Looks Like University Of Illinois - Calvin Hart Jr.

Jan 9, 2021

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This is a difficult player evaluation. There's no real film, we're coming off a season where stats aren't very trustworthy, and for whatever reason my typical "I'll go find out what NC State fans thing by stalking their message boards" methodology isn't providing a lot of information. So I'm not sure how to even go about rating this transfer.

I know we can start here: we need linebackers. Especially if this becomes a 4-3 defense next season. In the Penn State game we were down to two scholarship linebackers: Jake Hansen and Milo Eifler. They both decided to move on and won't be using their Covid waiver so that means we really need linebackers. The three likely starters for next season - Khalan Tolson, Tarique Barnes, and Shammond Cooper - are all coming off season-ending injuries. And the player who would have been the fourth linebacker next year, Delano Ware, quit the team with two weeks remaining in the season. So yes, there's an immediate need for linebackers. The Dark Angel isn't going to be able to do it all himself next season.

(Who is The Dark Angel? Division-II transfer Isaac Darkangelo who had to sit out this season after transferring in, even though he's a walkon. He takes over and begins total world domination next season.)

There will be other bodies at linebacker I'm sure. I'm guessing new DC Ryan Walters moves Derrick Smith up to linebacker from safety. I'd also think that maybe Nick Fedanzo moves from running back to linebacker. Hell, I've already moved Joshua McCray from running back to linebacker and he mostly verballed to Illinois so he could play running back. There's way's of fixing this problem.

And one of those ways is to work the transfer portal. Which is what landed Calvin Hart Jr. in Champaign. We don't even know who will make up the recruiting staff yet, but we've already landed a linebacker. So this was some good hustle from Bielema's still-developing staff.

What kind of player are we getting? That's the problem. I have no idea. He was a mid-to-low 3-star from Florida who picked NC State. He redshirted and then played a fair bit as a redshirt freshman in 2019. In 2020, his snaps were cut nearly in half. And everything I saw on NC State message boards mostly had the same "linebacker is the one spot where we had crazy depth so I get why he's leaving" theme.

Still, "snaps dropped from freshman year to sophomore year and player decided to transfer" is never a good sign. Yes, there's talent out there (Bhebhe buried behind NFL receivers at USC to use one example), but just on the surface, a player leaving NC State because he was buried on the depth chart means "might not be a Power Five athlete" about 80% of the time.

But maybe NC State really does have surprising linebacker depth? Here's a comment I found on Reddit:

I trust random message board posters a fair bit when it comes to stuff like this. Their general consensus on a player is usually surprisingly accurate. There were lots of Western Michigan fans saying "Chase Brown is absolutely the real deal" when he transferred in and tons of New Mexico fans saying Desmond Dan would never catch a pass at Illinois. It's a surprisingly trustworthy data point.

As far as highlights go (high school highlights don't mean very much at this point besides the fact that he's really aggressive), he did post these college highlights on Twitter:

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But that's mostly low-angle slow-mo stuff that doesn't show us much (although the forced fumble on the UNC QB was nice). "Here are some of the tackles I made" film with no context doesn't tell us much.

One thing from PFF gave us a little "maybe he's a rush linebacker in a 3-4?" data. Dan from The Field Pass did the research and found that his pass rushing PFF numbers were really good:

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What's not being said there: his run defense numbers were pretty bad. But hey, sophomore linebacker in the ACC with good numbers here and bad numbers there - we can work with that.

There's also this clip from high school, which is both good ("wow, he's aggressive") and bad ("wow, he's going to have several late-hit-out-of-bounds penalties"):

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So, without some real-deal film to break down and without knowing the other schools we beat for this kid, what do I do about rating him? It's a huge get given the roster situation, but is he a talented linebacker buried behind surprising LB depth at NC State or is he "guy who didn't win a starting job at NC State now trying to do the same at Illinois"? Hard to get a good feel here.

But I think I know where I'll settle. I like this pickup more than the last pickup (McCray). And I gave McCray two Tom Cruises, so I need to go higher here. That means this one ends up right in the center.

Calvin Hart Jr. - Two and one-half Tom Cruises


w.hyland@sbcglobal.net on January 9, 2021 @ 07:14 AM

As far as linebacker depth in 2020, why didn't Ryan Meed get any playing time? Seemed like you liked him preseason in the 90I.

illinivek23 on January 9, 2021 @ 10:28 AM

I wonder if BB and Doeren talked about CJs move to help BB do what he wants to do here. Could be a win win win for everybody involved.

SactownIllini on January 9, 2021 @ 01:11 PM

I doubt a FB coach would encourage that unless he wasn't good. You always can use talented depth. Injuries always happen (see Illini LBs from last 2 years).

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