Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
Reasons: Body Type, Run Instincts
Games watched: South Carolina, Florida, Michigan, Alabama (CFB Championship)
Dean is a hot name and rightfully so. The Georgia linebacker was a unanimous All-American and a Butkus award winner in 2021. His resume speaks for itself and the film does too. The buzzword associated with Dean is instinctive and there’s a lot of tape to back that up.
Dean is incredibly valuable in man coverage showing the ability to mirror running backs from off alignments either near the box or out wide. He impressively can key the quarterback’s eyes while staying in phase with the running back and it helped him anticipate throws leading to two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. In zone coverage, he can move with the quarterback and overlap routes simply using his peripheral vision.
There isn’t currently a better blitzing linebacker in the draft than Dean. His timing is incredible. For a guy with limited explosiveness – fine, but not great – he knows when to engage at the point of attack. He’s able to use his shoulder to drive linemen back and can pretty effectively disengage because linemen struggle to re-engage their arms against someone whose shoulder is touching their breastplate. He has counter moves in his pass-rushing arsenal meaning he can rush with variety! Oooooh!
There’s truly a lot to like about Dean, but there are two important questions that need to be answered.
One, how big is Dean? If you haven’t noticed, the Dallas Cowboys tend to draft athletic anomalies at linebacker. Micah Parsons withstanding, Leighton Vander Esch measured in at 6-feet-4 and 240 pounds. Jabrill Cox measured in at 6-foot-3.5, 235 pounds. Jaylon Smith was 6-foot-2, 233 pounds but boasted 33-inch arms. Even Anthony Hitchens had 32-inch arms after only measuring at six feet tall.
Why do they do it? Having versatile defenders athletic enough to mirror running backs and tight ends while having good change of direction to drop into hook and curl zones are important traits in today’s game. By the same token, linebackers need to be physical enough to engage and disengage at the point of attack; having longer and stronger limbs make this feat a bit easier.
The second question is, how sound is his run defending instincts? The Butkus award winner is a fundamentally sound defender who understands what gaps he needs to fill even with motions. However, even that doesn’t stop him from overthinking some decisions and he will overpursue too much to the outside allowing offensive linemen to create a hole at the second level for the ball carrier to cut back and exploit.
The Dallas Cowboys have had problems with their second-level run defense for years and selecting a smaller linebacker with some similar questions isn’t necessarily encouraging. Not only might he continue struggling to see into the backfield to locate the ball carrier, but also evading contact from linemen at the pro level becomes harder because they are faster, longer, and stronger. The longer one hesitates, the better chance the offense has at converting.
I think Dean would be an awesome player alongside Micah Parsons and Jabrill Cox. The Dallas Cowboys passing on him purely because of body type would be fairly ignorant especially at a position with little depth. That said if there was any reason the Cowboys might struggle pulling the trigger, it might be because of the discrepancies in the running game mixed with his body type.