Auburn signed the 7th ranked class in the 2020 recruiting cycle. That means the recruiting services thought very highly of Auburn’s signees overall. While the Tigers did not have a single 247 Composite five-star, their class did include 16 four star prospects. That’s pretty durn good.
At a macro level, these sites do a great job of identifying what programs are doing the best job at bringing in the most top-level talent. But on an individual basis there are always misses. A guy like Byron Cowart struggles to see snaps and transfers out while a late addition like Daniel Thomas emerges as a top SEC safety and ends up a 5th round NFL Draft pick.
When I look at Auburn’s 2020 signing class and their individual rankings, one player stands out as being undervalued. That player? Surprise Early Signing Day flip Romello Height.
Height finished ranked #392 by 247 Composite barely missing blue chip status with a 0.8884 rating. Both 247 and ESPN graded Height as four star calibre player but just barely while Rivals was the lowest ranking Height as the 34th best OLB prospect in the 2020 class.
I think they are all wrong.
Romello Height committed to Miami in July. He then spent most of the next four to five months being an incredibly vocal supporter of the Canes and denying any interest in other programs. On his highlight tape, you can even see him sometimes throw up the U after a sack. But while publicly Height seemed locked in as a Cane (including that 1,000% committed tweet) behind the scenes things were not as they seemed.
As that fall went on there was buzz that Auburn had made the Dublin High School stand out their top priority at the Buck. Possibly even liking him more for that position than top 100 player 4* LB Phillip Webb. That buzz got even louder when Webb and Auburn mutually parted ways cancelling his official visit. On early signing day, Height announced he was in fact switching his pledge to the Tigers while Webb eventually signed with LSU.
Ready for a hot take? I think Auburn got the better player. I don’t mean that as a put down on Webb. The kid is elite. I just think Romello Height has 1st round NFL Draft type of upside as a pass rusher. Let’s see why
247 is doing a really cool series where they breakdown what lessons they have learned from recent NFL Drafts when it comes to evaluating prospects. Last week, 247sports.com posted an article on edge prospects and what they look for when evaluating a prospect. Here’s an excerpt:
The group averaged 6-foot-3.9 and 220.5 pounds as high school prospects. Just five of the 32 were under 6-foot-3 at the NFL Combine (which often tends to be shorter than high school listings) with one under 6-foot-2 – Michigan’s Josh Uche who was athletic as a high school prospect running a verified 4.59 second 40-yard dash. On the flip-side, none were 6-foot-6 or taller. Six of the 32 weighed over 240 pounds as high school prospects with just one over 260 (Rashan Gary).
If you’re assuming the group is full of long, big-framed athletes given the average height and weight, you’d be correct. Many of these edges have the length and frames to pack on weight once in a college strength program. The group averaged a 33.7 inch arm, 9.8 inch hand and 80.5 inch (6-foot-8.5) wingspan. For those not well-versed in dimensions, those are all on the high end. Just one had an arm length shorter than 32.5 inches. There was one hand under 9 inches and 1 wingspan under 6-foot-5.5. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that over half of the group played basketball in high school, many at a high level.
So what do they look like as high school prospects? I mentioned earlier most showed pass rush ability in high school. We have stats on 25 of the 32. The group as a whole was quite productive on the field, averaging 74 tackles, 24 tackles for loss and 13.2 sacks as seniors in high school. Over two-thirds of those with stats had double-digit sacks.
So how does Height stack up to these comparisons? Well first off, there’s his frame. Auburn’s official site lists him at 6’4” 217 lbs. That’s almost a perfect match to the average size 247 lists as ideal for edge prospects coming out of high school.
As for production? Height was incredibly productive as a senior at Dublin High School putting up 27 tackles for loss and 16 sacks as a senior. That’s better production than the average 247Sports.com found when looking at 25 of the 32 most recently drafted edge players during their senior seasons in high school.
But numbers and frame are just a piece of a puzzle. Some players are just more athletic than their opponents and thrive by simply bulldozing would be blockers or running around them. That happens some in Height’s tape, just like every top prospect, but I was consistently impressed by HOW Height generate pressure. He wasn’t totally reliant on his freak athleticism. Here’s a great example.
Working on an article next week explaining why I think Romello Height is Auburn's most underrated 2020 signee— AUNerd (@AUSportsNerd) May 24, 2020
Here's a taste pic.twitter.com/vhxbvRz6DG
So what makes this play so great? Well first, I love that he’s rushing from a 4i technique (meaning he’s lined up on the tackle’s inside shoulder) out of a Tite front (two 4is and a nose tackle) which has become ubiquitous in college football and a favorite of Kevin Steele’s. I doubt Height will do this much for Auburn as in these types of looks the Buck is used as an outside rusher from an OLB spot but it shows some great versatility.
His rush starts with him going outside and he does a great job winning the initial hand fight. He gets his inside arm locked on the tackle’s chest and attempts to combine that leverage with his speed to get the corner. But what I love about this play is he doesn’t just continue to blindly rush up field. His eyes are still on the QB and when he sees the quarterback step up in the pocket and look to escape to his right, Height slams on the brakes while using that leverage he’s created from his hand placement to spin back and make the sack. That’s a kid deploying his elite tools in a way that can translate to the next level.
Time and time again, I saw Height not rely just on speed or power. Even on this play, where he doesn’t end up with the sack, you can see his skills.
This tackle is well aware of Height’s ability to get the corner so the tackle attempts to get great depth to cut off the edge. Height sees the tackle is over playing him, gets his inside hand into the chest of the tackle and then deploys a devastating spin move that still leaves him in a great position to make the play. He doesn’t finish but again this rep shows a prospect that is already deploying counter moves with his rush.
But speed is absolutely apart of his game and it’s something Auburn has missed since Jeff Holland’s departure in 2017.
One of the buzz words people like to use when discussing pass rushers is “bend”. What scouts/analysts/pretend experts on the internet mean when they say “this player has great bend” is that the pass rusher is able to get low at the top of the rush, drop his hips, turn his body and take a flat path to the quarterback for a sack. In this clip you get to see Height’s great bend. Notice how when he gets past the offensive tackle, he doesn’t have to take any recovery steps to get to the quarterback but is able to instead make a straight line and get the sack. That’s great bend.
But playing the Buck spot doesn’t mean just blowing by tackles to get sacks. If you are going to play for Rodney Garner you better be able to set the edge. Unsurprisingly, Height didn’t get very many opportunities as a run stopper as teams tended to either run away from him or take him out by reading him. There were some reps though that show the potential to handle that responsibility at the next level.
No player is perfect, especially a former high schooler entering his first season as an SEC football player, so I think it’s important to also highlight some areas of improvement. For me, there are three specific aspects of Height’s game I would like to see improve:
- Lower Body Strength
- First Step
That first note shouldn’t come as a surprise. Pretty much every freshman needs to get stronger in order for them to play at the next level. Height is far from weak and looks well-built on tape but in order for some of these pass rush moves to translate against SEC offensive tackles, he will have to improve his lower body strength. Something I expect to happen quickly given Height’s frame.
The second note is an interesting one. What I mean by “first step” is the ability to get out of his stance on the snap of the ball and into the play. Often when watching Height’s tape, he was the last player out of his stance.
It’s hard to completely see full speed in this gif but I actually froze a number of his plays right after the snap and found him more times than I would like to see still in his stance when everyone else was in motion. It was honestly bizarre because there are instances where you see him just blow by a blocker but it didn’t happen regularly enough for a kid with his talent. I think though it’s tied in some part to note #3.
Probably the biggest area of improvement for Height will be learning to play through the whistle every snap. First, let me be fair to the kid. He played almost every single snap for his high school team. Dublin used him as a run blocking tight end in their Single Wing offense and he was also asked to cover kicks. Add all that to also playing in the trenches every snap as an end and I suspect this is more due to Height trying to conserve energy than necessarily a problem with effort.
Still though there were times where I feel if he had kept playing, he could have made an impact on the play.
This is a far cry from Marlon Davidson obliterating Garrett Shrader 13+ yards down field after initially running by him in the backfield. Here the offense runs a nice little quick concept to hit the WR on the drag route. Height (#3) rushes up field, sees the ball is thrown behind him and then just casually walks down the field as the wide out picks up a huge gain. I have a hard time believing given Height’s quickness, he wouldn’t have at least stopped this play from being a 20+ yard gain if he had played through the whistle. Maybe he would not have an impact on the play but you would like to see him at least try.
That’s something though that will get corrected REALLY quick under Rodney Garner. If you wanna play for Coach G, you better bring it every single snap or you won’t see the field. I fully expect to see better from Height moving forward.
When you add up Height’s frame, athletic gifts, production and tape, I don’t see a high 3*/borderline 4* player. I see a top 100 prospect with first round potential. To me, he’s the exact type of weapon this Auburn defense has been without the past two seasons. I’m doubtful he makes a major impact as a true freshman due to the unusual offseason and Auburn’s returning depth on the edge but I firmly believe that before Height’s career is through on the Plains he will be one of the more feared pass rushers in the SEC.