It's hard to emphasize just how badly the Aggies needed to flip Cy Falls linebacker Otaro Alaka from Texas. Forget about the fact that it was the second quality front seven prospect that Sumlin has taken away from new head coach Charlie Strong in the last couple of weeks. With A&M losing essentially the state's top linebacker prospect in La Porte's Hoza Scott to academic issues and another four star in Galena Park North Shore's Zach Whitley Jr. to UCLA, the Aggies were down to one linebacker commit in the 2014 class. Not only that, A&M really needed to bring someone into the fold who offered SEC length and athleticism, something that was seriously lacking at times in A&M's second season in the SEC.
There's no problem in that regard with Alaka. He's 6 foot 3, runs a 4.7-second 40-yard dash and moves well laterally. He plays outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense but doesn't mean that all he can do is rush the passer like a defensive end. Even if you run plays away from him, you have to be able to get someone on him because he's got good acceleration along with great range (because of his height) and covers ground so quickly. He can be aligned between the tackle and a slot and it just doesn't matter…he'll close and make the play for little gain or a loss. When he blitzes, quarterbacks will roll out to the opposite side to avoid him and he'll chase them all the way to the sideline if need be.
His length also enables him to be able to get his long arms out on defenders, keep them away from his body, and eventually shed them to make a stop. He'll line up over a tight end as a Sam linebacker, stalemate them, take on a second blocker if necessary, string things out, and free himself for the tackle on strongside runs. Alaka can also move his feet and avoid traffic in order to get to the ballcarrier. In addition, even when he doesn't, he can use his long arms to wrap people up and bring them down in space.
He's got good technique as well. He doesn't wrong arm plays or overpursue….he'll keep his outside arm free when someone is trying to block him and he'll turn things inside to his teammates rather than be vulnerable to misdirection.
There's not much on his senior film about him playing in pass coverage but there's plenty of evidence on his junior film to suggest that he's more than capable of doing so. On his second clip, he turns and starts to run with a slot toward the outside. However, he recognizes that the slot is running a wheel route and that the outside receiver is coming back to the inside. He switches, runs with the wideout for a few steps, and gets his hands out in front of him to pick off a pass. In fact, he's got very good hands…he plays tight end on offense and catches the ball very naturally with his hands out in front of him. On his junior film, he even reads a tunnel screen, lays out for the ball, and makes a diving grab.
When going back and looking at my notes from ranking the state's top linebackers in the spring, I had Alaka third behind Scott and Whitley. He's actually got a little more length and range than either of those although he lacks their speed (and the same can be said in comparing him to A&M linebacker commit Josh Walker). However, the big thing that I liked about him back then was ability to play in space regardless of whether he was coming off the edge or playing in coverage. His senior film indicates that he's a much better all around linebacker than I originally thought due to his ability to play over a tight end and don't underestimate how important that part of his game could be. A&M faces West Coast offenses like LSU, Arkansas, and Alabama use a tight end but teams like Auburn, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State use an H back. In all of those instances the Sam backer must be able to defeat not just the block of the H back/tight end but also any pulling linemen or better yet get penetration to stop the play before it really gets started.
Overall, the Aggies don't really have anyone like Alaka on campus right now that is similar from a physical standpoint. It may be unfair to ask him to be that person right now against SEC level competition but he's certainly going to be that person going forward. In fact, it's easy to overlook how good of a prospect he is because he represented the first real head to head battle between Sumlin and Charlie Strong where Strong had time to prepare, went toe to toe with Sumlin, and still lost. Nonetheless, the battle lines were drawn over Alaka in the first place precisely because of how good he is and that's the important thing to remember when he hits A&M's campus in June.