Back again, this time we are taking a look at Louisville’s defensive back recruiting class. While the only definitive loss for the Cardinal’s secondary next year will be senior safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, redshirt Junior Shaq Wiggins may choose to put his name in the 2017 NFL draft or transfer for his final year. A unit hampered by injuries late in the year, Louisville’s staff set out to add depth along with some immediate impact guys to the secondary. Dave Lackford (@Rivals_DLack) and I (@cpersonTCZ) analyzed both the current commits as well as two uncommitted guys Louisville is squarely in the mix for.
1. Russ Yeast
247Sports Composite Rating: 4-Star (0.8933)
Dave’s Evaluation: Yeast will appear in the Under Armour game and practices in Orlando and I will reach out to my contacts there for an evaluation of him as a corner. I must admit that I was remiss in not getting up to Indinapolis to watch him in person and I cannot evaluate Yeast as a defensive back off of this Hudl video because most of the footage is him playing on offense.
Chris’ Evaluation: Russ Yeast’s film is strictly offense so while he is projected at cornerback for Louisville, it is hard to evaluate him at that position. A source with direct knowledge of Yeast described him as having “Everything. Speed, smarts, instincts, tackling ability, ball skills, high character etc.” They also went on to say he is “All-ACC caliber”. Turn on the tape and you see someone that is extremely athletic and has next level speed and quickness. Yeast could see early playing time whether it be in the secondary, return game, or kick coverage. Possibly all 3.
2. TreSean Smith
247Sports Composite Rating: 3-Star (0.8613)
Dave’s Evaluation: While all of the recruiting sites list Smith as a safety I would categorize him as an athlete who can play multiple positions. He seems to be best suited defensively as an over the top free safety than an “in-the-box” type of player. He plays the ball well in the air and doesn’t get out of position when run plays develop in front of him, providing a good “last line of defense” in those situations. I think he is a little raw at safety and will take some time to develop before he challenges for a starting role behind Dee Smith, London Iakopo, and Khane Pass in 2018, as well as talented prospects LaMarques Thomas and 2017 early enrollee Lyn Strange. His athleticism should help him see the field early on special teams.
Chris’ Evaluation: What CAN’T TreSean Smith do on the football field? He can line up at quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback, and safety. He has a huge frame and has been recruited to Louisville as a safety. While there is limited film playing defense, Smith possesses exceptional speed for his size and the ability to go up and make the big play catches. To go along with his speed, TreSean also is able to deliver powerful hits as he shows great strength. It is tough for any freshman to make an immediate impact at the college level due to the adjustment required and most not being physically ready but Smith might just be an exception to the rule. He has all of the tools to step right on to the football field and contribute next year in the Cardinal secondary barring he is able to adjust to the speed of the college game and learn the playbook.
3. Lyndarious Strange
247Sports Composite Rating: 3-Star (0.8416)
Notes: Already enrolled
Dave’s Evaluation: Strange is long and rangy, uses his hands well to fight off blocks by receivers, shows good discipline at free safety by keeping things in front of him and taking good pursuit angles against the run. He can play corner as well as safety. His size will play well in Todd Grantham’s scheme as it will allow him to move around formations in blitz packages. He isn’t the most physical hitter but he plays the ball well and shows good eyes in coverage. Him being an early enrollee is a positive which will allow for him to put on some muscle and work on becoming more physical. He isn’t going to blow anyone away with his forty time but the fact he plays smart and in position helps mitigate and concerns with his speed. Strange could see some spot duty early in his career due to his versatility in the secondary but will probably not emerge for a starting spot this season.
Chris’ Evaluation: Lyn Strange is one of the biggest defensive backs committed to Louisville in the 2017 class which allows him to play all over the field. Wide receiver, safety, cornerback, linebacker, you name it and Strange has the ability to play it. He runs well for someone his size, and although isn’t the fastest on the field, is able to cover sideline to sideline without any issue. Considering the frame that Strange has, it wouldn’t shock me to use him in a role similar to Josh Harvey-Clemons where he spends significant time as more of a linebacker/safety hybrid.
4. Rodney Owens Jr.
247Sports Composite Rating: 3-Star (0.8385)
Dave’s Evaluation: Owens seems to be another one of those “best weapon” on the team types of recruits Louisville has targeted this season. The thing that stands out in his film is his “want to.” Owens has that dog in him and it shows when he goes up to win contested passes in traffic, lays out for big hits, and flies around the field full speed looking to either lay someone out or make a play on the ball. You can teach technique and eye discipline if you’re a good coach, but you can’t teach effort. The latter is not a problem for Owens. He may take some time to develop as a safety for Grantham’s offense, but he shows the love for the game that will make him an apt pupil.
Chris’ Evaluation: Like several of Louisville’s DB commits, Rodney Owens has played significant time on both sides of the ball. As a receiver, Owens catches anything and everything thrown to him and shows great hands as he is able to make catches with ease away from his body. While he doesn’t quite possess elite speed, Owens does show a ton of physicality. He wraps up tackles well in space and delivers a ton of force on impact. In coverage, Owens has great eyes and plays very instinctively while using his receiver skills to snag 50/50 balls. To me, Owens likely projects as a safety or nickel in the Grantham defense.
5. Kaheem Roach
247Sports Composite Rating: 3-Star (0.8260)
Notes: Roach is a teammate and friend of 4-star target Brian Edwards from Mirimar High. Roach told me (Dave) that he will enroll in June, he is used all over the secondary by his coaches at Miramar, he wants to work on his hands and getting his speed up in the off-season, and he plans to make his final decision on national signing day after taking an official visit to Illinois in January.
Dave’s Evaluation: All South Florida kids are dogs. Roach is a South Florida kid. Roach is a dog. This is all very scientific and not just some modus tollens example with far-fetched premises. You don’t start for Miramar if you ain’t got that dog in you. South Florida is no country for soft football players and if you’re not a savage you ain’t even making the JV squad. Give me a roster full of South Florida kids any day. Now that we have the logic lesson out of the way, let’s talk particulars. Roach is big and lays people down. He flies all over the place, sometimes materializing through traffic to give ball carriers violent physics lessons. He isn’t just a pop-hitter though, he knows how to wrap up and drive to bring down ball carriers and doesn’t take bad angles. As much as I respect his aggressiveness, he does have a tendency to bite on plays and can get out of position sometimes. He’s going to have to improve in that department in order to gain his coaches trust, especially against top notch passing offenses like Clemson and FSU. That being said, his style of play will get him a spot on special teams sooner rather than later. I could also see him being used in Grantham’s blitzes packages, whether run or pass. If Roach can show that he can cover tight ends in man coverage, it’s not a stretch to see him out on the field as a freshman because if he has a clear assignment to either blitz or strictly maintain man assignment he can be a versatile asset.
Chris’ Evaluation: Similar to Anthony Johnson, Kaheem Roach is one of Louisville’s biggest defensive back commitments. The thing that really stands out on Roach’s video, though, is physicality. Not only has he been asked by his high school team to line up in man coverage with an outside receiver, but he is also asked to play safety and be active in run support. When in run support, Roach displays great sideline to sideline speed, covering a lot of ground before delivering a strong hit to the ballcarrier. This versatility makes Roach very unique and also very valuable to the defense. I feel like Roach may be one of the most underrated commits in this class.
6. Anthony Johnson
247Sports Composite Rating: 3-Star (0.8108)
Dave’s Evaluation: Johnson has the size to be a hybrid defender in Louisville’s defensive scheme. Louisville did a good job of finding this kid because he wasn’t heavily recruited as a transfer student but once he got to Chaminade Madonna he really did his thing this season. He’s very sticky for a tall defensive back. That means he shows a good hip swivel technique in coverage to get his eyes in on the ball. Also, watch his film and show me where his man gets separation. Another that stands out about Johnson’s is his explosive vertical leap. It wouldn’t surprise me if Johnson ends up being the best cornerback from this class, depending on whether or not the ‘Cards can land Brian Edwards.
Chris’ Evaluation: Anthony Johnson is a very big, very long cornerback that is a great matchup for bigger wide receivers and tight ends. Even at 6’3″ Johnson moves very well, displaying good straight line speed as well as a quick break on the ball. One of the most impressive parts about Johnson’s game is his ability to get his head around and find the ball when in coverage. Being able to effectively do this eliminates most pass interference calls as well as leads to more interceptions. Due to his large frame and long arms, his catch radius is very large making it more difficult for quarterbacks throwing toward his side of the field. Another advantage of his large frame is the ability to add weight and play multiple positions. It will depend on how he handles the additional weight, but moving to safety, playing nickel/star, or even an occasional snap at outside linebacker isn’t out of the question down the road.
7. CJ Avery
247Sports Composite Rating: 4-Star (0.9120)
Notes: Already enrolled
Dave’s Evaluation: Avery is everything you want in a safety recruit coming out of high school. He’s battle tested against tough competition, has played his position exclusively for a while so he understands the nuances, shows good discipline, and has a knack for making the big play when the ball comes to him. I have spoken with numerous people from team recruiting sites because many teams have recruited him and they all say the same thing, “CJ is a baller.” This would be a major pick up for Louisville.
Chris’ Evaluation: Complete package, vicious, fast, physical, athletic, etc. These are the things that pop into my head immediately when watching Avery work. He reads opposing quarterbacks with precision, putting himself in a position to make a play on the ball or to dislodge a ball from a receiver’s hands immediately after a catch. In run support he stays disciplined and patient until he knows he has the opportunity to make a play. Once he identifies his target, a switch flips and he breaks on the ball like a missile. Shoulders squared to the ball carrier, Avery delivers a blow and wraps up the ball-carrier with precision. As an early enrollee, Avery would be able to contribute immediately in a secondary that loses starting safety Josh Harvey-Clemons. He is every bit as good as advertised.
Dave’s grade: B+
Chris’ grade: A-
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