Land of 10 writer Tyler Donohue breaks down a Penn State recruit every Monday. In this edition, we evaluate defensive lineman commit Judge Culpepper. Be sure to check out recent analysis on receiver Justin Shorter.
A dizzying and delightful weekend for the Penn State coaching staff started with a Friday afternoon commitment from Judge Culpepper. The son of former Florida Gators star and NFL lineman Brad Culpepper, he is primed to follow his father’s footsteps into the defensive trenches.
The Nittany Lions landed four more pledges during a weekend that featured multiple camps and Lasch Bash festivities. Culpepper, a 6-foot-5, 256-pound senior at Plant (Tampa, Fla.) High School, provides Penn State defensive line coach Sean Spencer with another “wild dog” up front.
Culpepper feasted on offensive backfields in 2016, collecting 66 tackles, including a remarkable 30 for loss, and 8 sacks last season, per MaxPreps. He had three games that featured at least 3 tackles for loss, including 4 in a state championship loss to perennial Florida powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas High School.
Plant’s opponents faced unpredictability last fall, as Culpepper routinely shifted roles. Whether he worked as a 5-technique off the outside shoulder of an offensive tackle or slid inside, certain elements of his approach consistently shined.
Culpepper is a quick-read defender off the snap. He identifies the intent of opposing linemen and utilizes their initial approach to help locate the ball.
His first punch is typically well-placed, augmented by desirable pad level. Culpepper attacks with a low center of gravity and uses an above-average wingspan to create instant separation upon landing a powerful blow to the opponent’s chest plate.
He then peeks into the backfield, and surges upfield accordingly. This decisiveness, paired with impressive acceleration, enables him to slice through gaps with balance and control. In the video below, he’s lined up as the left defensive tackle.
Upon entry into the backfield, his wingspan again becomes a factor. Quarterbacks and running backs have little room to escape laterally because of Culpepper’s expansive reach.
This attribute also allows him to swipe at the football, testing an offensive player’s ball security. Culpepper is particularly dangerous in pass-rush duties against a single blocker, as his length and quickness create a blend that challenges most high school linemen.
Based on his 2016 film, much of the pass-rush he generates comes from a straight-line burst. When he eventually works against Big Ten blockers, handwork and lateral agility will become priority factors. Those are focal points of what Spencer teaches.
Culpepper’s persistent fixation on ball location is a quality that will always aid him. Even when he gets a bit too deep, his vision sets the stage for an adjustment and he closes on the quarterback, as shown below.
When the ball hits the ground or ends up in the air on a deflection, Culpepper is the kind of athlete you want to come away with it.
He is a major threat to pick up substantial yards heading in the opposite direction, and those are the momentum-switching plays that can determine games and define careers.
Culpepper is comfortable with the ball in his hands, as he caught 12 passes last season. His performance in the open field, evading defenders and forcing multiple tacklers to bring him down, is further evidence of his versatility.
I expect Culpepper to emerge as an interior force. He undoubtedly will compete for reps elsewhere along the line, and perhaps as soon as his freshman season.
Collegiate newcomers who showcase versatility have greater odds for early ascension up the depth chart. Penn State, in the process of piecing together a high-potential defensive line class, landed a balanced and proven talent in Culpepper.