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4-star linebacker Len’Neth Whitehead commits to Tennessee

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Early work on the trail pays off.

Len’Neth Whitehead/Twitter

Did you think Tennessee had no more tricks up their sleeve? Think again. 4-star linebacker Len’Neth Whitehead surprised many in the recruiting world when he committed to the Tennessee Volunteers on the first day of the Early Signing Period.

Why is this commitment so surprising? Mainly because Whitehead was trending to South Carolina for the past few months, despite Tennessee making a strong initial push. There were a few predictions for the Volunteers on the 247Sports crystal ball, but they were made earlier in the year. The most recent trends pointed towards South Carolina.

Evidently, that changed in the past week.

Whitehead’s recruitment is fundamentally strange because of his college projection. For quite some time, Whitehead was determined to play running back in college, and any school who promised to give him a chance at it was ahead of the rest.

Will Tennessee give him that chance? It’s unknown right now. The obvious assumption from fans is that the staff will have him try out at running back, let him realize that Tennessee has really good running backs who would take up the lion’s share of carries, and then put him at linebacker and let his potential shine. But things tend to play out better in fans’ heads than they do in real life.

If he does play linebacker, he has the ceiling of a high NFL draft pick. You can tell that he’s still learning the position and will need a lot of refinement before seeing the field. His high school has him rushing on the outside, but he looks much more a natural fit for the inside linebacker position. He’s a bit slow to pull the trigger on some plays, and truthfully a good coach could teach him to be aggressive at the point of attack.

When he does show that aggressiveness...it’s exciting to watch. His speed is much more suited for a linebacker than a running back. In addition, he has so much power and such a high motor that ball carriers simply don’t escape his grasp. The key is how balanced he is—even when playing upright. You realize it when you watch the running back clips, where he doesn’t go down on first touch. That strong base and use of his lower body means he’s already got a more natural football playstyle. Being 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds certainly helps too.

Whitehead ranks 181st overall and the 10th best inside linebacker in the 247Sports Composite Rankings. He’s the fourth linebacker of the class and the highest rated of the four.