Student Sports

What impact will Hunter Echols' commitment have on USC now and in the future?

Los Angeles (Calif.) Cathedral four-star defensive end Hunter Echols was one of the first players locally to receive scholarship offers from USC and UCLA. Friday, Echols chose one crosstown rival over the other for the second time.

Cathedral defensive end Hunter Echols is a unique prospect for USC in many ways. The Trojans have taken commits away from UCLA in the past. But Echols was committed to UCLA and proclaimed as one of the Bruin’s best recruiters as a recruit himself. 

He’s also a unique prospect in how he may fit into the Trojans' current defensive scheme. Echols is rated as a weakside defensive end, or in USC’s scheme, a predator/rush end. In high school games on film and during the camp circuit, Echols has been a three-point stance pass rusher out of a seven-technique. 

Yet, Echols is actually undersized at that position considering USC’s depth chart and the targets the Trojans are actively recruiting for the 2017 class. Although USC has a new defensive staff and a new defensive scheme, they continue to run a 3-4 variant front with hybrid linebackers/defensive ends playing at the line of scrimmage. 

Since Clancy Pendergast’s first stint at USC, the Trojans' recruitment of rush ends or predator ends has been tremendous. At present date, USC has sophomore Porter Gustin, senior Jabari Ruffin, sophomore Don Hill, freshman Oluwole Betiku and freshman Conor Murphy all getting reps at that position. Only Hill was rated less than a four-star top 300 player nationally.

Of that group, only Ruffin has spent any significant time playing the SAM linebacker role opposite of the predator position. Ruffin is also the lightest hybrid pass rusher USC has on its roster. The average weight at that position is roughly 260 pounds — ignoring the outdated heights and weights USC lists on their official roster. 

Echols comes in at 6-foot-4, 232 pounds -- up from his Los Angeles Regional Opening weight of 215 pounds. At that weight, he had a 33-inch vertical leap and a 4.63 shuttle run. His shuttle run time speaks to Echols’ playing style. He is a linear pass rusher that uses finesse moves to out maneuver blockers. 

So in essence, Echols is a pass rush specialist more than a hybrid player who occupies the void between a big outside linebacker and a fast defensive end. Looking back to the Trojans’ defense in 2013, Pendergast used two traditional defensive ends to play his outside linebacker positions. 

As recruits, Morgan Breslin and Devon Kennard were both considered 4-3 weakside ends. It was only later on at USC that Kennard played linebacker because of injuries. However, he now plays linebacker for the New York Giants, so athletically, most underestimated his ability to play in space. Nevertheless, Pendergast has continued to value physicality at the line of scrimmage over spacial awareness. While Kennard has broken the mold, Breslin was marginal in coverage. 

Like Breslin, Echols is a great pass rusher with a nose for the quarterback. And while he is undersized and underpowered as USC rush ends go, his disposition as a run stopper translates. Echols is dominant in both run and pass defense for Cathedral. 

He is relentless in his pursuit of ball carriers and plays with his eyes up no matter how many blocks he must defeat to spring free. At the high school level, Echols has the strength to stack and shed blocks while never losing sight of his tackling angles. Thus, if he can gain the power he needs to hold up against 300-pound offensive linemen, there is no question Echols can make the transition to college successfully as a rush end. 

Expert Opinion with Scout National Recruiting Analyst Greg Biggins

Having evaluated Hunter Echols at games and camps, Greg Biggins sees the upside and risk in the Army All-American as a rush end for USC. 

“He’s going to have to gain about 30 pounds once he gets to college,” said Biggins. “The good news is that he’s probably already gained about 15 pounds from The Opening Regional in L.A. to The Opening Finals in Oregon. 

“He does have narrow shoulders, so I don’t see him putting on a ton of weight. If he can get up to 250, 255 pounds, that would be good. He has long arms and good speed off the edge. And he might not even be done growing. 

“Really, even more than just adding weight, you want to see him add strength. At the The Opening in Oregon, he’d almost get by a guy, but because he’s not strong, the offensive lineman would still be able to push him to the ground. 

“He probably ended up on the ground more than any other defensive lineman there. Right now, he’s not strong enough to establish the edge in run support. He’s a pure pass rusher that has to add size and strength to be an every down player.”

Biggins has seen Echols play several times, but what no one has seen much of is his ability to play away from the line of scrimmage. 

“He’s not that guy,” said Biggins. “He’s never been that guy in high school. He is an off-the-edge pass rusher. 

“You can’t base too much off of camp testing, but Hunter isn’t going to run a great 40-yard dash. He might be a high 4.8 guy, so he’s not a quick twitch guy you play in space. 

“Looking at some of the guys USC has, Echols isn’t as athletic as Porter Gustin and Gustin was bigger coming out of high school. Gustin played linebacker and projected as a defensive end. But then, there isn’t really anyone on USC’s roster at that spot I would compare Hunter with. 

“I don’t want to sell him short because I know Hunter really wants to be good. He works at it, but he’s going to have to kill it in the weight room and work on his lateral mobility as well. Hopefully this year we’ll see that jump in his game.”

Gerard Martinez

Echols’ impact as a player on USC’s current roster is one aspect of analysis for Trojan fans, but he also has an impact on their recruiting class. 

Echols was very vocal in bringing in recruits for UCLA, but flipping his pledge, does his word still hold as much weight for USC?

“He was very active recruiting for UCLA, but to be realistic, the guys who committed to UCLA were probably going to commit to UCLA regardless of Hunter and the guys who de-committed were probably going to de-commit anyway. 

“I think it definitely helps to have a vocal leader in a class, but at the end of the day, kids are usually going to go their own way. Hunter is a very popular kid with great connections though. His personality is going to have him on the phone talking to everybody. 

“I guarantee he has probably already talked to Greg Rogers, Addison Gumbs, Jack Sears… everybody about USC. Now, does he lose some street cred because he was pushing guys to UCLA right before he de-committed? I don’t know. I think kids already saw that he was wavering from UCLA.”

Echols stated after his commitment to USC that he would shut down the recruiting process and take no other official visits. Biggins can’t help but be a little skeptical of that statement. 

“Hunter told me last night that he wasn’t taking any more trips and that he would shut it down, but you think about the boy who cried wolf,” laughed Biggins. “He has said that so many different times. 

“Literally two days ago, he told me he thought he would probably still end up at UCLA. I asked him if he got an offer letter from UCLA, and he said he hadn’t heard from them about it. 

“He thought they may still have been upset about him de-committing, but he said he’d eventually probably end up going there anyway. Then I had people from the Washington, Arizona and Notre Dame sites all tell me they had information that Hunter was going there.

“Two days later, and I mean 48 hours, not two weeks, he commits to USC and says no more trips. I love Hunter as a kid and a person, but not everything he has said has exactly come to pass. Right now, he’s geeked up on USC. 

“He has always said he would stay close to home, and his parents did prefer SC. So I don’t see him going anywhere but USC or UCLA. Now, will he take trips to other schools? I would be shocked if he does not take at least a couple of trips. He’s just the kind of kid that wants to experience that. 

“However, I do think that if USC wants him all the way through, that is where he goes. Right now I just don’t see him ending up anywhere else.”

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