEC Media Days as a player he thinks will have a big impact on this season. Where? Could he unseat Welter and Beckwith? Does he play on the strongside in place of Louis/Debo? Surely he won't over take Kwon, but you never know with a group of players that have yet to really produce amazing results. What we do know is that Chavis is not fearful of playing his best 11. If Garrett is one of the best choices, then he will play.

Do I believe Garrett can do that? Yes. D.J. Welter seems to be a coach's favorite, but if we ended the season with a Kwon/Kendell/Clifton trio starting, I wouldn't be utterly shocked. Garrett's got that type of talent. Those would easily be the three most talented players at the LB position. Regardless, this kid will be on special teams and likely laying the boom.

When asked what the best thing about playing his position, Garrett responded:

To me, I just love the linebacker’s style of play where it’s a nasty, physical kind of guy that is smacking anything that sits in front of them. The other thing I love about it is the leadership abilities you have to have to play linebacker. You have to be smart and on your game every snap. You have to get all of the guys lined up and still be ready to do your own job. I love the work that comes with playing linebacker.

Garrett is wearing No. 3 in honor of his grandfather and father, since he is Clifton Garrett III. He also said he wanted to go to LSU since 7th grade, so talk about that for dedication and focus on a goal. Not unlike so many other players in the 2014 signing class, Garrett is a recruit that is both brimming with athletic potential but grounded in a focused work ethic. Every recruit in every class talks about winning national championships, but it's the ones who put in the effort that take teams there. This is a special class of guys and Clifton is one of the most special of them.

High End: All-American, high NFL draft pick. I see Vontaze Burfict without the character issues that caused him to plummet in the draft.

Low End: Multi-year starter.

Realistic: All-Conference guy that finally delivers upon the multi-year, consistent starter we've been waiting for.