An interesting bit of trivia for you Husker fans out there: Who was the first 2017 recruit offered by Mike Riley’s coaching staff? It wasn’t Keyshawn Johnson Jr., it wasn’t Darnay Holmes, it was a relatively-unknown linebacker from the state of Delaware.
Nebraska hadn’t gotten a football commitment out of Delaware in more than 40 years. Fast forward a year and a half, and Nebraska’s surprising early offer has paid off, as Wilmington, Del., linebacker prospect Avery Roberts committed to Nebraska Thursday evening, announcing the decision via Twitter.
Roberts is the seventh commit of the 2017 cycle and the second linebacker commit, joining Willie Hampton. Roberts is coming off a junior season in which he earned first-team all-state honors and helped lead the Concord Raiders to a 6-4 record.
Who Else Was Interested?
Of Nebraska’s seven commitments, Roberts may have the most impressive offer list. Roberts has 30 FBS offers, including tenders from college football heavyweights such as Oregon, Stanford, Oklahoma and Clemson. Despite his multitude of offers, Roberts decision quickly came down to two schools, the Huskers and Penn State. Penn State has a history of owning the state of Delaware when it comes to recruiting and hosted Roberts for its spring game, just five days before his announcement. Despite all this, Roberts made the decision to head west and become a member of Nebraska’s 2017 class.
Roberts measures in at 6-2 and 215 pounds. Frame wise, Roberts is exactly what you look for in a modern linebacker prospect, as he is a lean but powerfully-built linebacker that can hold more weight as he matures. Roberts has broad shoulders and long arms that will continue to fill out as he matures, along with a powerfully-built lower body that is well developed at this point. When Roberts is finished filling out his frame, I expect him to measure in at 6-2 and in the 235 pound range.
1. His instincts. There are certain linebackers that have that extra sense in them, allowing them to shoot gaps and make plays in the backfield while everyone else is still trying to get their read. Roberts is one of those instinctual linebackers as he does a tremendous job of shooting gaps against the run to make impact plays in the backfield. While Roberts does like to shoot gaps, he is still a disciplined player, as he is rarely sucked up against play-action and doesn’t get himself out of position against pulling linemen. Roberts has that rare ability to always be in the right place at the right time on defense, something that has been missing from the Nebraska linebackers since Lavonte David went off to the NFL.
2. His speed and athleticism. If you are going to gamble on defense and shoot gaps, you better be fast enough to make the play. Roberts is definitely fast enough as his film is full of him tracking down ball carriers in the backfield or running them down from behind. Roberts has legitimate 4.6 speed from his middle linebacker position, allowing him to keep up with all but the fastest receivers in pass coverage. Roberts also shows smooth hips in coverage, as he rarely appears stiff in pass coverage or when tackling in the open field.
3. His pass-rushing ability. Roberts is a natural pass rusher, something that is tough to find at the linebacker position. While most young linebackers simply put their head down and plow into the line of scrimmage, Roberts has that innate ability to time up his blitzes and get a clean run at the quarterback. When Roberts does get a clean path to the quarterback, he displays tremendous pursuit speed and runs down the quarterback with ease. Nebraska hasn’t had a true pass-rushing presence from their linebacker position in a while, so Roberts contributions will be a good fit.
4. His on-field mentality. Roberts is a mean dude from his middle linebacker position, as he plays with that extra bit of aggression that you want to see in linebackers. Robert’s film is full of crushing hits on opposing ball carriers and celebrations from Roberts afterwards. As Roberts matures and fills out, he has serious potential as an enforcer against receivers coming across the middle of the field and against the run. Roberts also shows natural leadership qualities on film, as he plays with a swagger that his teammates pick up on and follow.
1. His level of competition. Delaware isn’t exactly a hotbed when it comes to football talent, and the level of competition Robert faced isn’t the strongest. This raises the question of whether Roberts can be the same destructive force in college that he is playing against the equivalent of Class B competition in Nebraska. I’m not overly concerned about this because of the athleticism Roberts has shown at various summer camps in the past, where he has more than held his own against the top prospects in the northeast. Roberts may have a bit of a bumpy transition as he adjusts to higher competition, but he should adjust quickly once he gets to Lincoln.
2. His ability to take on blocks. Roberts doesn’t have to contend with offensive linemen very often on film, as he is able to use his superior speed and athleticism to get past them with ease. This method won’t be as effective at the collegiate level, where offensive linemen are bigger, stronger and faster than Roberts is used to. Roberts will need to work on being violent with his hands and getting offensive linemen’s hands off of him so he can use his speed to get to the ball carrier. Roberts will also need to work on defending cut blocks, as he rarely goes against cut blocks at the high school level.
When your job is to scout players for their strengths and weaknesses, you try not to have favorites, but no matter how hard you try you always have one or two. Roberts is one of my favorite prospects of the 2017 cycle as he is a top-notch athlete that has the uncoachable instincts that all great linebackers possess. Nebraska was smart to get in on Roberts when they did, because Trent Bray’s relationship with Roberts was a huge factor in getting the talented MIKE linebacker out of the northeast. Roberts checks every box for a middle linebacker, with the only real questions being about his level of competition in high school. Roberts will fit in nicely at the MIKE position in Lincoln, where he will challenge Chris Weber and Tyrin Ferguson for playing time as a freshman and play extensively on special teams. Tremendous recruiting job by Bray as the linebacker class of 2017 is looking better and better.
College Comparison: Bigger version of Missouri linebacker Kentrell Brothers
Pro Comparison: Tampa Bay Bucs middle linebacker Kwon Alexander