Alabama linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw have made history this season, with each named a finalist for the Butkus Award. Two previous Alabama players – Derrick Thomas and Rolando McClain – secured the honor before going on to NFL careers. It’s unheard of for two players from the same team to be named to the list of finalists, and it speaks volumes about the talent on this year’s Tide defense.
Replacing players the caliber of Upshaw and Hightower is a daunting task. Luckily recruiting in the state of Alabama has experienced an upsurge of talent this year, and the Tide didn’t have far to go in finding future stars at the position. The graduating class of 2012 in the state of Alabama offers two of the best linebacker prospects in the entire nation, and they’re both headed to Tuscaloosa.
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Bob Jones High School in Madison, Alabama is home for the number one ranked inside linebacker prospect in the nation. Reggie Ragland is a 6-foot-4 inch, 245 pound linebacker, and the Tide’s prized in-state recruit. The first team all-state player committed to Alabama back in January, becoming the Tide’s fifth commitment of the 2012 recruiting class. Ragland wasn’t very highly regarded by national scouts at this time last year, due to not having a highlight tape. His recruiting ranking suffered early as a result, but Alabama had no doubts about what kind of player he was and wasted no time in going after this elite prospect.
Reggie isn’t just a great linebacker prospect; he also helped propel Bob Jones to an Alabama state basketball championship and even holds scholarship offers to play basketball. Highly pursued by Alabama and Auburn, Ragland chose the Tide because of the tradition of excellence and being a lifelong Bama fan. He is tailor-made for middle linebacker in college, and can be best described as a bull in a china shop. Ragland is as solidly built as any high school player you will find and has tremendous lower body strength.
Reggie displays the natural ability and instincts to become a great player at the next level. Moving from sideline to sideline and tracking down the ball carrier is his strength. He is a big, thick kid that moves surprisingly well and loves contact. He delivers quite a blow when tackling and has great form for a high school player. Due to his size and athleticism, Ragland shouldn’t suffer through many transitional problems on the next level, he’s very instinctual which will compensate for his youth. He will definitely be contributing early on special teams and in situational defense.
Ragland has been one of the more vocal recruits in the 2012 class, and promotes the Tide every chance he gets. He has an outgoing, likeable personality and seems to get along with everyone he meets. Reggie is as good a kid as there is and will certainly represent the University in a first class way. He has also made a name for himself on the recruiting circuit, representing the Tide to other top recruits in efforts to bring in other elite prospects.
Strengths: Plays with great intensity, instincts and has a nose for the ball, very quick and athletic for his size.
Weaknesses: Cover skills in space will need improvement; RB’s and TE’s could pose problems when he drops into coverage.
Player comparison: Dont’a Hitghtower, due to his size and athleticism
One of the most under-the-radar players in the 2012 class is Tyler Hayes, a 6-foot-3, 220 pound linebacker for Thomasville High School. Tyler is a first-team All-State player in Alabama two years running, and does everything for his high school team. Hayes was pursued hardest by Alabama and Auburn and made a decision to roll with the Tide on Valentine’s Day 2011, becoming the eighth commitment of the 2012 class.
Hayes plays linebacker and running back, and has been recruited by Nick Saban to play defense. He is a phenomenal athlete who plays with a relentless attitude on the field. He plays offense and defense, so he rarely comes off the field. He has great leadership qualities and plays with extreme intensity. Tyler is physical enough to stuff the run and athletic enough to cover just about anyone out of the backfield.
Hayes jumps out at you right away. Defensively he is always around the ball making plays. He projects as an outside linebacker at Alabama, and will undoubtedly shine on defense. He is exceptional on offense with the ball in his hands and will surprise with his quickness, but he is a ferocious defender and will make his permanent home on the defensive side. Hayes has a mentality similar to that of fellow linebacker recruit Ryan Anderson in how relentless he is, and he takes it personally when they lose. Tyler plays with a chip on his shoulder and is everything you want an outside linebacker to be.
With Hightower and Upshaw moving on the NFL, we can expect CJ Moseley to assume a more prominent role on the defense as he gets bigger, stronger and more experienced. Tyler Hayes is the perfect fit to replace Moseley on defense; he’s fast and has great cover skills and possesses the instincts to react faster than most players his age. Believe it or not, the 2012 defensive recruiting class for Alabama may actually be the best ever in one year. The 2011 defense has made history, but on paper the incoming class has the potential to be even better.
Strengths: Physicality, relentless, instincts, speed and plain old toughness make Hayes an elite prospect.
Weaknesses: Not many that are obvious, but he will need to put on a little weight to endure the SEC schedule. He is certainly tough and talented, so adding twenty pounds will help significantly.
Player Comparison: Tyler is strikingly similar to Moseley in everything he does on the field.
Next week we look at the two high profile positions at Alabama, running back and quarterback