The Good Counsel prospect is the defensive jewel of Maryland's 2014 recruiting class. What can we learn about him from video?
Our series of film reviews continues after a long pause to absorb National
Signing Day and then wallow in the mire that was the conclusion of Maryland's men's basketball season. Now that we've wrapped up the complete set of incoming offensive line film studies -- Damian Prince
, Derwin Gray
, Larry Mazyck
, Brendan Moore
and Sean Christie
-- it's time to take a look on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Jesse Aniebonam, a worldly and articulate -- and yet still bloodthirsty -- Good Counsel sack machine, was without question the jewel of this defensive recruiting class
. Let's get to know him a little better.
The Recruit: Jesse Aniebonam
High School: Our Lady of Good Counsel, Olney, Md.
Position: Defensive end in high school, OLB at Maryland
Four stars, eighth-best strong-side defensive end, second-best player in Maryland
Measurables: 6-foot-4, 235 pounds. His listed 40 time (4.53) and vertical (43 inches) are super for a lineman. His bench (315) isn't eye-popping for a guy his size but his squat (505) and clean (315) show us that he does not have any core strength issues.
Senior season: Playing as good of a schedule as you can play around the DMV, Good Counsel was a game, if not great, 6-5 team that lost a 29-28 playoff heartbreaker to DeMatha. Aniebonam suffered a vicious concussion early in the season that cost him a few games, but returned and remained the undisputed leader of the GC front 7. Stats were impossible to find, even for a resourceful guy like me, as nobody including maxpreps, WaPo or the Sun seemed to be able to wrangle them in for his senior year. If any of you readers has a beat on Aniebonam's tackle and sack totals from last fall, let me know and I'll add them in here.
Aniebonam was Maryland's top-rated commit for most of the recruiting cycle. He took that honor from Will Ulmer when he committed back in August, but then it was snatched away from him on signing day when a certain big fella from Bishop McNamara
joined him in the Terps' class. I doubt Aniebonam complained about that. Aniebonam had the exact offer list that a nationally elite prospect should have and it included Alabama, Florida, Florida State and Ohio State, among dozens of others. Although Aniebonam was generally considered to be a Maryland lean the whole way, his other serious contenders seemed to be Clemson, Virginia Tech and UNC. Credit here largely goes to Mike Locksley, his primary recruiter. It was just Locks being Locks.
On film: Don't take my word on Aniebonam's film. Watch it for yourself. Please. You'll feel refreshed as a Maryland fan and it'll help shake away the doldrums of basketball season's bitter end. Here's what you'll find:
These many film clips confirm what we all hoped. Aniebonam is simply the complete package as an outside linebacker/rush end type in Brian Stewart's 3-4 scheme. There's so many things that are impressive about this film, but I'm going to start with his speed. He's listed at 4.53 in the 40, which is fast for a big guy, but combine speed and football speed are two very different things, and Aniebonam, undeniably, has football speed. In his primary 2013 film package from the video link above, check out the clip that starts at 1:13 and watch Aniebonam blaze down the field to swallow up an opposing RB that had broke free for a home run TD. That one clip says so much about him. It screams that he's fast, it shows he's aware, it shows he thinks beyond his assignment, it shows he has motor and never gives up on a play.
The other very impressive thing about Aniebonam is how well he tackles. When he gets his hands on a skill player, the guy is dunzo. Blow the whistle. Aniebonam closes hard, has great hands, wraps up his guy and collapses him. It's quick, mean, clean, efficient, and fundamentally beautiful. He is obviously a well-schooled student of the game. Coaches at Good Counsel will use Aniebonam's film as a teaching tool for young tacklers.
Finally, there's Aniebonam's instincts and nose for the ball. We watched fellow OLB recruit Nnamdi Egbuaba on film
and came away very impressed by what a wrecking ball the Baltimore product was. Egbuaba, while visibly raw and a little stiff from the waist up, just had a hunger for the ball and a knack for blowing up plays. Well, Aniebonam has that same shark-in-a-school-of-baitfish way about him that Egbuaba does. He thrashes around the box, he steamrolls guys in his path, he deftly navigates his way to the ball and then he destroys plays before they materialize. The big difference is that Aniebonam doesn't have any of the raw-ness that Egbuaba showed in high school. He's fluid, polished and athletic.
Aniebonam is also very, very smart, and I'm not just talking about the interviews you can find of him in which he comes off as an extremely thoughtful and mature young man. He's also got football smarts. Take a look at the clips that start around 1:26 and 4:20 in the main 2013 film overview. In both cases, you can see him biding his time while being blocked by an OL, but then he sheds that block in the blink of an eye to go make a tackle. It's like he's using the blocker for cover, or toying with him while actually hiding behind him, just to lure the rusher into his target zone so he can go make the play. Very heady.
Although he has dynamic film, the one thing I'll say to the downside is that he played an upright game at Good Counsel. It may be the difference between a kid like him being a 4-star or a 5-star. It's a trap gifted high school athletes fall into simply because they're so good that they don't need to worry about pad-level battles. In Aniebonam's defense, he had enough speed, strength and skill that he rarely needed to go low to beat a blocker -- he just used his other physical gifts beat them. Still, his Good Counsel film shows him almost exclusively playing shoulders-up until the point of contact. Playing too upright nullifies the leverage players can get with their arms while hampering their ability to quickly get around corners and move laterally. This is something Aniebonam may have to work on this summer and fall, but it should be easily overcome for an athlete of his caliber.
Although Aniebonam is one of the very best defensive prospects Maryland has seen in recent years, his immediate path to the field isn't that clear simply because of the position he plays. He is more game-ready than other incoming freshmen who might see action this fall even if he doesn't. The reason is simple: Maryland has a lot of depth at outside linebacker. The top three guys on the depth chart -- Matt Robinson
, Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil
and Alex Twine
-- are all going to see many snaps, and then the Terps have Avery Thompson, Clarence Murphy
, Yannick Ngakoue
and Cavon Walker in the system as well. Aniebonam might have enough talent to break through and pass some of those guys, and he could certainly force Maryland's coaches into playing him. But if they can get away with redshirting him, that's not a bad thing in any way, shape or form -- it's a luxury. He's a similar prospect to Ngakoue, who played quite a bit as a true freshman last year. If Aniebonam redshirts or doesn't play as much as Ngakoue did, that's more of a statement on Maryland's improved positional and overall depth than it is on Aniebonam or Ngakoue.
Longterm outlook: Jesse Aniebonam is a very exciting prospect. He's not only a great physical specimen and a defender with a mean streak, but he also strikes us as someone of high character who will be coachable, eager to learn, a leader and a role model as he progresses through his Maryland career. His on-field contributions could begin right away or they could begin as a redshirt freshman or sophomore, but Aniebonam enters Maryland looking like a sure thing to be an impact player. He also shows signs of having the tools and aptitude to follow in the footsteps Maryland linebacker greats such as Shawne Merriman, D'Qwell Jackson and E.J. Henderson to the next level and become a NFL defender with a name that resonates. That's all way off in the future though. First things first, let's extend a warm Maryland welcome to Jesse Aniebonam, the Good Counsel defensive stud who paid scant attention to some extremely enticing offers elsewhere in order to join the Maryland Pride movement and stay at home.
How do you feel about Aniebonam's immediate prospects for playing time?