Justin Hilliard is considered one of the top linebackers in the nation and perhaps the best prospect in the Midwest, and schools from around the nation are pursuing the top-tier recruit.
Hilliard attends Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier High School, and is listed at 6'2 and 230 pounds. Scout, 247sports and ESPN all project him to play outside linebacker at the next level, while Rivals slots him at inside linebacker.
Rivals (which rates him as the top inside linebacker in the nation), ESPN and Scout all rate Hilliard as a four-star prospect, while 247sports gives him five stars. He is a composite five-star player, with the service ranking him as the 27th-best player in the class of 2015. He's also considered the second-best outside linebacker in the country and the best player in the state of Ohio.
Hilliard claims offers from Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Florida, Florida State and USC, among others. He can be found on Twitter @JHilliard47.
Why is Hilliard so coveted? Let's go to the tape.
I really want to thank whoever at Hilliard's high school is in charge of getting a good quality digital camera to shoot games. This is very helpful for evaluating.
Hilliard has a great combination of size, speed and athleticism. He seems somewhat close to his eventual college size, and I would not project him as someone who will pack on 30 pounds of muscle in a college strength program. He already looks like a college linebacker. His closing speed is excellent, because his first and second steps are elite for a prospect of his size. I think his overall speed is good, but perhaps not quite that of some others in the class.
Often, when a high schooler is as muscled as Hilliard, I worry about his lateral agility and change of direction. Not so with Hilliard. He is able to strafe down the line, scrape off blocks, change his momentum against flow and then quickly reaccelerate to the ball carrier.
Hilliard takes on blocks aggressively and physically, and is able to get off them quickly, despite not having great length. He seems to be very quick at reading the progression of the play and he diagnoses well. Saint X is a great high school program, and it's no surprise that the coaching he receives shows up in his highlights. That goes for his tackling, too. Hilliard is a big hitter who is also a sure form tackler. He doesn't try to knock out players at the expense of bringing them down.
At 6'2 and 230, Hilliard's measurables don't profile as a pass rusher, but he is one of the best blitzing linebackers I have seen. He has great acceleration, and he is able to make blockers miss in short areas, reminiscent of how great running backs slip tackles in the hole. He finishes off quarterbacks violently.
Hilliard's highlights show him more against the run and blitzing than in coverage, but it's clear he is better against the run at this point. I think Hilliard can be a multi-year starter at the BCS level and an NFL player down the line.