The 2021 Georgia Bulldogs defense was just incredibly stacked. They enjoyed an embarrassment of riches at pretty much every position on the field.
The Georgia defensive linemen have garnered most of the attention over the course of the draft process, but their linebacker corps is a great example of their incredible depth last year. They had more starting caliber linebackers than they could get on the field under most circumstances, leading to a very healthy rotation.
Nakobe Dean is widely regarded as the best of that very good bunch. He’s undersized but instinctive, technically sound, and very athletic. Dean is an impact player in coverage, as a pass rusher, and as run defender.
The New York Giants have long needed an infusion of speed at the second level of their defense. They’ve also needed a long-term answer at linebacker for a long time now. Could Dean’s dynamic skill set appeal to the Giants’ aggressive new defensive coordinator?
Prospect: Nakobe Dean (17)
Games Watched: vs. Clemson (2021), vs. Florida (2021), vs. Alabama (2021 - SEC Championship Game), vs. Alabama (2022 - National Championship Game)
Red Flags: Strained pec (2022)
Games Played: 36
Tackles For a loss: 13.5
Forced Fumbles: 3
Passes Defensed: 7
Interceptions: 2 (1 returned for a touchdown)
Games Played: 15
Tackles For a loss: 10.5
Forced Fumbles: 2
Passes Defensed: 5
Interceptions: 2 (1 returned for a touchdown)
Best: Instincts, athleticism, range, playmaking, pass coverage, run defense, versatility
Worst: Size, over-aggressiveness
Projection: A starting linebacker with scheme versatility and Pro Bowl upside.
Georgia’s Nakobe Dean is a smart, instinctive, athletic, aggressive, productive, and versatile linebacker prospect.
Dean is a true three-down linebacker who was never forced off the field and has the ability to be an impact player in every phase of defense.
Dean is a great communicator in the pre-snap phase, often helping to line up his teammates and making adjustments to counter what he sees from the offense. He combines great football IQ and processing speed to make for a very instinctive game. Dean almost always makes an accurate first move, anticipating the flow and direction of the offense.
He commits quickly and is explosive when triggering downhill as a run defender. Dean is very aggressive shooting gaps, often bursting through the line of scrimmage before blockers can get in position to properly account for him. He shows good technique and surprising play strength when he does have to take on blockers. Dean’s agility and speed give him good range in pursuit, and he shows great competitive toughness running down ball carriers. He’s a hard hitter who does a good job of getting the ball carrier on the ground while limiting yards after contact.
Dean shows natural comfort when playing in space. He quickly gets good depth and hits his landmarks when dropping into zone coverage. He also looks comfortable when man coverage assignments take him outside the hash marks and he has to play on the boundary. Dean has the athleticism to run with tight ends and running backs in space, good feel for offensive concepts, and good awareness to keep an eye on the quarterback. He has a great closing burst and is instinctive when breaking on the ball. Dean’s instincts and athleticism give him fantastic range as an off-ball linebacker and he could legitimately be considered a “sideline-to-sideline” player.
Finally, Dean was frequently used as a blitzer in Georgia’s defense. He does a good job of disguising his rushes, times them well, and is predictably explosive firing into the backfield. His explosiveness, agility, and natural leverage make him a problem for blockers, and Dean flashes the ability to effectively use his hands as a pass rusher. He was used as both an interior rusher and off the edge and was effective from both alignments.
There are few true weaknesses to Dean’s game. He obviously lacks prototypical size for the position, and teams that hold strict views on measurable thresholds could move him down their board because of it. However, he often uses his size as an asset, adding natural leverage and a small surface to his explosiveness. His lack of size does show up occasionally and he can struggle to shed locked-in blocks from offensive linemen, or struggle to get bigger ball carriers on the ground if he can’t explode into them.
Dean’s aggressiveness – and athleticism – hunting the ball can occasionally work against him. There were instances where he ran himself out of plays against particularly quick offensive players, or at least over-shot his mark and took himself out of good position to make a form tackle.
Overall Grade: 9.1
Nakobe Dean projects as a starting off-ball linebacker with scheme versatility and Pro Bowl upside.
Dean might be on the small side for some teams, and he probably shouldn’t be asked to take on offensive linemen on a regular basis. However, his instincts, explosiveness, and play strength allow him to play considerably bigger than he measures. He might not be a traditional “thumper”, but he is an impact player who can affect the game as a run defender, coverage player, and as a pass rusher. Dean is one of those rare linebackers who has true “sideline-to-sideline” range, and the ability to be a playmaker when he arrives. He can break up (or intercept) passes, blow up running plays, or put the quarterback on the ground.
Dean is a very aggressive defender, and that can work against him at times. However, teams will want to be careful reining in that aggression. Dean’s willingness to commit fast and explode towards the ball is one of his greatest strengths, and he would be a less effective defender without that edge.
That said, Dean should push for a starting job immediately upon entering the NFL. He might have to start out as a “WILL” linebacker, but his football IQ and instincts suggest that he can be developed as a “MIKE” linebacker and the leader of a defense.