Don Brown’s defensive scheme at Michigan has been very good at putting linebackers in positions that highlight their strengths and allow them to flourish. This is why I am especially interested to see where Brown will put new commit, 2021 three-star Tyler McLaurin, as he can play in a couple different spots.
Let’s start with McLaurin’s frame, since it is different than most traditional linebackers, even as they get smaller and faster as a reaction to today’s spread offenses. McLaurin is listed as 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, which is pretty skinny, and he looks like it on film. He will have to pack on some weight to survive in the Big Ten, but he already looks close to his max. I’d expect he gets up to the 225-230 range, which is on the low end of the spectrum.
However, that is right in the range of the SAM position popularized by Josh Uche at Michigan. And that is exactly where I think McLaurin’s skill set would be best served. McLaurin has great length thanks to his height and uses those long arms to his advantage when blitzing.
In the game I watched to scout McLaurin, a thrilling 31-30 double-overtime playoff victory over Oswego, he was definitely at his best when set up near the line of scrimmage and blitzing. His length allows him to maintain separation from blockers and disengage quickly.
The video quality isn’t great, but McLaurin wears No. 9 and is the linebacker creeping up between the nearside defensive end and tackle who rushes at the right guard. He keeps the guard at bay with his arms and quickly sheds him to get a shot on the quarterback right after he throws the ball.
This was basically what happened every time McLaurin rushed the passer. He almost always got pressure on the quarterback, but was usually a step late for the sack. I think setting up McLaurin on the outside would take advantage of his speed and length more and allow him to get to the quarterback quicker.
Here’s another good example of McLaurin’s pass rush skills. He’s not in the frame at the beginning of the play, but will engage with the left guard this time. McLaurin uses an effective push-pull move to rip by his guy and pressure the quarterback.
As a run defender, McLaurin reminds me of another recent Michigan commit, 2020 four-star linebacker Osman Savage. Here’s what I wrote about Savage in a scouting run-down of a St. Frances game last fall:
“Savage is a patient player, waiting until the play develops before he commits to attacking to make a tackle. He seems content with allowing the defensive line to cause disruption and make the play.
“Still, I’d like Savage to player more, well, savagely. He seemed to disappear at times and didn’t really make an impact because he was basically playing a safety role and waiting for a mistake to be made before engaging. Playing with more aggressiveness will allow him to cause more havoc and blow up plays at the line of scrimmage earlier, rather than letting the ball carrier get a few extra yards.”
McLaurin is similarly hesitant when a play comes his way, often waiting to see if he is needed before engaging. But that patience also has its benefits, like when he made a touchdown-saving open field tackle on a receiver in the flat.
When McLaurin starts bulking up to get into a college-ready body, he needs to add a lot of muscle. His slight build can lead him to get washed by blockers getting to the second level with a head of steam.
In this next play, McLaurin is the inside linebacker on the near side. Him and the fullback collide without McLaurin losing ground, but then the fullback quickly gains control and drives him away from the hole.
This happens a couple times in the game. I’ve seen some other scouting that suggests McLaurin can bulk up to play middle linebacker, but I think he’s best suited for the outside, either as a WILL or SAM linebacker.
McLaurin’s ability to tackle in space and play recognition would make him a good fit for the WILL, or weakside, spot. He reminds me of Mike McCray in that sense, although he’s a bit faster. He takes good angles to the ball and can chase down running backs in the flats.
But I think McLaurin would be best at SAM, where he can utilize his length and athleticism to bend around the edge and get in the backfield. Wherever he ends up, McLaurin’s body development will be key to unlocking his potential.