Before the arrival of Nakobe Dean in Athens, Georgia, he was a five-star recruit in Horn Lake, Mississippi. He had offers from just about every school in the country and it’s not surprising. Teams didn’t want him for just his play on the field, they wanted it for who he was off the field.
Off the field, he lives a very disciplined and schedule oriented lifestyle.
This was instilled in him from his mother and it’s helped shape him to be the person that he is today. In the classroom, he’s been a straight-A student since the 8th grade and is majoring in mechanical engineering. While Dean will carve out a career on the football field, he could certainly walk through plenty of other doors. For now, he’ll put a focus on football and help make the community around him better.
He’s become a mentor for the Athens-Clarke youth community. With his help, the program has already raised $200,000 and 27,000 pounds of food and clothes for local children. Dean is the definition of a selfless leader and is showing that hard work can and will go a long way. Over the next few months, his success on and off-the-field should continue into the 2022 NFL Draft.
In the 2022 NFL Draft, there’s a strong chance that he could become the first linebacker taken off the board. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if he landed somewhere in the top-10 with both New York franchises having a need for an impact player at the position. While we wait to see how that plays out, let’s jump into the film to see why Nakobe Dean is destined for greatness!
Range and ability to scrape
In today’s game, it’s vital for a linebacker to scrape over the top and showcase his range. For Nakobe Dean, he puts it on display in just about every game he plays. During the 2021 season, Dean was consistent in stopping the run. According to Pro Football Focus, he had a run defense grade of 74.7 These numbers are right on par with what he’s consistently done over his three years at Georgia.
Watching the play above, you’ll see Georgia aligned in an odd front. Dean is highlighted in the heart of their defense and would be aligned in a ’00’ or over the center. As the ball is snapped, you’ll see Dean start to move upfield and he’s doing so because he bites the fake between the quarterback and running back. While it looks like he’s out of the play, he bounces off the block from the H-back (#88) and scrapes over the top and to the direction of the quarterback running the ball. He makes a great tackle and shortens the gain from possibly ten yards to just five yards.
Next, we get the Georgia defense against Kentucky and the Wildcats are in a 3rd and 6 situation. Before the snap, you can see the Bulldogs making adjustments and not get set for the snap. In the process, Dean is communicating to the defenders towards the field side. His leadership and communication is often seen on the field or on the sidelines.
After the snap, you can see that Dean initially reads the swing but then drops into his mid-hook zone as the quarterback shifts his eyes downfield. Once everything is covered, the quarterback goes back to the swing and that’s when you see Dean show his range and make a great tackle. This tackle forces Kentucky to punt on 4th down and get the ball back in the hands of the offense.
Rather than being in an odd front like two clips ago, the Bulldogs are in an even front. This time, it’s against Georgia Tech. For Dean, his alignment remains the same as before in a ’00’ or over the center. Once the ball is snapped out of the pistol formation, Dean begins to move downhill. Initially, he fits the play-side A-gap but once the running back redirects to the outside, he scrapes over the top and makes a great tackle. His film is littered with these type of plays.
Effective as a blitzer
As we saw from the National Championship game, Georgia brought plenty of pressure to Bryce Young and Alabama. One of the keys with that is how they’d send Channing Tindall and Nakobe Dean to blow up the middle of the Crimson Tide offensive line. It didn’t just start there though. The Bulldogs defense brought it all season long. In fact, it’s one of the best traits you’ll see from Dean. More often than not, he times a blitz perfectly and it allows him to be disruptive in the backfield.
Per Pro Football Focus, he generated 20 pressures in 2021 and that was 3rd best on his team. This can easily translate to success in the NFL but it’ll be interesting to see if teams in the NFL change the amount of times they send pressure in 2022 compared to what we saw in 2021. Per Sharp Football, only 6 teams in the NFL blitzed above 30% of the time and the league average blitz rate was 24.6%. These are the lowest totals in the NFL over the last eight seasons.
Watching the play above, you’ll see the Bulldogs back in an odd front. With this front, they’ll slant their nose tackle and defensive end (aligned in a 4i-technique or inside shoulder of the right tackle). In the process of slanting those two players away from the running back, this opens up the B-gap where Nakobe Dean comes flying upfield to pressure the quarterback. As he makes his way to the backfield, he bounces off the attempted block from the running back and then drags the quarterback down for a sack.
On the 2021 season, he generated 20 total pressures with 7 sacks, three quarterback hits and 10 hurries. As we’ve seen from the Dallas Cowboys with Micah Parsons, it’s important to have a linebacker that can be effective in getting after the quarterback. With teams such as the New York Giants, New York Jets or Baltimore Ravens all sitting in the top-15 of the 2022 NFL Draft, it wouldn’t be surprising if they view Dean as a fit for their defenses.
Dean leaves little doubt in pass coverage
There might not have been a more impressive linebacker in coverage than Nakobe Dean this year. He was ranked 2nd in college football from Pro Football Focus with a 90.8 coverage grade. It’s important for linebackers to have the ability to drop into coverage, especially in the pass-heavy league that we see today. During this season, he only allowed 14 receptions for 61 yards in pass coverage.
Looking at the Georgia defense against Tennessee on the play above, you’ll see the Bulldogs aligned in a 2-Man look defensively. Tennessee comes out 3×1 with trips to the right of the defense. With two safeties about 15 yards off the ball, they’re essentially taking away the vertical passing game. Despite the cornerbacks and linebackers playing in man coverage, Georgia tries to force Tennessee to win with some type of short-to-intermediate throw.
Highlighted, you can see Dean in man coverage over the tight end. Knowing he’s going to be on an island, he trusts his speed to close the passing window and this puts him in position to break up the pass. In the process of the route, he watches the hips of the tight end flip towards the sideline and that’s where Dean picks up the pace and plays through the ball to breakup the pass. While only having two pass breakups all season, he did also tally two interceptions.
While there’s more than 3 months to go before the 2022 NFL Draft, it would be no surprise to see Dean selected in the first round. At this point, it would be shocking if he didn’t. High character player with terrific leadership, range and pass coverage skills on the field. His effectiveness in the box should land him a role for whichever team decides to draft him.
If I had to find one flaw in his game, it would be that the 6-0 and 225 pound linebacker has some missed tackles on tape. During the 2021 season, he had 7 missed tackles and has had 17 over the course of his career. While that can improve on the field, he’s already joined an elite list of linebackers before even stepping on an NFL field.
That list is of Butkus Award winners. By winning the award in college, he joins the same list as Patrick Willis, Luke Kuechly and plenty of others. Meanwhile, he won the award in high school and is one of only three players to win in both high school and college (Manti Te’o and Jaylon Smith). Could he be the first linebacker to win the Butkus Award at all three levels of football? We’ll have to wait and see but one thing is for sure, Nakobe Dean is destined for greatness.