As the dust settles from an earth-shaking close to Stanford's 2012 recruiting class, we move on to exciting 2013 prospects who have appeared early on Stanford's radar. We will start by taking a look at two players from an impressive class of linebacker prospects which has the potential to rival the stellar offensive line class haul from 2012.
Isaac Savaiinaea 6'3" 230 lbs, Punahou High School (Honolulu, HI)
Going into his high school senior year, Savaiinaea has the athleticism and size to play and make an impact early in his college career at inside linebacker. He possesses the tools to be an excellent run-defender on the next level, and has the tangibles and instincts of a five-star prospect.
Against the run, Savaiinaea "plays through the trash" extremely well near the line of scrimmage. His prototypical linebacker size and strength allow him take on and disengage lineman who are blocking his path to the hole. Those two attributes also enable him to win battles against larger offensive linemen.
That notwithstanding, in college he will need to learn to use his hands more often to keep even bigger and better offensive linemen away from his body. More often than not, however, Savaiinaea uses his surprising quickness to run around blocks and re-direct to the ball carrier. As a result of both his instincts and being a recipient of great coaching, he often finds the hole before the running back sees it. But even if he does not see the hole first, he is a quick, agile reactor who can regain position and still make the play. That ability to re-direct comes with a very good final burst to the ball carrier.
Once he arrives to the ball carrier Savaiinaea delivers a powerful strike. He keeps his hips low and uses them to explode through the opponent. And when the knockout shot is not available, he makes sure to wrap the runner up and secure the tackle. He is extremely aggressive in pursuit, which could allow quicker, savvier runners to cut back on him from time to time. But that aggressiveness is exactly what is demanded of an inside linebacker, and only small tweaks to his pursuit technique can correct that when necessary. Overall, his pursuit is very good and he shows an excellent motor.
In pass coverage, Savaiinaea has the speed to get depth and cover seam routes. Ironically, his change-of-direction skills are more on display as a kickoff returner than as a linebacker in his video. That attribute is not shown in pass coverage very much in his video, but his exploits elsewhere provide ample evidence that he can turn his hips, get to his zone and adequately mirror a receiver. He shows very good recognition skills by sniffing out screens very well and closing quickly on the ball. His ball skills are displayed a few times on his video, as he displays no difficulty or discomfort in playing the ball in the air.
Ben Boulware 6'1" 226 lbs, TL Hanna High School (Anderson, SC)
Ben Boulware is a top-end inside linebacker prospect who shows abilities indicative of a player who can be an excellent defender against both run and pass on the college level.
Perfect body position and the ability to consistently maintain that body position throughout all phases of each play allow Boulware to excel in various facets of the game. Against the run his constant knee-bend and low hip-level prevent blockers from ever gaining leverage on him. Despite staying so low to the ground, Boulware maintains great vision and can thus spot and track down ball carriers through the trash.
He uses his hands well when necessary to keep opponents away from his body and shows good ability to shed after engaged. While not lightning-fast for a linebacker, Boulware has good speed, great recognition, and outstanding initial burst to the ball. His short-area quickness is probably the best and most exciting part of his game, as his quick feet and aforementioned knee bend enable him to mirror running backs and eliminate cut back lanes while in pursuit. In college, that ability should make Boulware into a great open-field tackler against the more elusive scat backs and wide receivers. His pursuit angles to the ball are also noteworthy and are conducive to preventing big plays. When he reaches the ball carrier, Boulware delivers a nice pop and displays good form when tackling in tight spaces. His quick feet consistently put him in great tackling position on the ball carrier. That he times his blitzes well is also evident from his video, and that is another skill that should translate very well to the next level.
The same knee bend, feet and burst that make Boulware into a great run-defending prospect translate well to pass defense. While he has good speed to gain depth in pass coverage, his body position makes for a smooth change in direction to either mirror a receiver or make a break on the football. He easily opens his hips to get to a 10 o'clock drop and flashes the ability on his video to flip his hips and transition to a 2 o'clock drop. Ball skills aren't on display but so much in his video, but his ability to put himself in position to make plays on the ball and the fact that he has played varsity baseball shows that he at least has the tools to develop good ball skills if he hasn't already.
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