The Miami Hurricanes have locked down their first true linebacker for the 2020 class in Alvin “AJ” Mathis. Mathis is a three-star (for now) prospect from Pinellas Park High School in Largo, FL. Mathis has play-now size at six-foot-one, 210 pounds and will only grow into his lanky build.
Per MaxPreps, Mathis is quite the havoc player. He logged 86 tackles as a junior (206 in his career) with nine tackles for loss two sacks, five fumble recoveries, and a blocked punt. Stats really don’t matter all that much, especially for junior linebackers, but it is good to see production and play making ability from a recruit.
The things that I look for in a linebacker are movement (speed and agility), hips (fluid movement, bend, and explosive finish) and vision (reading the offense and finding the football).
Speed and agility are very misunderstood terms when it comes to athletic performance. Straight line speed is hardly as important as acceleration, deceleration and change of direction. The ability for a player to control their acceleration and deceleration comes from the force they put in the ground with the least wasted energy.
The amount of extra steps it takes a player to change direction, speed up or slow down can result in losing yardage and wasted energy. Our body only contains so much top end energy to use in a football game and we can’t waste that production with extra steps and wasted effort.
In the GIF below, Mathis displays the ability to accelerate, decelerate and accelerate without losing force on his hit. If I’m being picky I would want his elbow closer to his body as he runs, and him to bring his hips through on his tackle. His butt sticks out too much on the finish and if he brought his hips through (like a snatch or power clean) he would’ve finished him off in less steps.
Straight line speed, he’s got it. Mathis flies after this fumble recovery and cannot be caught even by his own team.
Here is a great example of acceleration, change of direction, re-acceleration and finish. You can’t stop and turn like that without fluid hips. Also his stance is second to none. While his teammates stand up, Mathis is able to bend and get down in a legitimate stance.
I love the way Mathis stays low, brings his hips and finishes off the tackle below.
Mathis shows great vision here. When the offensive linemen turn their shoulders the hole blatantly opens up. Mathis doesn’t hesitate, he accelerates, hits the hole, avoids the pulling guard and makes the play. The only issue I see is that he couldn’t finish the tackle without the suplex. That’s something easy to do in high school but in college not too many linebackers can finish without proper form.
Tracking the hip of the ball carrier is a huge part of being a successful linebacker. Mathis does a great job here on toss to track and identify the running back. He follows the inside hip of the ball carrier and doesn’t over run the play.
The Miami Hurricanes have signed a legitimate linebacker prospect in AJ Mathis. Mathis looks the part of a play-now recruit for the 2020 class. That could be necessary with the let down that a few of the prior recruits have been, and with the linebacker trio of Zach McCloud, Shaquille Quarterman, and Michael Pinckney graduating in 2019.
I think in the “spread it out” style of offensive play we’re seeing if Mathis can enroll early and put on solid weight at Miami he could start as a freshman in 2020.