So far, we’ve covered the quarterback, running back, pass catching, offensive line, and defensive line position groups from Alabama’s 2019 recruiting class. Next up on the list is what has always been the true heart and soul of the program over the last century: the linebackers.
Mack Wilson and Christian Miller are both moving on to the pros, and while Terrell Lewis should be coming off his injury to replace Miller, there is still a wide open hole in the middle linebacker spot beside Dylan Moses.
As usual, I will be referring to SPARQ, an analytical tool used to quantify and compare a player’s athleticism.
I pull all of my rankings from the 247Composite, and all heights, weights, and athletic tests are from ESPN, since they pull data from the Opening combines. However, most of the players have changed somewhat in their weight since participation in these combines last summer, so their college-arrival size may be much different. I just keep that old weight because it shows what size the player was when he ran that 40-yard dash.
At a stout 250 pounds, Shane Lee enrolled early and took jersey #35. He’s one of those players that has made waves on social media by being cut and heavily muscled. Another recruit from the pipeline of St. Francis academy in the DC/Baltimore area, Lee is a solid overall athlete, if nothing particularly impressive. But at only 6’0” and 250 pounds, running a 4.7 forty is actually quite impressive. That’s a lot of muscle to lug around with comparatively shorter legs than most linebackers.
Lee is a perfect prototype for a Mike linebacker in a traditional 3-4 defense. Big, stout, and highly instinctual, he excels at sifting traffic and taking down ball carriers as soon as they try to come through a hole in the offensive line. He has surprising lateral quickness and rarely wastes any steps— combine that with quick reactions and he’s nearly always in the right place at the right time to prevent a running back from getting very far.
He’s as sure of a tackler as I’ve seen coming to Alabama out of high school in a few years. He’s obviously had a lot of coaching in that area, as he’s highly consistent at wrapping his arms around a ball carrier and then rolling them towards the ground, preventing any chance of them breaking the tackle. When taking on blocks, he goes low and explodes upwards into the blocker, just like coaches have players do in drills.
He’s got a good feel for angles when chasing ball carriers from side-to-side, and he rarely gets caught over-pursuing and then getting beat on a cut back. He also seems to have a natural feel for knowing when to drop back rather than going straight for a faster ball-carrier so that he can contain a bigger play, rather than going for the quick stop.
In pass coverage, he’s adept at covering shallow hooks and has the awareness to be able to swap to another man in zone and can even bait QBs into making bad throws across the middle. Again, his reaction time coupled with his short-area lateral quickness make him a terror in that area of the field.
Oh, and he’s a monster of a lead blocker when he plays full back on a goal line offense.
Speed is the real issue, and that will likely never change. 6’0” 250 can only move so fast— physics is a cruel master. He’s not going to be able to chase down SEC-speed ball-carriers from sideline-to-sideline, nor will he be able to hang with athletic tight ends in man coverage.
Though I mentioned above that he is a highly technical and sure tackler, that consistency does come at the expense of bigger hits. Despite his dense build, he doesn’t actually stand up ball-carriers very often, let alone put out a highlight hit. He often needs help from his teammates to keep the man he’s tackling from gaining an extra yard or two as they fall.
He’s also not much of a pass rusher. Though he can slip through on an occasional blitz, he’s not going to be a versatile player like Donta Hightower or Reggie Ragland, who could move from the middle to be an edge rusher if the play demanded.
Lee will have as good of a shot as any to win the starting job beside Dylan Moses in 2019. His competition— Josh McMillan, Ale Kaho, and Markail Benton— are just as unproven at the college level as he is, and with him enrolling early, he’ll have his shot to make his mark at A-Day and then again this summer.
That said, I’m (for now) going to say that he doesn’t win the starting role this year. However, I think he does solidly make it to the second team and winds up being first in line to replace Moses after he heads to the pros.
Harris is an interesting prospect who plays cornerback, wide receiver, tight end, and linebacker for University Lab in Louisiana. Though his forty-yard dash and shuttle are decent enough for a linebacker, his 35 inch vertical jump is outstanding and his powerball toss is otherworldly. Only Evan Neal and Emil Ekiyor have had bigger displays of strength of any Alabama recruit since SPARQ scores have started being published — and they both had well over 100 pounds on him.
His forty and shuttle drug down his SPARQ from being quite in that ultra-elite tier of athleticism, but being 1.75 standard deviations more athletic than the average linebacker is still nothing to shake a fist at.
Due to his positional versatility and a lack of any video from his senior year, Harris is a bit of a tough one for me to talk much about. I will say that he’s MUCH faster than his 40-yard dash would indicate. He can play cornerback with any receiver out there and is exceptional at bodying them out down the sidelines to pick off one-on-one deep balls. He’s an explosive tackler as well, and even does a good job at wrapping up even while making a highlight tackle.
He’s a natural receiver and can catch the ball efficiently in stride without having to slow down and is elusive enough after the catch to actually look like a wide receiver or running back, not just a linebacker with the ball in his hands. He also blocks just as hard as he hits if his team put him at tight end.
I’m not really sure what the plan with Harris will be. Most recruiting sites project him as a linebacker, but I have no idea if that is really going to be Saban’s plan. I honestly think he’d be just as much of a weapon on offense as he is on defense. He’s a player in the mold of Ronnie Clark and Ronnie Harrison, who didn’t really have a position, and as such could end up at linebacker, defensive back, or somewhere on the offensive side of the ball.
I think he winds up being a regular contributor on special teams from year one while the coaches figure out where he’ll be best suited and work to train him in the nuances of a single position.
Kevin Harris II
Like Lee, Harris has already enrolled at Alabama and took jersey #44. We’ll hopefully get to see him in action at A-Day in a few weeks.
At only 217 pounds, Harris is a bit light for a player who was recruited to be a a Jack linebacker/edge rusher. However, he tested out well in his SPARQ numbers. A 36 inch vertical jump is, again, awesome for a linebacker. And a 4.13s shuttle is better than most skill position players. His forty and powerball toss weren’t as impressive, but they definitely weren’t bad numbers either.
To make visuals easy, Harris is nearly a clone of former Alabama pass rusher Tim Williams as he was moving out of high school. He’s a pure speed rusher with the kind of quick-twitch pass rushing that can send him flying past an offensive tackle and taking down a QB before he even finishes getting a good handle on the snap.
Harris is great at timing snaps, and does a great job of always moving and faking with both his feet and hands right off the snap to keep an offensive lineman from figuring out which way to go to block him. He has the ability to spin or counter back across to the inside if the tackle gets too eager and drops deep to stop his speed rush. He also does a good job of continuing to push his blocker backwards into the play even if they manage to block him.
Again, like Williams was at that age, he’s and undersized speed-rusher that is a one-trick pony. He doesn’t have much of any experience as an actual linebacker nor in having to contain an outside run. As a rusher, he shows very limited ability to break away from a block once an offensive lineman manages to engage him, and he can disappear for long stretches of a game between making highlight sacks.
With the depth Alabama already has at outside linebacker, I think Harris redshirts this year as he works to add some bulk to his frame and add some versatility to his game.
Mwikuta lacks the impressive vertical jump numbers that we saw in each of the other three linebackers in the Tide’s class, but his 43.5 powerball is exceptional for a 220-pound player. Though not official, I’ve also seen that he ran a 4.76 forty yard dash, which is right in line with all of the other three.
At 6’5”, he’s a very lengthy edge rusher in the same prototype as guys like Chris Allen, Jamey Mosley, Eyabi Anoma, Terrell Lewis, Adrian Hubbard, Mehki Brown, and so on (basically most of the Tide’s recruits at edge rusher for the last 6 years or so).
Length really is the name of his game. His long legs and stride can really eat up the distance between him and a QB in just a couple of steps, and his long arms allow him to reach around and make tackles and sacks that most players would have missed. Offenses that try and attack him as an unblocked defender on read option plays usually pay for it, as he’s able to effectively cover either option and has the deceptive speed to trick a QB into making wrong decisions.
As a pass rusher, he’s very quick off the snap and can get low and duck under an offensive tackle as he turns the corner. Again, his long arms enable him to actually reach out and harass an opposing QB around and through his blocker, even if the lineman is squarely between him and the QB.
Strength and leverage is a bit of an issue, as 220 pounds is pretty light for a 6’5” frame. He can get bullied around if blocked head on when defending runs. He also doesn’t display much in the way of pass rushing moves. Unless he just beats his man around the edge or manages to reach around him, he can pretty easily be neutralized.
He also tends to overrun tackles. While he usually gets away with it in high school by just reaching back and grabbing on to the ball carrier, those will more often turn into broken tackles at the college level.
Like with Harris above, Mwikuta will have a lot of depth ahead of him at outside linebacker. He’ll project best as more of a Sam linebacker than a pure pass-rusher, but likely needs a couple of years to grow into his frame. I think he redshirts this year.