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Final 247Sports five-star rankings feature two Lions linebackers

Recently enrolled Penn State linebackers Lance Dixon (Mineral, Va.) and Brandon Smith (West Bloomfield, Mich.) are in rarefied company in 247Sports’ final 2019 recruit rankings. The full Top247 for the class of 2019 won’t be revealed until Wednesday but every five-star prospect was identified Tuesday afternoon during a Facebook Live broadcast.

This new Nittany Lions duo made the cut, listed alongside 30 other 2019 class members who warranted five-star status from the 247Sports staff based on years of evaluation and projected long-term potential.

“These are the guys in 2019 that we believe are future first-round NFL draft picks,” 247Sports Director of Scouting Barton Simmons said during the five-star reveal show.

Smith and Dixon land at 12th and 13th, respectively, and they are the top two linebackers nationally. Both players enrolled at Penn State earlier this month and will participate in Nittany Lions spring camp.

Smith, considered an inside linebacker prospect with the size (6-foot-4, 228 pounds) and versatility to find other paths to early playing time, initially earned a five-star bump last summer following his performance at The Opening Finals. Dixon, a 6-2, 201-pound playmaker, jumps from No. 49 in the most recent 247Sports rankings.

Penn State is one of eight programs that signed multiple five-star members of the 2019 recruiting cycle, along with Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Southern Cal and Texas A&M. Last cycle, the Nittany Lions landed two five-star talents in the Top247: linebacker Micah Parsons and receiver Justin Shorter (running back Ricky Slade was a five-star composite prospect but a four-star talent as rated solely by 247Sports).

PSU could secure its second consecutive top-10 recruiting class Feb. 6 when National Signing Day wraps up several prospect pursuits.

Dixon used an official visit at the university in June and, three weeks later, pledged to Penn State from a group of finalists that featured Big Ten foes Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. An all-state track and field competitor, he provides elite quickness at linebacker. 

Also utilized as a safety during his high school career, Dixon can defend a variety of opponents and won’t be overmatched in pass coverage. He collected 95 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 11 quarterback hurries in 2018, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Simmons compared Dixon to former Notre Dame All-American and current Dallas Cowboys starter Jaylon Smith.

“We are way against the grain here,” Simmons said. “Others in the industry have him all the way down as like a three-star prospect. I love this kid. No concern. Turn on the film. He’s a 4.55 (40-yard dash) guy, he’s a kid that plays offense, he’s a kid that brings violence to the point of attack. He disrupts the football; always grabbing at it and picking balls off. He can do so much and we saw him up close at the All-American Bowl. He was very physical; not just a space linebacker. He can clog the run game as well and take on blockers. Penn State is getting a good one there.”

Smith, named Virginia’s 2018 Gatorade Player of the Year, was a finalist for the Butkus Award, which is presented annually to the top linebacker in high school. He tallied 135 tackles, 14 quarterback pressures, nine forced fumbles and five sacks as a senior. Penn State entered his recruitment in April 2017 and eventually beat out several contenders, including Clemson, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech.

Simmons also discussed Smith, who he compared to former Vanderbilt All-American and current Houston Texans starter Zach Cunningham.

“The size, length, physicality there is all pretty freakish,” Simmons said. “He’s in the 4.6 (40-yard dash) range and he could evolve into an edge pass rusher, into a hand-down defensive end. But I think as an inside linebacker, he has so much upside. … A guy who can slice into running lanes, be really physical. Brandon Smith is a very physical tackler and, despite that size and that length, he has no issues playing in the box right now. But he’s got a lot of versatility.”

Below is the complete list of five-star recruits in the final edition of 247Sports’ 2019 rankings.

32: OL Evan Neal (Alabama)

31: WR Kyle Ford (Southern Cal)

30: CB Jeffery Carter (Alabama)

29: WR Garrett Wilson (Ohio State)

28: LB Owen Pappoe (Auburn)

27: DE George Karlaftis (Purdue)

26: RB Jerrion Ealy (uncommitted)

25: OL Darnell Wright (uncommitted)

24: S Tyler Owens (Texas)

23: S Daxton Hill (Michigan)

22: DE Zach Harrison (Ohio State)

21: LB Nakobe Dean (Georgia)

20: CB Tyrique Stevenson (Georgia)

19: WR Jadon Haselwood (Oklahoma)

18: DT Zacch Pickens (South Carolina)

17: LB Marcel Brooks (LSU)

16: TE Baylor Cupp (Texas A&M)

15: S Kyle Hamilton (Notre Dame)

14: RB Trey Sanders (Alabama)

13: LB Lance Dixon (Penn State)

12: LB Brandon Smith (Penn State)

11. RB John Emery (LSU)

10. ATH Bru McCoy (Southern Cal)

9. QB Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma)

8. OL Charles Cross (Mississippi State)

7. OL Logan Brown (Wisconsin)

6. DE Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon)

5. DT Travon Walker (Georgia)

4. DE Nolan Smith (Georgia)

3. DT DeMarvin Leal (Texas A&M)

2. CB Derek Stingley (LSU)

1. DE Antonio Alfano (Alabama)

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