As SI All-American details a deep dive into the college football recruiting class of 2021, by position, the shift to the defensive side of the ball took center stage over the last week.
After sorting through the elite off-ball linebackers nationally, SIAA released its top 10 prospects ahead of the 2020 season on Monday. It's the 11th of 14 positions to be ranked this offseason. The tail-end of the discussion featured candidates with the resume to contend for spots in either top 10.
These are the prospects right on the edge of the ranking, or honorable mention, listed alphabetically.
Ethan Calvert, Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian
6-foot-3, 225 pounds
Considering USC, UCLA, Utah and Washington
Calvert has a pair of older brothers currently playing in the Pac-12, and that will also be the conference he plays his college ball as well. The So-Cal native is a solid and instinctive backer who can click and close to combat the run. Calvert is sound and decisive to match his keys, use his eyes to track runners and navigate in flow to reach ball-carriers. He’s also reliable to trigger downhill and fight offensive linemen at the point to plug interior gaps and alleys. Though, at times, he lacks elite fluidity in space while in coverage, his natural instincts allow him to drive well on underneath routes and factor in the mid-range passing game. We feel Calvert projects as a solid starting off-ball linebacker.
Chaz Chambliss, Carrollton (Ga.) High School
6-foot-3, 240 pounds
Committed to Georgia
Chambliss is another player who’s been on our radar since his freshman season. He has a thick and study frame, to go along with strength and toughness. Chambliss plays with vision and mental processing when in stacked position, showing a willingness to challenge blockers at the point. He also can effectively pass-rush from the edge to offer versatility to potentially play as a power-rusher in sub-packages. We like the disciplined and high-motored Chambliss as a good fit in Georgia’s scheme as a Mike ‘backer. He will be able to be physical and fit up the run, two of his best traits. Chambliss can also green-dog in the passing game by reading backs and adding himself to the pass-rush when his man red lights in pass-protection.
Power Echols, Charlotte (N.C.) Vance
6-foot-1, 210 pounds
Committed to North Carolina
A Tar Heel commit, Echols has one of the biggest motors of any defensive prospect in this class. His toughness and production are traits of a future starting ‘backer in the ACC. Echols is decisive and certain with his eyes and key recognition, plus he flashes twitchy athleticism that oftentimes allows him to be capable of using back doors during flow. Additionally, he plays bigger than his size at the point, showing shock value in the take-on phase and at collision points versus runners. He will need to acquire more reps in pass coverage, though there’s speed traits on tape that show he’s capable of running with backs and tight ends. As his game expands, there’s no reason for Echols to not ascend into a productive player for Mack Brown.
Branden Jennings, Jacksonville (Fla.) Sandalwood
6-foot-4, 225 pounds
Committed to Florida State
With his old-school skill set, Jennings is a bit of a retro-player on tape. He’s big and rugged, relishes contact and can be uber-physical. The Florida State commit has a solid downhill trigger to quickly insert himself in alleys and play big at the point. Jennings, who’s at his best in the short-box, has ability to stack blocks head-on, shed and wrap runners. He can get build up speed to flow laterally when hunting in long pursuit and tracking runners to the edges. While there may be sub-packages Jennings isn’t featured on in Tallahassee, we still like his traits as a plugger in the run game for new Seminoles defensive coordinator Adam Fuller.
Will Latu, Spanaway (Wash.) Bethel
6-foot-2, 225 pounds
Committed to Washington
Latu is among the top pure football players in the country. He can be seen on tape playing several roles, from running back to flex tight end to inside linebacker to edge and more. His versatility is indeed impressive, yet we feel he fits best as an off-ball linebacker. Latu has a thick frame, which allows him to play big and stout. He’s a physical player with solid vision and instincts, who can squeeze into alleys from a stacked position. His ball skills from his offensive experience translate into coverage, as Latu has enough speed to track tight ends in man concepts and he’s capable of packing the hash in mid-coverage in zone concepts as well. New Washington head coach Jimmy Lake has a defensive background, and Latu should become a solid linebacker for him in Seattle.
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