BURTONSVILLE, Md. -- St. John’s (Washington, D.C.) and Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.) squared off at Paint Branch High (Burtonsville, Md.) Nov. 5, and Terrapin Times was on hand to evaluate three-star defensive end/outside linebacker Kofi Wardlow. The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder has offers from Maryland, Michigan State, Va Tech and Pitt, and is a prime Terps’ target.
Our take on his game is below:
The defensive end/outside linebacker Wardlow is one of the more underrated defenders in the region, his game on par with recruits who claimed multiple power-five offers before the season began. Wardlow, who plays mainly 5-tech for St. John’s, has a high upside given his size; motor; and athleticism.
At 6-3, 240-pounds, Wardlow projects as an outside linebacker or BUCK at the next level, and he might be a contributor after a year on campus. Wardlow will likely need a redshirt year to iron out his fundamentals, but, provided he continues to hone his technique and add strength, he could have a significant role down the line.
Physically, Wardlow has a sinewy, lean build. He has average arm length, but a frame that can take on weight and a solid base that can also be developed.
More than any other quality, though, Wardlow’s athleticism catches the eye. This is a recruit who can run up and down the field, pursue laterally and turn on a dime. He’s loose, flexible and agile, not to mention quick.
Furthermore, Wardlow has a suddenness to him, evidenced by how he fires off-the-ball. He has a rapid initial step and can beat slow-footed tackles before they set up. And once the St. John’s edge rusher gains an advantage, he can explode into the backfield. He seems to gather momentum with each stride, showing the ability to shoot by blockers and finish.
Indeed, Wardlow has plus closing speed, whether it’s pursuing the quarterback or chasing down a runner in the open field. In fact, he excels in backside pursuit, proving he can track backs down even after they hit the second level. Moreover, Wardlow has enough pure speed to beeline across the field and catch running backs from behind.
When Wardlow angles in, he wraps up well, allowing little to no leaky yardage. He’s not a true thumper, but he’s efficient and typically drops the opposition in his tracks.
When rushing, Wardlow seems to understand leverage, dipping his shoulder to get underneath offensive linemen. He’s nimble enough to slice inside and agile enough to come around backside. And, as aforementioned, once he beats his man, Wardlow can wreck havoc with how well he closes.
Speaking of footwork, Wardlow ably navigates the gaps and deftly moves down the line. Additionally, Wardlow fights to scrape off blocks and locate runners both at the line and out in space.
To improve, Wardlow has to gain more strength and power. We’d like to see him pack a punch at the point of attack and knock his man off the ball.
Of course, one way to generate more pop is to come off the ball low and hard; keep your feet moving after contact; and drive from the base. But right now Wardlow tends to play a bit high and his initial strike can be off, the edge rusher hitting above or outside the pads.
Furthermore, Wardlow doesn’t always gain extension, allowing blockers to get into his body. Thus, he can be stalemated or pushed back every once in awhile. He also has a tendency to get "caught in the trash" once in awhile, and though he's a scrapper and a fighter, he can have a bit of trouble corralling backs in the gaps
Next, Wardlow has to learn how to use his hands more effectively, namely when rushing. Currently, he relies on his quickness and athleticism when pursuing the quarterback, but needs to learn a swim-and-rip, deke moves and the like. It couldn’t hurt to develop an even more potent bull-rush as well.
In space, Wardlow mainly has to become more consistent fundamentally. He doesn’t always keep contain, and sometimes he’ll get crossed up when setting the edge or changing direction.
Also, since Wardlow hasn’t been playing football for long, he’ll need to keep improving his awareness. He’ll have to learn how to readily diagnose pre-snap and react more quickly to misdirection/play-action fakes.
Finally, Wardlow has to hit the weight room in earnest. Many of his issues will be cleared up once he packs on pounds and fills out his frame.