Last week, we took a look at the incoming offensive line class for Alabama, and so this week will be moving on to the opposite side of the line of scrimmage. Although guys like Chris Braswell and Will Anderson are pass rushers listed as “defensive linemen,” today’s piece is focusing on all the interior defensive tackle types, and I’ll include the edge rushers with the linebackers in a later piece.
It’s obviously a gray area in an ever-morphing position group, but I have to make a distinction somewhere.
Here’s my usual disclaimer before posting these articles:
Over the years, I’ve used SPARQ as a metric for quantifying athleticism and normalizing just how athletic someone is relative to his position. If you want a more in depth explanation, click the link below:
If not, the TL;DR version is this: Bigger, faster, and stronger = higher score.
Unfortunately, this specific class of Alabama recruits were not as active in Nike’s camps as many other classes in the past, so less than half of the recruits actually have SPARQ scores this year. I do, however, have a huge database of previous recruits with scores, so for some players that took an incomplete set of tests, I can actually get a pretty decent estimate just based on previous athletic comps. But I’ll always denote which tests are verified and which are “fill-in-the-blanks”
Finally, for all rankings, I will use the 247Sports Composite, which takes into account the 247, Rivals, and ESPN player rankings. Each of the three differ slightly, so for solidarity, I stick with the composite every year.
With that out of the way, let’s meet the new defensive linemen for Alabama’s 2020 recruiting class.
Like many others in this class, Jah-Marien Latham did not publicly post any athletic testing stats anywhere, let alone have any verified by Nike. So, we’re operating off of nothing more than his actual size, which has been listed anywhere from 270-297 pounds, depending on the recruiting service.
Regardless, Alabama likes their interior linemen to all be 290+, so I expect him to play somewhere in that range for most of his career.
Latham is from a tiny 1A high school in Reform, AL, where he won class 1A lineman of the year in 2018 and was on the All-State 1A teams in both 2018 and 2019.
Often, linemen from really small high schools tend to just dominate the competition on size and strength alone, and because of that, come to college very raw in technique. With Latham, that isn’t the case.
He’s a versatile player that can line up anywhere from nose tackle to the edge of the line, and is comfortable rushing the passer or staying back and playing two gaps. He’s got a balanced array of moves to shed blocks and is surprisingly agile in small bursts, so he gets a lot of mileage using inside counter moves from the defensive end spot to blow past a tackle and close quickly on the quarterback.
He’s also a high-energy, aggressive player that’s always happy to attack the man blocking him or to chase down a ball carrier downfield. He even plays offensive line and fullback, and blocks just as aggressively on offense all game long. So stamina, energy, and effort are probably the top qualities of his game.
He’s a little smaller than a lot of other defensive tackles Alabama has recruited over the years, so don’t expect him to be a mainstay at nose tackle and trying to take on double teams in short yardage situations very often.
Don’t be surprised if we see him fairly regularly as a late-game sub in year one once the main rotation of starters come out in blowouts. There may be a bit of a glut at the position over the next few years, since Alabama had to play so many true freshmen in 2019, but I expect him to definitely carve out a rotational role in year two, and may even get to be a starter by his senior season.
At only 6’2”, Burroughs’ squat 330 pounds make him a true nose tackle prototype. His forty yard dash, shuttle, and vertical jump are all verified numbers, while the powerball toss and SPARQ are my estimates based on athletic comps. Most of the tests seem slow, but for someone at 330 pounds, they’re more than adequate, putting him above the 80th percentile for defensive linemen.
Burroughs was actually a top 100 recruit during his junior season when he was committed to Georgia, but he really plummeted in the rankings during the spring camp circuit last year. Apparently he showed up a little out of shape and had some bad showings.... Though obviously I can’t confirm that. He eventually decommitted from Georgia and picked Alabama at the start of last fall.
Burroughs is a very typical Alabama defensive tackle in the same mold that we’ve seen Saban use for most of the last decade. He’s huge, and he’s at his best when he can hold a stalemate against an offensive lineman and then shed to one side or the other to make a clean-up tackle. He’s strong and stout enough to really be able to make a difference in short yardage dive plays, and has the instincts to move laterally when needed to running backs in front of him.
He’s also got a nice feel for being able nudge out the man blocking him and spin them behind him as a running back tries to go through a nearby hole.
Though he can occasionally get free on second effort and close on the QB, he’s not much of a pass rusher at this stage of his career, and may never be.
I expect Burroughs to redshirt as a freshman, and do not think we’ll see very much of him, unless at the very end of a blowout against an FCS team. I think he’ll probably need to drop to around the 315 lb range in his first year or two to really be able hold his own, speed-wise, in the SEC.
Ultimately, I think he spends his career as a reserve nose tackle that gets some playing time around the goalline and may even eventually get to start a game or two against some team still running a power-run based offense, but never really becomes a major part of the rotation.
In pretty much the opposite arc of Burroughs, Timothy Smith started as a middling 4-star prospect as a junior and trimmed up some weight before his senior season. Then he absolutely dominated the All-Star Circuit in December and shot up to earn a 5th star by the 247Sports rankings, though he remains a very high 4-star recruit in the Composite.
Smith’s numbers here for his weight, shuttle, jump, and powerball are all verified, while his forty yard dash and SPARQ are my estimates. For the most part, his numbers are pretty typical for his size and position, but the sub 5.0 shuttle time is very impressive for a defensive tackle.
It’s hard to watch Smith play and not get excited— which is a rare thing to say about an interior defensive lineman. He’s got an unnaturally quick first step and has an innate ability to time his first step with the offense snapping the ball.
That explosive combination winds up with him in the backfield nearly as soon as the play starts quite often, and that leads to all kinds of havoc for the opposing offense. He’s huge, he’s got long arms, and he’s really, really quick— a rather terrifying combination for opposing quarterbacks and ball carriers.
If his initial burst doesn’t get him past his blocker, he does a good job of using a swim move to shed the block on the second effort. Past that, though, he doesn’t really use other techniques to disengage blocks very often.
Though most effective as a pass rusher, his explosiveness can really blow up run plays as well, but he isn’t necessarily as patient in the run game when it comes to taking double teams or two-gapping and cleaning up runs.
It will be a tough task for any of Alabama’s returning starters on the defensive line to keep Smith out of the rotation. I think that by midseason, Smith will already be working his way into some meaningful playing time as an interior pass rusher on 3rd downs. Then he will become a full-time starter as a sophomore in 2021 and an impact player for a couple of seasons there before an early departure to the NFL.