By Dylan MacKinnon
1979. That was the last time the Eagles took a Linebacker in the first round of the draft. They selected Jerry Robinson out of UCLA, and then 40 plus years went by with no LBs taken early in the draft. But could Nakobe Dean break that trend?
The Georgia Linebacker is the apple of many Eagles fans eyes. You see the impact he had in college on what was perhaps the best defense in the nation, and it is hard not to fall in love with him. If anyone could make the Eagles break that decades long streak, Dean certainly has a shot. Especially with the Eagles having three first round picks. So lets take a look at this years top LB coming out of college.
A Force on the Field
Go and watch some tape of the Georgia defense. After a while it will feel like you constantly see Nakobe Dean involved in the play. That is because he usually is. Especially in the run game, Dean has a knack for always being in the right place to make a play. The two traits that best define his game are speed, and instincts. He has the instincts to properly diagnose the play, and the speed to get exactly where he needs to be to consistently makes plays vs the run.
That same speed makes him dangerous as an edge rusher on blitzes as well. On the season, Dean tallied 20 pressures, and 7 sacks. That was on just 80 times he was schemed to rush the passer. So 1/4th of the time he was asked to pass rush, he impacted the QB. Eagles don’t blitz much, but that very well be more because they do not have the talent at linebacker to blitz often. Not just because the linebackers they have are not great at rushing the passer, but because they do not have linebackers they trust to hold up in coverage while other guys blitz. Which brings us to his next skill.
His speed and instincts also make him a force in pass coverage. He allowed just 61 yards on 224 times he dropped back in coverage. He also had 2 interceptions, and 2 other pass breakups. Dean could step in and immediately help a team that allowed 12 TDs to Tight Ends in the regular season.
Complete list of LBs since 2014 to earn 90+ pass-rush AND coverage grades:— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 10, 2022
1. Nakobe Dean 2021 pic.twitter.com/bp3SvjcFeY
Are There Any Weaknesses in his Game?
The one thing scouts may balk at in his game is his size. At 6 feet, and 225 lbs., he lacks the frame and size of a typical linebacker. And while he is still a physical tackler, and has great strength for his size, it does limit his game a bit in other areas. For one he is not as effective at blitzing inside. His speed and technique make him an ideal outside blitzer but he struggles to shed blocks when rushing inside. Luckily for the Eagles the fact they consistently have at least above average talent at DT would alleviate that issue.
He also occasionally misreads pass plays. Sometimes he over commits to play fakes. Though with his high end speed for the position he is capable of getting back into some plays even when he makes that mistake. And it is not like he is consistently making this mistake. He mostly has great instincts, it is just his competitive play style causes him to occasionally over commit to a run fake. It should not be something that will be a major issue at the next level. And it the type of thing you have to deal with when you have linebackers who play as hard as he does.
Also it is an area he can easily improve at with good coaching. The size issue on the other cant be fixed. But again other than it effecting his ability to blitz inside, it does not impact his game to much. Some may assume it hurts his ability to tackle, but it doesn’t. He plays with a physicality that makes him appear much bigger than he is. With his play strength, his size wont be much of a factor when it comes to staying competitive in the pros.
A Leader on and Off the Field
You are not just getting a good player if you select him though. Dean is also a true leader. And don’t take my word for it, watch for yourself. Here is a video from the National Championship game of his leadership in action. Alabama was in the red zone on 2nd and goal. Bryce Young tried to hit Cameron Latu in the end zone, but Dean made a great play to break it up. But watch what he did right after making the play. His first instinct was to coach up Channing Tindall, who was caught out of position on the play. And what happens next? Tindall takes that energy Dean gave him, and converts it into getting a sack the very next play.
Player led Accountability = Championship Standards pic.twitter.com/FoHo06ZtTP— Jaycob Ammerman (@Jammer2233) January 11, 2022
Dean is not only a good player in his own right. He makes everyone around him better. Much like we are seeing with the Sixers where Embiid holding his teammates accountable leads to them playing better, Dean brings the same type of energy.
And it is not only on the field where he shines as a leader. This last spring he could not be on the practice field as he recovered from off season surgery. Despite the fact he couldn’t participate though, he was still making his presence felt. Here is what Tindall had to say about the leadership of Dean in Spring Practice.
“He’s still on the sideline still coaching. He’ll coach me, He’ll coach Quay [Walker]. It doesn’t matter. Just because he’s not still active on the field doesn’t mean he’s not being a leader for the team. He’s still out there coaching and doing a good job.” – Georgia Linebacker Channing Tindall
And Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart echoed those sentiments.
“Nakobe has stood out to me. He’s been a guy that really is a tremendous leader and has taken on more of a vocal role. I think that’s big.” – Kirby Smart
I think it is also worth mentioning that Dean majored in Mechanical Engineering while at Georgia, and maintained a 4.0 GPA while balancing football and classwork. Not sure how that translates to Football, but is an impressive feat. I knew Mechanical Engineering majors while I was in College, and it is not a light work load. At Rutgers I couldn’t get a 4.0 as a Journalism Major, and I didn’t also have to practice 40 hours a week on top of my classwork. I think it speaks to a dedication Dean has to be great at everything he does, not just Football.
Dean is exactly the type of person you want in your franchise. Not just because of how great he is as a player, but because he is a top notch human being who even somehow finds time in everything he does to improve the community he lives in through charity work. He helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to help youth in the Georgia community, creating thinks like accessible WIFI, food drives, coat drives, and so much more. Dean wont just make the Eagles better, he would work to make Philadelphia better.
What the Draft Experts Think
“(Dean) is a very good reactive athlete with regard to quickness and agility. He affects the passing game in a variety of ways. Can blitz inside and demonstrates very good closing quickness to the quarterback. He gets good depth in his zone drops while also showing the ability to cover running backs with ease. In the run game, he is very instinctive in the box. His team-leading TFL number speaks to the downhill, instinctive, and decisive effort he plays with. He uses his good quickness to defeat linemen and beat them to the spot. He also does a good job shooting gaps to disrupt plays in the backfield… Ultimately, this is a three-down linebacker who will maximize his skill set if he is playing on the weak-side in a 4-3 scheme. This player’s decisiveness, instincts, and lateral quickness are reminiscent of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen.”
“Dean does his best work against the run. He regularly uses his play speed to come downhill with force to impact the run game. Furthermore, that same speed allows him to be impressive in pursuit downfield. In addition to his speed, the Georgia linebacker demonstrates solid pursuit angles when chasing his man downfield. Although he primarily uses these abilities dangerously in run defense, Dean has also proven to be a threat as a pass rusher off the edge.”
There is very little downside to taking Nakobe Dean. There are only two questions in if will be an Eagle. One, will he even be there for them? We have seen other great players fall. Micah Parsons was perhaps a more impressive prospect and he fell to 12. Even still, if Dean ends up an Eagle it may have to be because they made a trade to get up to him.
That brings up the second question. Are the Eagles willing to invest resources in the position finally? Look around the league and you see many great defenses lead by great linebackers. Their lack of a linebacker has a been a big reason this defense has struggled vs good QBs. It is time to break the trend, and if they do, Dean would be a great choice to be the first LB taken in the first round by the Eagles in 42 years.