Michigan landed the crown jewel of its defensive class so far when 2021 four-star linebacker Junior Colson committed on Sunday afternoon. This was a big win for new linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary, who overcame a push by Tennessee to land Colson.
In Colson, Michigan has a 6-foot-2, 228-pound outside linebacker who is ranked No. 8 at his position and No. 116 overall. Colson is known for his ability to play in space, especially in pass coverage.
He clocked a 4.77 40-yard dash and 4.31 shuttle at an Opening Regional around this time last year. That would put him at the lower half among linebackers in the 2020 combine, but is not bad at all for a sophomore in high school.
Also notable is his weight gain. At the event, Colson weighed in at 204 pounds. He was transitioning from playing wide receiver as an underclassman to linebacker, and doesn’t seem to have lost any of his athleticism or speed while adding more than 20 pounds.
On the field, Colson was crazy productive for 13-2 state runner-up Ravenwood. He racked up 175 tackles, 30 tackles for loss and 14 sacks as a junior.
Unfortunately, it looks like the word was out about Colson by the time they played Independence last season, which is the full game I was able to watch on YouTube. Independence ran away from Colson every time and often used him as the read on RPOs. That didn’t end up mattering much in a 40-14 victory by Ravenwood, but Colson’s impact was limited.
Given that, I’ll sprinkle in some clips from Colson’s junior highlight reel to make up for some aspects of his game I wasn’t able to glean from watching this game.
But let’s start with some abilities I could easily see. The first is Colson’s ability in pass coverage. He plays at outside linebacker, splitting out to cover wide receivers in four- and five-wide formations. In these situations, he has good instincts and athleticism to stick with receivers.
On this play, Colson is lined up on the inside receiver on the far side of the field. When his man crosses the field near two other receivers, Colson smartly hangs back away from the other linebacker to not bunch up the coverage. When his receiver breaks downfield, Colson is ready to follow and stay with him because he didn’t get caught up in the junk at the second level.
Colson also showcases his defensive #SpeedInSpace on the screen in this next play. Lined up in the same position as before, Colson takes a few aggressive steps towards the quarterback for some reason, even though there is no play-action. But he recovers quickly and gets on his horse to the sideline where the receiver is breaking free. By taking a good angle and using his speed, Colson is able to track him down and make the tackle.
For fans still traumatized by Mike McCray having to cover Saquon Barkley or Parris Campbell, that will be less of an issue with Colson.
Besides Independence taking Colson out of the action whenever they could, the Ravenwood coaches did it themselves with their defensive alignment a few times. While split out further than the tackle and backed up at seven or eight yards, Colson would be sent on blitzes. Blitzing from this far away didn’t give him a chance to get to the quarterback often, but he did show his ability to close quickly and disengage from blocks, like in this play below.
He gets by the guard easily with a little move and over-pursues the quarterback at first, but holds on to him and brings him down for the sack.
I think with schemes drawn up from a guy nicknamed Dr. Blitz, Colson will have better opportunities to get through the line and get sacks.
The last facet of Colson’s game left to cover is his ability against the run. Like I said earlier, Independence ran away from his side literally every time, so there wasn’t really an opportunity to see that in this game. However, his highlight film has some good clips there.
In this clip, Colson is lined up in the box as the linebacker between the right guard and tackle. He sets the edge really well here, quickly swiping off the tackle and getting to the outside where he meets the running back.
He’s also good at reading the play and cutting through the trash to get to the ball. Here, he reads the running back, stays patient, keeps his shoulders square with the line of scrimmage and meets the running back at the hole. The tackle is a little high, but otherwise the technique is very sound.
Notably, in these last two plays, Colson was playing in the box as opposed to out in the flat. That versatility will serve him well as the WILL linebacker at Michigan, which is a de facto inside linebacker since the Viper plays outside as a hybrid. But when the opposing offense tries to create a mismatch, Colson’s abilities in space will be able to counteract that and keep them honest.
When Colson gets to campus, Josh Ross will definitely be gone and Cam McGrone may have already left for the NFL. That will give him a chance to compete for a job with 2020 signees Kalel Mullings, Osman Savage and Nikhai Hill-Green immediately. If he doesn’t win the spot as a freshman, which is pretty unlikely, he’ll probably play special teams and provide quality depth until a spot opens again.