It's a good day for the Auburn Tigers' football program, as 4-star defensive end Justin Thornton announced his commitment today.
Bryan Matthews of 247Sports reported the decision on May 12:
Bryan Matthews @BMattAU
4-star DE Justin Thornton has committed to Auburn (Free/Mobile) http://t.co/V4REt1v1sw via @247Sports2013-5-12 15:06:26
According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Thornton is the No. 66 recruit in the country, the No. 3 weak-side defensive end and the No. 5 overall prospect from the state of Alabama in this year's class.
At 6'5" and 222 pounds, Thornton is going to have to fill out some at the next level to physically match up with the bigger offensive tackles in the college game.
It's also possible Thornton could end up playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. He's certainly athletic enough to pull off the feat, as his defensive coordinator at Vigor High, Ashley Johnson, told Mike Herndon of AL.com in February:
"He's got great leverage and explosion," Johnson said Tuesday. "We timed him at 4.72 yesterday. He's got the long arms everybody's looking for ... and he's a good technician. He understands how to read blocks. He's very hard to trap."
While Thornton was strictly a hand-in-the-dirt player in Vigor's defensive scheme, Johnson said he has the skill set to play in space. "He's got the hips; he can change direction," Johnson said.
Via Herndon, Thornton finished his junior season with 62 tackles, seven sacks and 13 tackles for loss in his first season starting for Vigor.
Here's Thornton's highlight film from his junior year.
At least at the high school level, Thornton has no issues getting a push up the field and setting an edge. He plays with pretty good leverage for a kid of his height, which will be especially important facing those 300-pound linemen in college.
While there is no mistaking his ability to shift his hips on the fly, there still isn't a ton of quickness in Thornton's game. He has great speed for his size once he gets going and easily shifts his momentum when changing direction, but his acceleration will need work.
With his hand on the ground he shows impressive burst, but it will be interesting to see how he handles playing in space if he moves to outside linebacker.
Wherever he ends up playing, Thornton is a very talented prospect who is only going to get better as he fills out his frame and gains more experience. Look for big things from him at the next level.