It’s been a busy couple of weeks for the staff on the recruiting front, and while all of the commits will get a recruiting profile, I’ve decided to kick off this summer’s recruiting breakdown series with the keystone of our class; Anthony James II.
The Texas native is considered by many to be one of the elite defensive linemen in the 2023 cycle, and it’s easy to see why so many programs were after him. Standing at 6-5 and 245 lbs, James has a frame and quick twitch explosiveness to be a prototypical base DE in an even front or OLB in a odd front, and while he’s just barely scratching the surface of his potential, he has what it takes to make an immediate impact.
Looking at his hudl tape, it’s apparent that James is rather advanced in his run defense techniques. That might be a product of his defensive scheme or the types of offenses that he sees, but it’s clear that’s his strong suit. Don’t get me wrong, James isn’t some run stuffer. The nice thing about figuring out sound run defense techniques as a DL is that the traits and tendencies that helps you win with against the run can carry over to pass rushing. Off the LOS, James uses his quick first step to stone on-coming blockers on their side of the line, and he does a pretty good job at using his long reach to keep them off of his body and maintain leverage and gap integrity. That type of first step explosiveness and a functional understanding of using reach to create leverage and maintain control of a blocker are the building blocks of a classic speed-to-power pass rush move that ZTF routinely terrorized opposing QBs with.
However, the thing that stands out to me the most is his on-field awareness and disciplined rushing. In the tape that I could find, James never seems to lose track of the ball carrier while engaging blockers. Whether it’s on a simple hand off, a QB breaking the pocket, or against the option, James is always in a position to redirect his rush and hunt down the ball carrier. When he is left as the unblocked option man, he takes the one or two steps inside to squeeze the interior gaps before exploding upfield to force the issue, and sometimes even chase down the ball carrier after forcing them off their track. When you have a dominant and explosive athlete like James playing on the DL, it can sometimes be tough to rein in their natural desire to get into the backfield and create chaos (that’s why traps and screens are a thing). That’s why seeing a young DL like James play with discipline is so encouraging. It means that the game has slowed down for him mentally, and his coaches’ points are becoming second nature to him.
Looking ahead to his fit at UW, there’s a lot for Breckterfield and Schmidt to work with and work on. Thus far, he’s been asked to line up mostly to the field side as a 5 or 6i-tech DE, which usually means he’s facing a TE and OT, and he’s usually asked to play some edge contain. Given that, and his potential to naturally get up into the 260-270 lb range, I expect him to start out as our field-side EDGE. These guys play both stand up and hand-down stances, and they can sometimes kick inside to a 4i-technique on the inside shoulder of an OT. This should capitalize on his size/athleticism, but it’ll mean he needs to work on stances and techniques other than his squatty 3 and 4-point stances. Aside from stances and the usual hand fighting techniques that all DL need to refine coming out of HS, James will need to get coached up on the nuances of stunting and slanting. Inge loves to bring pressure from all positions and all sorts of angles, and this often requires the EDGEs to hit gaps that they don’t start in. From what I can tell, James wasn’t asked to do too much of this in HS, so this might take a little bit of time to get right
As with most recruits of James’ athletic profile, I always like to take a look at the type of competition that he plays against in the HS ranks. It helps me to get a feel for their talent and potential at the next level, and it often helps me to separate the JAGs and the truly elite prospects. Sometimes you get players who are a product of a football factory and have their play elevated by their talented teammates, sometimes they are middling P5 caliber athletes that are “men amongst boys” in lower level competition, and other times they are legit talents who are shouldering the load of a weak team facing tough competition. The context matters. James’ HS team, Wylie East, is located in the DFW area and competes at the 5A level, which is among the most competitive levels of Texas football, so the competition that he’s played against is no joke. His team’s 3-7 record isn’t anything to write home about, but you can tell that his aforementioned traits and talents shine through and will be elevated once he’s surrounded by comparable talent.
In a number of ways, James is the most important recruit to land on Montlake since Budda Baker became the crown jewel of Chris Petersen’s first class. By reeling in the former Texas A&M commit, Kalen DeBoer, Courtney Morgan, and the rest of the staff recaptured the momentum of the program and brought instant credibility back to UW’s recruiting efforts. Not only was he DeBoer’s highest rated recruit to date, but he’s the first blue chip DL/EDGE recruit we’ve landed since Chris Petersen’s last class. As I’ve always believed, teams must be built from the trenches first, and its encouraging to see that this staff is both committed and capable of landing the talent necessary to build our defensive front. Hopefully James, who’s since become a vocal leader within our 2023 recruiting class, can help keep up our momentum on the recruiting trail.