On National Signing Day, we gave a review of the 2016 class and our scores for each player. We've already gone into more detail about the offensive backfield, receivers, offensive linemen, and defensive linemen; today, it's the linebackers' turn to go under the OFD microscope. You'll notice that we've listed Spencer Perry and DJ Morgan here, who were high school safeties, as well as Jamir Jones, who was sort of a linebacker but really did a little bit of everything in high school and is expected to ultimately land at defensive end in college. I think Perry and Morgan will move to linebacker sooner rather than later, and after seeing Jones's senior tape I think we all agree he's much more likely to actually start at linebacker than we originally thought.
This grouping has a lot of versatility, but... If ever there was a group to go all trust-the-staffy with, the 2016 linebacker class is it, with just one true (and undersized) linebacker, two guys who are likely to become linebackers, and one guy who is likely to become a defensive end. It'll be an interesting group to track over the next few years.
The transcript of Coach Brian Kelly's press conference on national signing day can be found here.
|Irish Linebacker Signees|
|.875||Jonathan Jones||Ocoee, FL||6-0/220||ILB|
|.871||DJ Morgan||Norwalk, CA||6-3/205||OLB/S|
|.867||Spencer Perry||Newnan, GA||6-2/204||OLB/S|
|.842||Jamir Jones||Rochester, NY||6-3/231||OLB/DE|
Official OFD Recruit Grading Scale:
95-100: Elite impact freshman with All-American potential
90-94: Multi-year starter with All-conference potential
85-89: Eventual starter with chance to play as underclassman
80-84: Raw prospect with decent potential but a couple years away from impact
75-79: Likely a backup
70-74: Reach by the coaching staff
ILB Jonathan Jones
OFD Average: 85.3
Man, I love the film on this kid. He has absolutely phenomenal instincts for a high school player - he plays zone coverage better than most safety prospects that I see. He also reads plays really well, moves well, gets off blocks well, and when he makes the decision to go downhill, boy does he do it in a hurry. He's listed at 6'2" but is actually closer to 6'0"; if he was really 6'2", I think he'd be a top 150 player, which aligns with his offer list. He's probably the most game-ready linebacker we've brought in over the last few cycles; that doesn't mean he'll play right away, but I do expect him to have less of an adjustment than most freshmen do and possibly make some guys look over their shoulders. He also has some potential as a leader; I'll be very interested to see how he finds his voice at Notre Dame.
Jones has a refreshing highlight film with actual real-life linebacker plays that need to be made in college and not just 5 minutes of blitzes and back-field disruption. He drops in coverage well, seems to understand pass defense, and how backpeddaling for depth is important. There's lots of scraping across the line, staying patient, getting off blocks, and making a play on the ball-carrier. Jones has a high IQ and looks like he has pieces to make a quality all-around linebacker. He's not very big, which is a serious concern. Typically weight doesn't bother me if you're tall enough to pack on some muscle and stay fast and lean. Jones lacks power which bothers me given his size--I just don't know how physical he's going to be able to be in college. There's far too much wrapping up with the arms for someone at the high school level and not enough physical dominance. He moves well and is quick in short bursts, though. I just don't know where he'll fit in at Notre Dame. Does he bulk up into a short but athletic middle linebacker in the mold of Michael Deeb? Does he morph into a 3rd down nickel/dime package pass defender? I know most won't love this comparison but he reminds of Joe Schmidt with a little higher ceiling.
Jamie U: 88
There is legitimate concern with his size and how big he is now as well as how big he is going to get. He's probably closer to 5'11" than 6'1" based on when I saw him at The Opening. Is he going to get into the 230-240 range? I'll take that if that's the case. He is an instinctive player who works his way through the trash well. He needs to improvement his hands like many young players when it comes to disengaging from blocks, but he will take on blocks violently. I was impressed with what I saw from him as an athlete there. Much like Te'Von Coney the year before, he was a lot more fluid and was faster than I expected. I do think he will be a solid player in coverage. I see closer to Coney than some of the other comparisons that are being thrown out there. I don't see him making an instant impact, but in my opinion he'll push for playing time in a year or two.
OLB/S DJ Morgan
OFD Average: 78.0
Hey, did you know that DJ Morgan is Skylar's cousin? What kind of O/U will you give me on how many times we'll hear that over the next four to five years? I'll set the line at "former walk-on Joe Schmidt." Anyway... I highly doubt that Morgan will stay at safety; he just doesn't have the full complement of athletic skills that the position requires. As many have noted, here and elsewhere, I think his move to Sam is more or less a foregone conclusion. He'll probably have a couple of years to develop before he's asked to take the field in any meaningful capacity; with that time in the system and no pressure to play early, he could be an intriguing prospect and a possible late bloomer. Don't look for an early contribution, though.
The consensus seems to be that Morgan will move to linebacker in college. I'm curious to see where he stacks up with his size. If he's closer to 6-3 Morgan looks like someone who could be adding considerable weight. If he can do that there's a chance he's more than just a jumbo safety forever stuck in a hybrid role that offers little minutes. At his current size he's a solid safety in high school. Not great speed but he's quick to the point of attack and tackles well. I'd like to see a little more physicality, though. If he's going to be playing linebacker I'd like to see someone with more bad intentions and power, especially at his size. This is a large crop of defensive backs brought in by Notre Dame and I think he'll have a tough time standing out if he ultimately stays in the back end. A permanent home at linebacker is probably the best course of action.
Jamie U: 77
Morgan is a solid football player that tackles well and a good athlete for his size, but I didn't see him make enough impact plays on film. His footwork can get sloppy at times and that means he doesn't get his hands on a ton of footballs in coverage. I don't feel it's as much of an issue with him being fluid as it it is with consistent technique. With his size and frame, I do think he is likely to outgrow safety and end up at linebacker. I think he'll be a stronger player at Sam.
OLB/S Spencer Perry
OFD Average: 82.7
I like Perry a lot as a football player, but I like him a little less at safety. Like DJ Morgan, his move to linebacker seems to be all but done, at least in fans' minds; I think his upside is better than Morgan's, though. He could potentially slot into the Drue Tranquill role as well, or maybe into the 2015 Matthias Farley role of big nickel. Interestingly, Todd Lyght today said that he doesn't think any of the defensive back commits will redshirt - I'd still be mildly surprised if Perry plays on defense in 2016, although he has an advantage as an early enrollee so who knows. I'm slightly more bullish on him than Eric and Jamie just because I have a feeling he's one of those guys who will find a way to make plays and will see more of the field because of it.
Perry has good speed and is a sound tackler. He's patient and sees the game well. I'm not crazy about his footwork, though. He's almost too patient at times and waits too long to put himself into position to make a big(ger) play. I can see him hanging around at strong safety for a while but that lack of footspeed and defensive back skill is a main reason why most think he'll move to linebacker. As an early enrollee that'll be a good spot for him to develop, add some weight, and see where he fits.
Jamie U: 81
Physically, I don't know if there are too many players who are as ready to roll as Perry. Him being on campus early certainly won't hurt that. He is a thumper as a tackler who hits through ball carriers. I think his recognotion versus the run needs a lot of work and that is something that really worries me with him at safety. I think he is a bit tight in his his hips as well and as of right now he would be best as an in the box safety. We'll see how he does this spring, but I could see him moving to linebacker sooner than later.
LB/DE Jamir Jones
OFD Average: 87.0
Jones is a guy whose image as a defender was probably hurt to some degree by sacrifices he made for his team as a junior, when he moved from defense to play quarterback after the starter was injured. Yes, quarterback, and a real quarterback, not just a wildcat guy. Even though it wasn't against top level competition, he didn't look too bad. I'm not suggesting he could be the next Gary Godsey, of course; merely pointing out that if he can credibly play quarterback, the kid has to have some athleticism. He also looked entirely believable as a tight end this year, which again shows that he has an impressive physical skill set. That positional versatility will come in handy at Notre Dame, but it won't result in quite as diverse a resume - Jones will likely settle either at outside linebacker or defensive end. I think he'll start at linebacker but, given his own frame and older brother Jarron's physical maturation, I'd be pretty surprised if Jamir doesn't grow into a defensive end within a year or two. I think he could be an excellent player by year three, possibly even seizing a starting role.
Another fellow Western New Yorker on the roster! Like his brother Jarron, he's coming out of perhaps the best football program in the state and played against some seriously overmatched competition. For example, as a junior the starting quarterback got hurt so Aquinas put Jones back there and was able to win. Now that means Jamir is a great athlete but this is not something that would typically work at Don Bosco or De La Salle. It's difficult to scout someone like Jamir, especially since there's mystery about which position he'll play in college. However, pound for pound he might be the best athlete in this entire class, at least among the non-skill positions. Jones was a legit all-state level receiver/tight end and that's impressive at his size even given the level of competition. He's somewhere between 6-2 and 6-3 with pretty good length. When he plays linebacker he's a productive down-hill tackler with good closing speed. If Notre Dame ran a 3-4 he could maybe stay at inside linebacker if he keeps his weight down. But given his growth over the past year and the genes of his brother it would seem impossible that Jamir is staying at linebacker weight in any system unless he's the next Dont'a Hightower. He definitely looks like someone with the body-type that will make him 260+ pounds after a redshirt year. Like his brother, he might make big strides physically after some time in a college weight program. Does he remain at defensive end? Weak or strong side? Does he grow into a tackle? I wouldn't even rule out Jones turning into a tight end, especially with Luatua leaving the program. I think Jones is a real diverse athlete that can be used to fill some depth at any number of positions.
Jamie U: 86
I was not sold on Jones as a guy who could play at Notre Dame based off his junior film, but I think he made a significant jump as a senior to made me do a 180. Physically he was a lot bigger and stronger and athletically he took a leap as well. I know that it's normal to see him improvement from a prospect's junior to senior year, but this was bigger than the average jump. He was a lot more instinctive and more of a downhill player at linebacker. He'll likely grow into a defensive end, but I actually think he can play a bit of linebacker before that happens. I think he'll probably play inside and we'll see how he does. Before I wasn't sure if he was ever going to be a contributor, but I think he can play and find a role. He's a bit of a late bloomer and the best is yet to come for him as a football player.