Nebraska landed the first member of its 2017 class Wednesday night, as Oxbridge Academy outside linebacker Willie Hampton committed to the Cornhuskers. Hampton’s commitment not only gives the Husker staff a solid start to its class, but also gives the Husker staff ample momentum heading into a huge junior day weekend.
Here is Hail Varsity’s (early) evaluation of linebacker Willie Hampton.
Who Else Was Interested
While Hampton may not have caught the attention of the major recruiting services, he did catch the eye of Nebraska and several other FBS programs. Hampton chose the Huskers over offers from Indiana, UCF, Florida Atlantic and Western Michigan.
Hampton measures in at 6-2 and 220 pounds. Hampton has the look of a WILL linebacker, as he has a long and athletic build that has room to fill out. While Hampton is pretty well-developed in his upper body, he could still use some extra weight to fill out his lower body, where he is a bit slender. Hampton has the frame to still put on weight without losing mobility, so I expect him to end up at 6-2 and in the 235-pound range when he is finished filling out.
Strengths on Film
1. His speed. I know this seems like a broad observation but bear with me. Hampton is a 220-pound linebacker that runs a legitimate 4.5 40 and instantly improves Nebraska’s team speed on defense. Hampton is a long strider that covers a ton of ground when running down ball carriers or chasing down quarterbacks. Hampton’s speed will greatly help him in the increasingly spread-out Big Ten and also give him a chance to contribute early on kick and punt coverage teams.
2. His physicality when tackling. Sometimes you see fast linebackers that are unwilling to be physical against opposing ball carriers. Not Hampton, who is a knockout artist on film. Hampton’s film is full of crushing hits on opposing ball carriers as he shows the potential to be a tone setter on defense as well as on special teams.
3. His ability to rush the passer. Hampton mainly plays a traditional outside linebacker position, but at times he comes down to the line of scrimmage as a stand-up rush end. Hampton was very successful in this pass-rushing role, as he showed a solid burst off the line of scrimmage and tremendous pursuit speed when he got an open path to the quarterback. He still needs some work on using his hands, but the potential is there for him to become a solid pass rusher from the linebacker position.
4. His potential. Hampton is one of those guys who has more athleticism than he knows what to do with at this point, as there are times on film where he uses the wrong technique or fills the wrong hole and still makes the play by being athletic. As Hampton continues to mature and learns the small nuances of playing the linebacker position, he will only get better.
1. His pad level. Hampton plays extremely high at times on film, and it really hurts his ability to take on blocks in the run game. Hampton has a bad habit of straightening up at the snap and exposing his chest to opposing blockers, forcing him to fight off blocks from a weaker and less athletic position. Hampton has gotten away with this so far due to his athletic advantage, but good collegiate offensive linemen will expose this flaw in Hampton’s game.
2. His hand use. At times Hampton does a solid job of knocking offensive linemen’s hands off of him and getting past them, but he isn’t consistent enough with his hand punch. Hampton has long arms, so improving his hand punch will make him much tougher to block, but he has a bad habit of just putting his hands out on offensive linemen instead of delivering a forceful punch. This allows offensive linemen to get inside of Hampton’s reach and into his chest, forcing Hampton to fight them off from a much less athletic position.
3. His tackling form. As I said earlier, Hampton is a knockout artist who delivers huge hits on opposing ball carriers. Unfortunately, Hampton is a little too eager to deliver a knockout shot on ball carriers, as he has a tendency to stop his feet and launch into ball carriers instead of breaking down and forming up. Hampton also has a habit of dropping a shoulder into ball carriers instead of shooting his arms and wrapping them up. Hampton will need to improve those two flaws of his game to become a more consistent tackler.
Great job by Trent Bray and the Huskers staff to find and reel this kid in early. Hampton is a little raw at this point in his development (expected since he is 16) and needs to work on his tackling form and pad level, but his size and speed are just too enticing to pass up. While Nebraska has reeled in Hampton, the work isn’t over with this kid, as the ACC and SEC are sure to come calling before this summer is over.
Comparison: Less polished version of 2016 Georgia signee Jaleel Laguins