The first round of the NFL Draft can be tricky to predict because there are always a few teams who will ignore their needs and just draft the “best player available”. The Las Vegas Raiders could be in that situation if Georiga linebacker Nakobe Dean is still on the board with the 22nd pick of the draft.
LB | Georgia | 5’11 1/4” and 229 lbs | Horn Lake, MS | December 13th, 2000 (21.2)
Nakobe Dean went to Georgia as a five-star recruit and the No. 2 linebacker in the country for the 2019 class, per 247 Sports. As a true freshman, he got a decent amount of playing time as a backup before becoming a full-time starter for the next two seasons. The 2021 Butkus award winner was a do-it-all backer who could stop the run, blitz and drop in coverage in the Bulldogs’ defense that used multiple fronts and a lot of zone coverage. In three years, he racked up 168 total tackles, 13.5 for loss and 7.5 sacks with two interceptions, four pass breakups and just 457 receiving yards allowed.
- Clear captain of the defense in college, getting everyone else lined up and calling out signals and shifts for the defensive line pre-snap
- In coverage against play-action, he can honor the run and has quick transitions to ROBOT and to get back to his area or find his man
- Uses his hands in the five-yard window to help stay in phase and slow tight ends up a bit
- Has the change of direction skills to come downhill post-snap and redirect to cover a tight end or running back releases late into the flat
- Pretty good speed to start from a middle linebacker position and go cover a back running a swing route, and he can click and close to take away check downs or at least keep offenses to a short gain. He also has no issues covering downfield routes from backs out of the backfield.
- His use of hands and change of direction allow him to stay in phase against slot receivers on short routes
- When playing zone coverage, he has impressive eye discipline to read his keys and turn his head to locate/find receivers coming into his area
- As a spot dropper, he moves backward well to get to his area quickly and help take away throws over the middle
- He plays zone back to front and trusts his ability to click and close to rally and take away the short routes
- Quick to key and diagnose run plays to get to the correct spot or gap, and his change of direction helps him avoid running too far up the field when coming downhill
- Against gap runs, he gets under pullers as the spill player and can set the edge as the force technique
- Against zone runs, he plays with patience to honor his gap responsibility and the acceleration to come downhill and meet the ball carrier in his gap when the runningback finally commits.
- When the play goes outside of his gap on zone runs, he has the instincts and athletic ability to make the defensive lineman in front of him right and fill gaps
- Shows the ability to anticipate where the running back is going and use his agility to avoid blocks against inside zone
- Takes good angles on outside runs and in pursuit to keep the ball carrier on his inside shoulder
- Has the range to make plays on runs outside of the tackles when lined up over the center
- Uses good pad level and wraps up when tackling in his gap
- Very good blitzer, showing the acceleration and a strong rip move to get penetration or pressure
- Runs a tight hoop with good ankle flexion and bend as a looper when blitzing/running line games
- He can bull rush running backs to get sacks
- Against naked bootlegs, his mental processing and athletic ability allow him to stay home and close on the quarterback to force the ball out
- Impressive hand-eye coordination to bat passes as a rusher
Areas of Improvement:
- Undersized for an NFL inside linebacker
- Struggles to avoid the trash when working to the flats in man coverage, he has a bit of tunnel vision and will get picked
- Outside of batted passes as a rusher, he doesn’t play the ball in the air well to get pass breakups
- Benefitted from playing behind several potential first-round defensive linemen as he didn’t have to take on a ton of offensive linemen climbing to the second level
- When he does take on blocks from offensive linemen, he likes to use his shoulder instead of his hands and isn’t physical, leading to issues getting extension and shedding
- Also, lacks the strength to hold his ground against centers and guards
- He will get knocked off his path when pursuing laterally on the backside of runs against linemen who are good at climbing to the second level
- Does have a habit of lunging and stopping his feet when tackling, which could lead to missed tackles at the next level.
- 2021: Right Shoulder torn labrum (offseason surgery, no games missed)
NFL Mock Draft Database consensus big board rank: 24th overall, 1st round
Dean is another tough projection. While his tape is pretty clean, linebacker is not a highly sought-after position in the draft and he’s small for NFL standards. Plus, the more physically gifted Devin Lloyd is almost universally considered the top backer in this year’s class, so Dean could end up sliding down the board on draft day.
Schematically, the Georgia product would be perfect for a team that’s looking for a coverage linebacker. He has some skills against the run too, but I have some hesitations about his ability to take on and shed blocks at the next level. On the other side of that, I’m really not concerned about his ability to defend the pass at all, with his coverage skills and ability to rush the passer.
What do we need to know?
How does he hold up without playing behind the best defensive line in the country? Dean did show some flashes of being able to take on blocks, especially against tight ends, but he was able to roam around in college a lot more than he will be able to in the NFL. He can certainly grow in this area, but it might take some adjusting.
Fit with the Raiders:
I hinted at this above, Dean would be more of a luxury pick than one of necessity for Las Vegas. Denzel Perryman and Divine Deablo are returning and Nicholas Morrow shouldn’t be terribly expensive to re-sign, so linebacker is a secondary for the Raiders need to me. However, the other side of the coin is drafting dean could give the Raiders three or four play-making linebackers, which new Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham probably wouldn’t mind having.
The former Bulldog could allow Graham to use a 3-3-5 or 4-3 style of defense and explore options with Dean as a pass rusher. With that, unless there is a better or similar caliber player at a position of need available, I don’t see why Dave Zeigler wouldn’t take a chance on the best linebacker in college football last season.
Nakobe Dean (RILB) offers value as a pass rusher and here he uses a nice rip move to stay on balance, run a tight hoop and get a sack pic.twitter.com/rt6U2BruIn— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 10, 2022
For a LB that starts at the LOS in a double A-gap look, you can’t ask for much more than this in coverage. Nakobe Dean’s ability to drop his hips & cover curls is impressive pic.twitter.com/ePSYuAIDgZ— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 10, 2022
This time Nakobe Dean (RLB) gets to be the looper in the line game, finds an open lane and has pretty goo acceleration and runs a tight hoop to get a sack pic.twitter.com/MHLQl3eUXk— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 10, 2022
Good example of Nakobe Dean’s COD here as he has to change directions twice to make a TFL on QB draw pic.twitter.com/EDN3QMZlga— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 10, 2022
It’s not supposed to be this easy… pic.twitter.com/rrRJiudaWi— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 10, 2022
Nakobe Dean (LLB) reads split zone, takes on the TE & gets extension to set the edge, & he gets involved in the tackle— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 10, 2022
(S/o Jalen Carter for the TFL) pic.twitter.com/SIM2pq2zHR
Great coverage stop from Nakobe Dean:— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 10, 2022
-3rd & long, stays deep in his zone & looks for threats
-Sees QB go to the check down & rallies
-Keeps RB on his inside shoulder & makes the 3rd down stop pic.twitter.com/dbgF30TQkB