Darrin Kirkland Jr., Wolverine

Darrin Kirkland Jr., Wolverine


May 19, 2014
Darrin Kirkland, Jr. (right) with fellow Indiana linebacker Asmar Bilal

Indianapolis (IN) Lawrence Central linebacker Darrin Kirkland, Jr. committed to Michigan on Sunday. He chose the Wolverines over offers from Indiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Penn State, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia Tech, and Wisconsin, among others.

Kirkland is a 6’2″, 228 lb. prospect. As a junior in 2013, he made 108 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 1 interception, 2 fumble recoveries, and 2 forced fumbles.

RATINGS
ESPN: 4-star, 81 grade, #7 ILB, #256 overall, #1 in Indiana
Rivals: 4-star, #6 ILB, #183 overall, #1 in Indiana
Scout: 4-star, #135 overall
247 Sports: 4-star, 90 grade, #7 ILB, #3 in Indiana

Kirkland visited Michigan numerous times throughout the recruiting process, including several times before he was offered. He was clearly hoping for an offer from the Wolverines, but the coaches took their time in evaluating him. At one point Kirkland’s father mentioned that if an offer didn’t come soon, Darrin the younger would have to look elsewhere, which was an indication that Michigan was at least one of his top couple schools, if not #1. In the meantime, offers rolled in from Penn State, Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Ole Miss. Then on April 4th, the offer from the Wolverines was extended. Shortly thereafter, Kirkland set a commitment day for May 30th, which was soon canceled after he picked up tenders from Oklahoma and Texas. He then said that he wanted to commit in August before his senior season began. On an unofficial visit to Ann Arbor this weekend, he unexpectedly committed, pulling head coach Brady Hoke out of church to do so.

Kirkland has the thickness of a prototypical middle linebacker. He’s a very stout player who won’t get pushed out of position and won’t get run over. He shows some good tackling ability and could be a menacing force as a thumping middle linebacker. While he doesn’t have great speed, he does show some solid short-area quickness and agility, which helps him avoid blockers and make some plays in confined spaces. He plays with good intensity and emotion, which is a plus for a defender.

I am not a fan of some of Kirkland’s habits, which may have more to do with his coaching. First of all, his stance is not consistent; he is not balanced and tips his blitzes. Also, I would like to see him taking a read step toward the line of scrimmage at the snap, but he mostly sits and waits until he reads the play. This concerns me because it may indicate some problems with play recognition. Kirkland does a poor job of engaging blockers, taking them on with his shoulder instead of his hands; at times he almost looks surprised when he gets blocked. As for athleticism, he lacks great speed and his feet are somewhat heavy, so he looks like a run-stopping specialist.

Overall, I think Kirkland has some positive qualities but does not look like a superstar in the making. He looks like an old-fashioned middle linebacker who can be effective against run-oriented Big Ten teams like Michigan State and Wisconsin. But he looks like a two-down linebacker who might find his lack of athleticism exposed against passing-oriented or spread teams. Ohio State ran all over Michigan last year with Carlos Hyde, so I see a need for players like Kirkland. The question is: how versatile can he be? I see him as a 3-4 inside linebacker, but he probably fits at MIKE for the Wolverines. The nearest approximation I can come up with from recent years is J.B. Fitzgerald, who made 58 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, and 1 sack from 2008-2011.

The Wolverines lose two senior inside linebackers after the 2014 season in the forms of Desmond Morgan and Jake Ryan. When Kirkland arrives in 2015, he will be competing with senior Joe Bolden, junior Ben Gedeon, redshirt sophomore Mike McCray, and potentially sophomores Michael Ferns and Noah Furbush, although we have seen that positions are fluid with Michigan moving from the 4-3 Under to the 4-3 Over this off-season. A redshirt seems like a 50/50 proposition.

Kirkland is Michigan’s seventh commitment in the class of 2015, a class that is currently scheduled to be roughly 13-strong. He’s the first commitment from Warren Central since mid-1990’s running back Ray Jackson. Before the commitment of Dan Samuelson in the 2013 class, it had been since 2008 (Kurt Wermers) that Michigan had gone without successfully recruited someone from the Hoosier State. With such a small class, this may spell the end of inside linebacker recruiting. The staff still wants a running back or two, a couple offensive linemen, at least one tight end, and at least one defensive end. However, the class’s numbers will inevitably grow by next February.

Highlights can be found on Hudl (LINK).

TTB Rating: 69 (ratings explanation)

12 comments

  1. Comments: 21384
    Anonymous
    May 19, 2014 at 4:26 AM

    Even with his lack of foot speed I would say Kirkland would beat Morgan in a 40 or 100 yard dash (almost identical size as well). Since Morgan has seen a ton of PT during his time here, including starting early in his career, I would say Kirkland will be productive and just fine!

    • Comments: 21384
      Painter Smurf
      May 19, 2014 at 1:25 PM

      I tend to agree with Thunder on this one. In his junior film, Kirkland looks good once he gets moving. But his teammates are reacting faster than he is off the snap. Usually, that is more instinct-thing and tough to fix. But the fact that Kirkland is not yet polished can be a good thing, in that he may blossom under UM coaching. Interested to see how he improves as a senior. With all of the recent interest from major programs, we can assume that he is developing himself physically.

      Considering that UM loses two MLB-types after this season and then a couple more contributing LB's the following year, Kirkland is a key recruit. UM needs him to develop into a contributor.

  2. Comments: 21384
    Anonymous
    May 19, 2014 at 3:23 PM

    Ratings:
    RATINGS
    ESPN: 4-star, 81 grade, #7 ILB, #256 overall, #1 in Indiana
    Rivals: 4-star, #6 ILB, #183 overall, #1 in Indiana
    Scout: 4-star, #135 overall
    247 Sports: 4-star, 90 grade, #7 ILB, #3 in Indiana

    TTB: 69 – Average starter in Big Ten; little NFL draft potential

    What am I missing here? He is very highly rated across all services, but you see him more as average. What is his downfall in your eyes? You mentioned some weaknesses (play recognition, etc.), but seems like a big disconnect between your rating and national services.

    Not being snarky, just curious why such a big disparity.

    Thanks!

    • Comments: 21384
      Anonymous
      May 19, 2014 at 4:11 PM

      I believe he is not considered an every down LB and today more and more teams are 'spreading' it out, such as NW and Ohio to name two in the B1G. However, he will be valuable against Wisconsin and Sparty, no doubt about that, smash mouth football is still alive with some teams and that is where Kirkland will earn his keep.

    • Comments: 21384
      May 19, 2014 at 7:13 PM

      As I mentioned toward the end of the post, he reminds me of J.B. Fitzgerald. Considering the other talented players on the roster, I don't know that a J.B. Fitzgerald clone will see the field much.

  3. Comments: 21384
    May 19, 2014 at 6:52 PM

    I like this kid a little better than Thunder does. Thunder would like to see a read step and Painter Smurf identifies that almost everybody is almost always moving before Kirkland gets started. I can't disagree with either. But, once again recognizing that these are hi lights, you don't see many bad angles, missteps or bites on fakes. The kid seems to take his look in kind of a serene fashion, make the correct read and then gets his pads to the football with some purpose and authority.

    I'm not sure he can cover either and can see him struggling in space, but he sure makes plays against the run. I would put him in the mid 70s using Thunder's system.

    • Comments: 21384
      Anonymous
      May 19, 2014 at 8:23 PM

      Agreed and "he's not from Cass Tech" which should be a +5 on the scale. Would like to see what Thunder rated RJS.. have a feeling he was rated much higher than 69 and has yet to contribute in a meaningful way. I bring that up only to say that nobody knows for sure how it will all shake out. Lets give him 2 or 3 yrs and revisit this.

    • Comments: 21384
      May 20, 2014 at 10:04 AM

      Well, now i'm laughing, as this kid gets everywhere from Thunder's J.B. Fitzgerald to David Harris. I'd be delighted with a halfway result on that line.

    • Comments: 21384
      May 20, 2014 at 3:16 PM

      I ranked Jenkins-Stone an 84. Word on the street is that he's working out much better at SAM in the Over front than as a MIKE in the Under. We'll just have to see what happens.

  4. Comments: 21384
    MFan4Life
    May 19, 2014 at 8:04 PM

    Very good analysis, Thunder. I am not quite as exicted about this commit as much of the Michigan blogosphere seems to be. While I think he is a good player, I see the preferred speed and athleticism lacking on film. Looks a bit stiff in the hips, too. As you mentioned, those traits probably limit his position and down versatility. To me, he looks a little overrated. That said, I think he could be a very solid player in the middle for us.

  5. Comments: 21384
    Anonymous
    May 20, 2014 at 2:54 PM

    That's a pretty serious offer list of big time schools that think this kid was good enough to earn one. I'll go with that.

  6. Comments: 21384
    Lanknows
    May 22, 2014 at 4:03 PM

    I like when you go against the grain, even if it's negative. I tend to trust the offer sheet (coach's opinions) over anything else, but I'll take this as a reason to be a little more skeptical.

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