Michigan has historically taken a shot on positionless defensive players such as Jabrill Peppers, Josh Uche and others. The most common type of tweener is a high school linebacker who can either get faster and remain a linebacker or hit the weight room and become an edge rusher.
Enter Jaylen Harrell, a “linebacker” from Berkeley Prep in Tampa, Florida. After one season as a special teams contributor, Harrell looks to carve out more of a role for himself on the defense.
The story so far
Harrell was one of the last Michigan commitments in the class of 2020 and comes from some prestigious bloodlines. His father, James, played football at Florida State in the 1970s and went on to play in the NFL from 1979-87, a majority of the time with the Detroit Lions.
As mentioned, Harrell came to Ann Arbor from Berkeley Prep. While not necessarily a powerhouse in the state of Florida, Berkeley has produced more than a few major collegiate players, most notably Nelson Agholor. During his senior season, Harrell captained Berkeley to the second round of the Class 3A playoffs.
Jaylen was ranked as a four-star weak-side defensive end by 247Sports and the 294th ranked overall prospect. At 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, many recruiting sites didn’t know what to do with him, as he played primarily linebacker in high school but seemed to be destined to be a defensive end at the next level. However, a large number of schools were willing to take a flyer on him as he possessed the raw talent and potential necessary to contribute to the Big Ten.
Harrell held offers from Florida State, Kansas State, Miami, Minnesota, Penn State, and South Carolina amongst others. Michigan ended up with a commitment out of a top 4 that consisted of FSU, Miami, Michigan, and Penn State.
Jaylen occasionally contributed on special teams and was a mainstay on the scout team as a freshman last year. This was not unexpected, as the coaching staff bulked him up so that he could compete on the defensive line. His final freshman stat line consisted of one assisted tackle.
Outlook for 2021
Harrell should be better prepared for a Big Ten schedule in 2021 after a full season of a college strength program, However, there is still quite a bit of competition in his way before he sees significant playing time. Aidan Hutchinson, Taylor Upshaw, David Ojabo, and Braiden McGregor all figure to be in the mix on the edge.
Everything about Jaylen Harrell screams solid starter as an upperclassman, though 2021 may be too early. I don’t expect to see Harrell on the field much in 2021 but don’t mistake that for a lack of optimism. I fully expect to see him become a solid, potentially all-conference caliber of player in 2023 if all goes according to plan.
Keep in mind that Harrell was recruited into the Don Brown system. It will be fascinating to see how he fits into a Mike Macdonald system. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that he actually fits pretty well into the new scheme compared to others on the Michigan defense.