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. 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.
For our previous piece on the offensive line, click HERE.
For our previous piece on the offensive skill positions, click HERE.
1. Russ Yeast
247Sports Composite Rating: 3-Star (0.8782)
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 (0.8589)
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. Tre Norwood
247Sports Composite Rating: 3-Star (0.8391)
Notes: From Fort Smith, Arkansas. P5 offers: Louisville, Minnesota, Wake Forest
Dave’s Evaluation: Norwood looks extremely fast on film. He was the type of kid that never left the field for his school. Don’t get it twisted though, he isn’t just an athlete, he is a natural at the corner position. He shows great instincts in zone pass coverage. There are numerous examples of him diagnosing his receiver’s route and suffocating space by taking great angles and using his closing speed to break on the ball and knock down throws. When he isn’t breaking up the pass with his hands he is delivering punishing blows to receivers that either dislodges the ball or drops them in their tracks. His instincts as a defender are not limited to pass coverage either, as his film shows numerous examples of him coming up in run support to provide an extra layer of protection on the edge. I looked for holes in his game and the only real negative is that he takes a false step here or there that will hurt him in P5 ball. It didn’t appear that he was playing dynamic receivers that would punish him for small errors and the same can be said for the quarterbacks he faced. My final opinion on Norwood is that he’s a good player and find for Louisville. Once he hones his game against the dynamic UofL receievers in practice, he has the chance to be special. I would expect him to push for a starting corner spot by 2019.
Chris’ Evaluation: Elite speed and quickness, that is what jumps off the page when watching Tre’s film. He plays a variety of positions in high school: quarterback, kick returner, and cornerback. No matter where he is at on the field he is making plays. His ability to make spectacular plays is exceptional. While he is a little thin and could add a few extra pounds, Norwood’s straight line speed is in a league of it’s own. Along with his straight line speed is also an insane change of direction ability. To me, Norwood reminds me a lot of Jaire Alexander in how electric he is on the field. Although it may be hard to crack the CB rotation early, I could see Tre playing early on special teams, primarily in punt (behind Alexander) and kickoff returns.
4. Lyndarious Strange
247Sports Composite Rating: 3-Star (0.8388)
Notes: Will enroll early
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.
5. 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.
6. Kaheem Roach
247Sports Composite Rating: 3-Star (0.8180)
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.
7. Anthony Johnson
247Sports Composite Rating: 2-Star (0.7667)
Notes: Anthony Johnson was recently offered by Pitt but it appears he is firm in his commitment and the UofL staff values Johnson highly.
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.
8. CJ Avery
247Sports Composite Rating: 4-Star (0.9140)
Notes: Will enroll early
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.
1. Brian Edwards
247Sports Composite Rating: 3-Star (0.8642)
Notes: Plans to announce on National Signing Day
Notes: Edwards just came home from a visit at Colorado. Edwards told me (Dave) that visit was “great.” Edwards also told me that his mom wants him to go to school out of state, but with that being said Miami and Florida, along with Louisville and Miami also occupy his remaining top four. It is anyone’s guess where Edwards ultimately winds up as he will visit UofL after the dead period (likely the weekend of January 13th) and then Florida followed by Miami. If I had a gun to my head I would say he stays home and commits to Miami but things change rapidly in this business so my confidence in that pick in low to middling at this point in the game.
Dave’s Evaluation: If you’re like me, you’re taking off work for national signing day. You’re probably not like me though so let me tell you this, Brian Edwards is the recruit you want to watch on signing day because if he chooses Louisville the whole class jumps into top 15 territory. I’m not going to bother breaking down his film but I will leave you with this, he will be the best player in this class and push everyone not named Jaire Alexander for a starting spot in the secondary.
Chris’ Evaluation: Warning: Do not try to throw the ball toward Brian Edwards’ side of the field. He is tall, he has long arms, can run with any receiver, and jump to contest any throw. If Louisville wants to ensure they upgrade talent at cornerback in the 2017 class, Edwards is one guy they have to find a way to land. Will he start the moment he steps on campus? Probably not. Will he push the starting corners for playing time? Yes, immediately. Edwards has the talent to be a factor in the secondary by the middle/end of his freshman season and be a starter by his sophomore year at the latest. If Louisville were to land Edwards and Avery the talent in the secondary will be through the roof.
Dave’s Holistic Takeaway’s:
As this class stands, there isn’t a clear cut commit that will challenge any current players for starting time. That being said, freshman pushing for starting roles is not a good thing in general. On the otherhand, if Louisville is able to land CJ Avery and Brian Edwards that all changes and the exception overcomes the rule. Still, if Louisville lands both Avery and Edwards and neither earns a starting role that’s a positive for the competition that has forced the incumbents to ward off their challengers in stepping their respective play up. I think this class without Edwards and Avery is solid but not elite. With some dedication and hard work, mixed with coaching the ceiling for this group is high. At the same time, the bottom is low. As it stands now, I give UofL’s secondary class a B minus, but if the staff can reel in Avery and Edwards I think the overall quality is a B plus to A minus. If UofL only lands Avery I give them a solid B, whereas the ‘Cards land Edwards but not Avery I’d rate it a B plus.
Chris’ Holistic Takeaway:
With the departure of Josh Harvey-Clemons and the possible early defection of Shaq Wiggins, Louisville will be looking to bolster a secondary that has been inconsistent at times these past few years. The secondary that is currently committed is a great mix of players ranging from smaller speedsters to big, physical defensive backs. This class will do an excellent job addressing what has been some questionable depth in the secondary the past few years. Not only will they provide depth, but they will also have an immediate impact. Guys like TreSean Smith, Russ Yeast, and Lyn Strange will have the potential to bring this immediate impact. As the position class currently sits, I would give it a B+ due to the variety of talent that is in place. I really like how high the ceiling is for this group of players and feel they all have the potential to become major contributors. If the Cards were to be able to land Avery and Edwards, the talent of this position class goes through the roof. I would give a class that included both Edwards and Avery an A+.
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