****Editors note the author first published this piece on his own blog found here.
Last week, USC received a huge commitment in the form of four star weak-side defensive end Hunter Echols. A 6’3.5” 231 pound prospect out of Cathedral High School in Los Angeles, Echols is a highly touted recruit that was previously committed to UCLA before backing away from his pledge a few months back. Echols is a vital commitment to a USC class that has been struggling with California recruiting this cycle.
Echols is a tall and lean player that relies primarily on his athleticism when rushing the passer. He will need to add muscle as many high school prospects do when entering into the college game, but his frame has the size to handle the weight gain. He does show some shifty pass rushing moves—most notably a fake to the outside before exploding to the inside against the left tackle—but his overall repertoire is generally raw. Echols is a very athletic player for his size and this is his main weapon when getting to the quarterback. He has an excellent motor and a great set of raw tools that can easily be developed into a fearsome combination coming off the edge for the Trojans.
In the run game, Echols’ lack of physicality is evident. He rarely pushes opposing lineman backwards, but his quick first step allows him to shoot the gap and get into the backfield. Echols also uses his athleticism to do a great job at setting the edge and preventing ball carriers from getting around the corner to the sideline. Echols’ strengths are more suited to rushing the passer, but his effort and quickness allow him to be a decent lineman against the run. As he adds strength, this area of his game will certainly improve, but it is doubtful that he ever becomes one of USC’s best run defenders.
Clancy Pendergast’s 5-2 defense is a perfect scheme fit for Echols. Both the predator and SAM linebacker spots fit well with Echols’ skill set, adding a positional versatility to Echols’ potential that is no doubt appealing for the Trojans’ coaching staff. Each of those outside linebacker positions have a varying set of responsibilities depending on the play call, but in the short term, Echols will likely be positioned primarily as the predator backer. In this spot, Echols’ main responsibility will be rushing the passer and setting the edge—two of his biggest strengths. Although Echols is largely a hand-in-the-dirt player in high school, in this role Echols will be a standup pass rusher. This alteration will give Echols’ another advantage in speed and quickness against offensive tackles that could lead to a ton of sacks in cardinal and gold.
If Echols can develop usable coverage skills, he could also be deployed as the SAM linebacker. This spot is mainly a pass rushing and setting the edge position similar to the predator spot, but in some packages pass coverage is required. Putting Echols in this position without developing his cover skills would virtually give away his assignment, but if the coaching staff can teach him to be an adequate cover man against running backs in the flat or tight ends on short routes, Echols could become an extremely versatile option. The young prospect has the athleticism to add this extra dimension to his game, but he has virtually no experience in pass coverage and would need significant time to develop. The SAM possibility may be a couple years down the road, but it is an intriguing option that would be a nightmare for defenses.
Echols’ raw tools are excellent, but his size and lack of skill moves will likely prevent him from being an early contributor. A redshirt season would likely be the most optimal choice for Echols, but a full season in the weight room could see him add the necessary 15-20 pounds he needs to be a dynamic pass rusher at the next level. Therefore, were Echols to redshirt his first season, he should be ready to become a significant contributor right away as a redshirt freshman. A redshirt season is usually ideal for most lineman coming out of high school and Echols is no exception.
Despite his current limitations, Echols has tremendous potential that could see him become a feared pass rusher in the Pac-12. If he can develop his coverage abilities, he could become even more of a headache for offensive coordinators while also helping his 3-4 scheme fit for the NFL. As a four star prospect rated as the 98th best player in the nation according to the 247 sports composite rankings, Echols is a fantastic pickup for the Trojans who has the ability to become a very good player at SC.
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