Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean is going to turn out to be one of the best players selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft.
Dean is a rare middle linebacker.
Dean is a complete three-down linebacker who is special as an inside pass rusher and in pass coverage.
To put Dean’s pass rushing skills into perspective, both Dean and Micah Parsons both posted 6.5 collegiate sacks. In fairness, Dean has played in three college seasons and Parsons played in two.
In my 40 years of watching the NFL game, Dean is the best pass coverage middle linebacker I have seen. The only linebacker close would have been Luke Kuechly, who played for Carolina. Dean is so good in coverage that he can make plays on the football.
The run game was the lowest graded area for Dean.
This would not have been a good thing to say 20 years ago, that a middle linebacker’s strong suit was not defending the run, but in today’s pass-happy NFL where 31/32 of the teams currently pass more than they run (52.38% to 66.51%), Dean is ideal (stats: teamrankings.com).
A lot of teams will pass on Dean for a couple reasons. First, scouts will automatically downgrade Dean because he is slightly undersized from a height standpoint. Teams ideally want their linebackers between 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-3 and Dean is 6-foot-0.
Dean is also a middle linebacker and drafting a middle linebacker in the first round is about as sexy as selecting a fullback. However, some defensive coordinator out there is going to fall in love with Dean and the unique possibilities he would bring to their defense, from a game-planning standpoint.
Dean is a hybrid middle linebacker. Dean has some Ray Lewis (instincts), and Wilber Marshall (pass rusher) to him. I am not saying he will be them, but when I watched him on film, those were the names that went through my mind.
#17 Nakobe Dean 6-foot-0, 225 pounds
2021 film review: Clemson, Florida and Arkansas
Grade: First Round (15-32)
NFL team projection: New York Giants
Note: Very possible stock may rise prior to the draft.
Extremely instinctual and alert middle linebacker with blitzing upside and elite coverage skills. A real presence and strong force. Good initial key and diagnosis against the run. Attacks line of scrimmage if he can. Has football speed to get outside and a great close. Hard hitter, but a very average ability to shed and tackle. Tends to come in and take on too high at shoulder pad level. Has some rigidity. He is not explosive at the point of attack and getting off blocks can be an issue once he is engaged. Is able to indirectly funnel plays inside to his teammates using his speed and athletic ability. Has a knack for pass coverage. Solid technically and fundamentally in coverage. Reads the QB’s eyes. Able to stay with coverages both short and intermediate. Can stay tight. Did split out wide pre-snap a few times. Made a big interception vs. Florida. This guy can get to the QB when blitzing. Can find the open gap and exploit it. Can bring it. Good pocket burst. Creates pressure. Enough speed to make the sack. Can get there on delayed blitz too. Pro Bowl level player.
For a team looking to trade out of the top 10 (and acquire more picks to build with) and still be able to get a disruptive difference maker on defense, Nakobe Dean is the pick.
Daniel Kelly is a former NFL scout with the New York Jets. He was hired on the regime which featured Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, Mike Tannenbaum, and Dick Haley. He currently writes for Sports Illustrated Detroit Lions, Sports Illustrated New York Jets and he is a contributing evaluator for Draft Diamonds. For more information about him visit his website at whateverittakesbook.com. He can be followed on Twitter @danielkellybook and his Facebook page is WHATEVER IT TAKES NFL TALK.