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2016 Texas Longhorns Football Recruiting Class Evaluation: Linebacker

Linebacker (3)

The Longhorns landed a pair of coveted recruits and a blue collar lunatic.  They're the right complement to the 2015 LB haul and the Texas LB depth chart is in the process of transforming itself from terrifying to us to terrifying for the opponent.  The class lacks a clearly projectable 3 down inside linebacker who can fill against the run and stay on the field on passing downs, but good luck finding that unicorn every year in today's game. Of course, "clearly projectable" is the operative phrase - that player may well be in this class after all.

Jeffrey McCulloch- 6-3, 230

McCulloch plays the game with anticipation, effort, recognition and a good first step. McCulloch ran a respectable 4.7 40 at a Nike SPARQ testing before his senior year but a 4.2 second short shuttle and a 35 inch vertical leap at 230 pounds combined with a condor's wingspan and an immature body still growing into its potential suggest a high ceiling. He's fully capable of carrying 250 pounds well.

More importantly, he's pretty good at football.

McCulloch is certainly nasty off of the edge, but his ability to hold the point of attack, use his hands on a blocker and squeeze a runner back inside means he's more than a feast-or-famine blitzer, but rather a well-rounded, versatile threat.  He doesn't have much experience operating in space as a true Will or Sam linebacker, but his athletic profile and intelligence suggest that he's fully capable of learning that role.  Fans demand clean projections to a single position, but I can easily see McCulloch as a pure Fox End or an outside linebacker.  An inside role isn't out of the question if he has the knack for it and if the coaches believe it will free up elite personnel to move outside.

McCulloch closes distance decisively, in part because he plays with his head up and with a natural bend.  He's rarely caught flat-footed.  His signing day press conference and interview impressed me as much as his tape - he's a mature, thoughtful player who won't have any problems leading a defense, calling signals and exhibiting assignment discipline. It's clear why he was one of the most highly recruited players in the state.

Erick Fowler- 6-1, 235

Fowler is a walking fast twitch muscle with an explosive first step and the ability to accelerate suddenly from a stop and generate immediate power upon contact.  It makes for fun highlights.  Those attributes and his physical maturity make him nearly unblockable at the high school level shooting gaps and chasing the quarterback as an edge rusher, but we've seen similar dynamism not always translate to big-time football if it's unaccompanied by lateral agility, position fit and a knack for diagnosing what the offense is doing.  These soft skills are unrecognized, vital aspects to playing linebacker.  See former Longhorn LB Tevin Jackson.  Fowler put up gaudy statistics as a high school sophomore and junior, making him one of the most coveted recruits in the country, but he tailed off in a relatively quiet senior year as he assumed more conventional assignments beyond "see ball, chase ball" and sprinting through gaps.

Fowler worked at US Army All-American practices as an outside linebacker and reportedly did well.  That's encouraging.  It's also not totally unreasonable to think that Fowler's first step, compact power and penchant for violent contact could also be put to good use inside.  Fowler could certainly thrive as a 3-4 OLB tasked solely with sprinting into the backfield (see OU's use of Eric Striker), but Strong asks more of his edge players than that.  I'm fascinated to see how Fowler's game translates to our needs.

Fowler is a high beta athlete with rare God-given abilities, but there's no college result that would surprise me.

Demarco Boyd- 5-11, 225

Boyd was a Gilmer Bulldog and Dawg defines his game.  Like fellow recruit Chris Brown, he plays with a massive chip on his shoulder - an attitude that Charlie Strong seems to cultivate and enjoy.  The MVP of a 14-1 state finalist Gilmer team lined up at running back, middle linebacker, nose tackle, rush end, 1st chair tuba, snow cone vendor, drill team captain and baton twirler.  He accounted for 25 touchdowns on offense and 74 tackles, 5 sacks and an interception on defense.  His high school tape is fun to watch, mostly because his effort level is so consistently maniacal and he acts like there's a yellow jacket caught in his jockstrap.

He's a disruptive inside linebacker with good short area quickness who plays so low that it's hard to get him off course, has great hands out of the backfield (he caught 37 balls - tied for the team lead) and generally loves to do the dirty work on both sides of the ball.  Boyd will try his hand as an inside linebacker and if we can cover him up and prevent the big boys from touching him, it's not totally inconceivable that he could impersonate a Joe Bowden/London Fletcher style inside presence.  There's a reason they're exceptional though.

Boyd has an odd frame that makes him both thick and an easy lateral mover and generally these are the kinds of athletes that can surprise in their development.  Most realistically, he'll be a multifaceted lead blocker with sweet hands and enough athletic ability to punish defenses that sleep on him out of the backfield.

Boyd is at Texas to raise the bar with respect to effort, aggression and general chippiness.  This is a good thing.