Similar to what we talked about last week with the defensive line, Nick Saban has heavily recruited the linebacker spots the last two seasons, and so has reduced the total incoming headcount at the position in this class to make room for more pass-catchers on offense. If you missed the offensive half of this series, here are the links to the other position groups covered so far:
QB and RBs, wide receivers, tight ends, and offensive line.
With Christian Harris moving on to the NFL, there is one starting linebacker spot open for grabs, though senior Jaylen Moody will be the frontrunner for the spot, and there’s a glut of talent as 2nd and 3rd year players from the 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes that will also by scrambling to secure their spots on the depth chart. So despite the quality of talent coming in with the class, finding playing time this season is going to be tough.
All heights, weights, and rankings come from the 247Sports composite, though I may mention other recruiting services if any of them have a particular noteworthy differing opinion.
Rivals and ESPN both view Murphy as a top-50 player and the top off-ball linebacker in the country, while 247 and On3 see him more in the top-150 range. He’s clearly a polarizing player when it comes to projecting his college future. On one hand, he won the Butkus award for the nation’s top linebacker in 2021 with tremendous production (113 tackles, 20 TFL, 6 sacks, 2 interceptions). On the other, he ran a bad forty yard dash before his junior season and that, combined with a smaller frame, saw his stock tank with 247 (and you wonder why athletes have stopped giving us public testing data...)
Murphy is a highly technically sound true Mike linebacker who plays a whole lot bigger than his listed size. As a tackler, he’s extremely consistent with his footwork, placement, and ability to powerfully drive a ball carrier backwards. You rarely see overreaching arm tackles or the risky “shoulder blasts” that you see from many high school defenders.
Murphy is at his best when he can knife his way through a scrum of blockers to make a tackle. He’s adept at diagnosing a ball carrier’s path and avoiding offensive linemen entirely, but if one does get in his way, he can deliver a blow to the much larger blockers, knocking them backwards to disrupt the path. He also shows a good ability to disengage from the blocks at the right time to still be able to get his feet set and make a momentum-stopping tackle on a runner.
When chasing balls to the sidelines, he again displays the field awareness to avoid blocks and take good angles to make the tackles, even if he doesn’t have otherworldly speed.
The biggest questions for Murphy will revolve around his pass coverage as well as maintaining enough speed while adding some size to his frame to play at an SEC level.
Murphy is assuredly a Mike (interior middle) linebacker in Saban’s defense. He might be able to play some Will or even Sam in a pinch, but his combination of high awareness, strong tackling, and traffic navigation make him a shoe-in as a Mike.
Murphy is the kind of player that fans will gloss over for a few years as he lacks explosive athleticism or eye-catching size. If he sticks around, though, I could definitely see him being a veteran who eventually wins a starting job as a guy who is a team leader and a strong play-caller in the middle of the defense.
The 2021 MaxPreps Alabama Player of the Year, Alexander has long been a known 5-star prospect who’s been dominating at the Thompson High School powerhouse for 4 seasons now. In his 4-year career, Alexander has totaled 402 tackles, 101 tackles for loss, 34 sacks, and 58 hurries with a couple of state championship titles for his efforts. He was utterly dominant against the likes of Central-Phenix, Hewitt-Trussville, and Hoover throughout his entire career.
Alexander is the kind of powerful, relentless, and dominant edge defender who will demoralize an opposing offense by just wrecking everything they try to do on one side of the line. He’ll remind many Alabama fans of a much more polished Ryan Anderson on the edge. He will take on a double team, force a stretch run to stall, and then split both blockers to decleat the poor fool with the ball as soon as he commits to running forward.
And if you don’t double him? Well, have fun watching your offensive tackle getting sent sprawling into the running back.
While edge-setting and run-stopping is an underappreciated talent, Alexander is the best in the country at doing it, and will be plug-n-play at a collegiate level in that regard.
As a pass rusher, he’s obviously got a powerful bull rush and will drive linemen into the backfield. He rarely stays engaged with a block for long, though, as he has a refined set of moves that blend his powerful initial collision with the blocker with counter moves to slip past them after he knocks them off balance. He combines that with phenomenal balance as linemen try to push him to the ground to keep his speed and close on the QB.
And despite his 6’2” height, he’s got a lot of tipped balls to his credit over the years.
Alexander is a perfect Sam linebacker in Saban’s 3-4 base scheme, and will spend most of his time on the edge with his hand in the dirt. While the Jack and Sam roles have become more amorphous at Alabama over the years, I still expect Alexander to specialize more in strongside edge-setting and taking on double teams from TEs and OTs, rather than just being a pass rush specialist.
Will Anderson and Dallas Turner have the two outside linebacker spots locked up this year, and Saban/Golding haven’t rotated those spots with backups very often. However, don’t be surprised if Alexander finds playing time on special teams. And then once one of those starting jobs are open for competition in 2023, Alexander will be a frontrunner to win it and be a two-year starter and fan-favorite before moving on to the pros.
Campbell is a player who has risen through the rankings throughout the final year of the recruiting cycle, finding himself vaulting into the top 50 at the end of 2021 before finishing up as a 5-star prospect and basically tied with Jeremiah Alexander for the top edge rusher in the country. On3 even has him as the #3 overall player in the country.
He was initially a Clemson commit for the bulk of the 2021 season before decommitting in December, taking time to visit Alabama and Texas A&M, and finally signing with the Tide on National Signing Day.
He was originally a defensive end as well as a wide receiver in New Jersey before transferring to IMG his senior year, and being used as more of a stand-up outside linebacker who moved all over the field.
Campbell has the type of rare athleticism that will have NFL scouts drooling before he even gets good and settled in college. When you hear analysts and commentators talking about “twitchy” athletes, Campbell is the embodiment of that descriptor. He’s likely a sub 4.5 forty yard dash runner at north of 220 pounds, and plays even faster. QBs, RBs, and WRs just have no shot at outrunning him or getting around him in any way. Even when he’s at a bad angle, he still closes ludicrously fast to get a tackle.
Though he’s a bit small to be a true edge player, he’s a nasty pass rusher on the edge and will throw a larger offensive tackle to the ground if they’re not ready. He displays the ability to shoot around the edge or counter back inside with a lightning-quick step or a pro-level spin to get those flashy 2-second sacks that make all the highlight reels. He can even hold his own against blockers in the run game, and even if he isn’t able to overpower them, he’s often able to disengage and chase down a running back trying to get by him anyway.
He’s also much more adept at pass coverage than most collegiate, or, honestly, even NFL linebackers. He’s totally comfortable playing press man coverage out on the boundary of the field, and will totally erase TEs or RBs that try to flex out and play receiver to create a mismatch.
He can drop into zones and has the speed to break on routes and is extremely valuable as QB spy when needed as well
Campbell is the kind of player that, on one hand, doesn’t really fit most traditional schemes. He’s a dangerous edge rusher, but is a bit small to play every down with his hand in the dirt. He could play inside linebacker and be an impact Will, but it seems a waste to not have him rushing the passer.
On the other hand, he’s the kind of scheme agnostic player that you just put out on the field and design everything else around him. Maybe he plays Will linebacker on base downs, flexes out to corner if the opponent wants to use TEs or RBs down the field, and can move to edge at any given time to strike fear into QBs. Line him up all over the place, and the opposing team never knows if he’s covering or blitzing.
As with Alexander, Campbell is the kind of guy that could absolutely see the field as a true freshman in many years, but with Anderson and Turner locked in, the chances are limited.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Pete Golding finds a way to have him as a specialized dime subpackage player throughout the season as a freshman, though, and within a year or two, he’ll be a full-time starter and an early exit for the NFL Draft.
(If you’re keeping tabs, you’ve got me projecting 2024 to have a pair of edge rushers in Alexander and Campbell who both have star-level seasons as a pass rushing tandem).