Over the decade that Nick Saban has coached Alabama, no position has been as singularly impressive at churning out superstars as the linebackers. Their roles have changed over the years with the shift from a base 3-4 to a base nickel defense, but their impact as the heart and soul of the squad has remained the same.
Though it’s a general point of contention on whether to include the outside linebacker/edge rusher players as a linebacker or a defensive lineman, I will, for the purposes of this series, consider all the edge rushers to be linebackers, while the interior d-linemen were in my defensive line article.
With the NFL combine still in the minds of many, there’s always a lot of discussion on how much emphasis to place on a player’s “measureables” when trying to scout them for the next level of football. Personally, I love numbers. But no number tells a full story without being taken in it’s proper context.
As for the measureables, though, I use SPARQ. It’s a Nike creation where high schoolers participate in combines, then Nike uses a formula to combine 5 different variables to create a metric, or a SPARQ score. A few years ago, I took that a step further and normalized SPARQ scores for each position using standard deviations to get a Z-score.
With Davis, we see more of the trend of the last 5 years or so of Nick Saban looking for taller, leaner guys to play outside linebacker. They haven’t all panned out— Adrian Hubbard and Mekhi Brown come to mind— but the size trend is definitely there. Davis had an exceptional powerball toss for a 238 pound guy, but the other 3 parts of his SPARQ measureables were a bit underwhelming. His 0.81 Z-score is more than respectable though, mostly bolstered by his powerball test.
Davis is a consistent, if not flashy, player. He has great length and looks like a pterodactyl bearing down on its prey as he closes on a ball carrier. They often have trouble getting away from his reaching arms, even if he isn’t in great position. He’s a great form tackler and will consistently wrap a ball carrier around the thighs and roll, which is one of the safest and surest ways to make a tackle.
When rushing the passer, he uses his long arms to keep offensive linemen away from his body and prevent them from getting leverage. He has an obviously well-practiced inside spin move against any OT who over-commits to trying to overpower him. He’s also strong enough, especially for his lean frame, to hold his own and set the edge in the run game.
He’s a fairly instinctive player as well, and does a good job at getting into throwing lanes to swat passes as well as breaking off his rush to sniff out a screen pass.
He’s slow. Pretty much any negative to his game stems from that one fact. He’s generally fairly slow off the snap and isn’t a game-changing force rushing around the edge. He can be in good position and still be beat around the edge or have a runner cut back in on him because he can’t keep up.
He projects more as a SAM linebacker than a JACK, but with Alabama’s current depth at outside linebacker, I don’t expect Davis to see any playing time there. That said, I think he finds his way onto special teams— likely somewhere in the middle of the line on the field goal and punt block teams where he can make good use of his length and height.
Hailing all the way from Utah, Cameron Latu is a pass rush specialist with crazy lower-body explosiveness. His 36.7 inch vertical jump and 45.5 foot powerball toss are both elite numbers for any position, but are especially impressive for a 236 pound linebacker. The 2.05 Z-score has him in the 98th percentile of pure athleticism.
Some players don’t translate their testing results to on-field performance (both for good and for bad), but Latu is not one of those guys. He’s extremely explosive off the line of scrimmage and seamlessly converts that explosion into power as he bull rushes the OL in front of him. He’s fast enough to chase down running backs from the backside of the line of scrimmage, and leaving him unblocked on read options is a bad idea, as he excels at getting a QB to hesitate and he can tackle either option.
Latu is also an experienced tight end. He’s an aggressive and nasty blocker and is also hell-on-wheels for defenders trying to tackle him as muscles through and pinballs off of everyone for way more yards than he should get.
He’s mostly a one-trick pony in the pass-rush, as he hasn’t displayed any toolbox of moves other than his bull rush. Despite his quickness of the line, he doesn’t seem to be flexible enough to really bend around the corner and get to the QB.
Latu is most definitely a JACK linebacker and pass rush specialist, but I think he’ll be buried on the depth chart this year and take a redshirt.
Unfortunately, Anoma didn’t post any numbers with Nike on his athleticism. However, if you wanted to take a guess, I’d put my money on the “OH MY GOD HE’S FAST” level of athleticism. He’s the crown jewel of Alabama’s 2018 recruiting class and had the announcers salivating over his play during the Under Armour All-American Game in January.
Oh, and he’s only been playing football for all of two years now.
There’s fast, there’s quick, there’s explosive, and then there’s Eyabi Anoma. In a world of mortal beings playing football, Anoma moves and operates on another plane of existence. He’s a lightning bolt off the snap and a thunderclap when he flattens the nearest hapless quarterback. He has a move where he fades to the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle (however one fades when you’re inches away from someone else) before all-of-a-sudden going around them on the outside. It’s absolutely effortless for him, but physically impossible for any normal human.
If you’re a soccer fan, think Leo Messi, but for a pass-rusher. There’s no fancy moves, he’s just so much quicker than the other person that they look like they’re blocking in slow motion.
And it’s not just his initial rush— if the QB takes off up the middle of the pocket or it’s a draw, Anoma will about face and still run down whoever has the ball from behind. Wide receiver screens are useless, as he will turn and nearly beat the ball to the receiver and make the tackle himself.
As you’d expect from someone who’s really still fairly new to the sport, Anoma doesn’t have a strong repertoire of technique and moves for breaking the block of an engaged offensive lineman. He doesn’t use his hands very much, instead relying totally on his speed to slip around people.
He’s also very lean and tall for someone who will be taking on offensive linemen with regularity, and isn’t well suited for holding his own against a straight forward power run game.
Alabama may have a lot of depth for the edge rushers already, but I don’t see any way that Anoma doesn’t work his way into a little playing time somewhere. Even as just a relief 3rd-down rush specialist. I don’t know if he can play special teams, but he’d be an absolute terror streaking down the field on punt and kick return coverage.
A last minute addition to the recruiting class, Moody was likely the hedge in case Quay Walker didn’t stick to his commitment— which he didn’t. And while I was a big fan of Quay’s game, I think that Moody is much more than just a back-up plan. He’s not a pass rusher like the first three, but is a true off-the-ball inside linebacker.
Moody is a throwback linebacker to the earlier Saban 3-4 middle linebackers. He’s a stout, downhill player who’s sole purpose is to clobber everyone in front of him and just cause general chaos around him. When he selects a target and locks on, he explodes into a destructive tackle that will send a ball carrier (or lead blocker) flying backwards.
He’s a fast enough player with a quick reaction time, but he kicks into an overdrive gear about 3 feet before he makes a tackle, helping him to take down a surprised ball carrier before they can execute a move and slip away.
He’s also instinctive in pass coverage and does a good job of sitting in throwing lanes and breaking on underneath routes to prevent completions.
At 6’1” 225, his size is a bit limited. He’s already mostly filled out his frame and likely can’t put on much more weight without being slowed down. He also doesn’t change directions very well, and often wastes a lot of steps trying to change from going right to going left when swapping to a different receiver in zone coverage.
He can get a little over-aggressive and lock on to a specific player, and therefore is more susceptible to play actions and other types of fakes.
Though he’ll obviously get a shot to carve some time on special teams, I think Moody will ultimately be too far buried behind experienced linebackers and spend this year taking a redshirt.