The New York Giants have long needed an answer at the linebacker position. With the exception of acquiring Blake Martinez in free agency, the Giants have largely made do with late-round picks or low-cost free agent pickups. The 2023 NFL Draft will have several strong options at the linebacker position, and the Giants’ draft position could make selecting a linebacker some time in the first three rounds more likely than in previous years.
Pittsburgh linebacker SirVocea Dennis is a productive leader with a reputation as a smart, instinctive, athletic, and versatile off-ball linebacker. Could Dennis catch the Giants’ eye in 2023?
Prospect: SirVocea Dennis, LB, Pittsburgh
Games Watched: vs. Georgia Tech (2021), vs. North Carolina (2021), vs. West Virginia (2022), vs. Tennessee (2022)
Red Flags: none
Games Played: 35
Tackles For a loss: 36.0
Forced Fumbles: 2
Passes Defensed: 3
Interceptions: 2 (1 returned for a touchdown)
Games Played: 12
Tackles For a loss: 12.0
Forced Fumbles: 2
Passes Defensed: 3
Best: Instincts, athleticism, competitive toughness, versatility
Worst: Size, over-aggression
Projection: A rotational off-ball linebacker with starting upside in the right scheme
SirVocea Dennis is a compact, athletic, and highly instinctive linebacker prospect from the University of Pittsburgh.
Dennis is a true senior with significant production over the last three seasons and consistent development over that span. He has a compact, powerful build at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, which is undersized compared to classic “linebacker” archetypes, but should be above most teams’ thresholds for a modern off-ball linebacker. Dennis was the captain of the Pittsburgh defense and has been a leader on that side of the ball, as well as being an emotional tone-setter for a very aggressive defense.
Dennis began his career at Pitt as an outside linebacker but transitioned inside to middle linebacker due to team need, where he typically aligned as a junior and senior. He is an experienced, smart, and instinctive linebacker, combining his instincts, football IQ, and athleticism to be an impact player for the Pitt defense. Dennis typically anticipates the offensive play well and takes an accurate first step at the start of the play.
His instincts, anticipation, and athleticism allow him to maintain a high play speed, often beating blockers to their landmarks. His compact frame and active hands make it difficult for most blockers to lock him up, and he’s able to flow to the ball. Dennis is a very aggressive linebacker and quick to fire downhill into the backfield. He frequently disrupted plays before they had a chance to develop, even if he didn’t get the sack or tackle for a loss.
Dennis is likewise experienced as a blitzer. He was frequently used to show blitz through the A-gap and his explosive burst downhill made him difficult for centers or guards to handle. He was also good at hiding his intentions and zone drops after showing blitz were an effective way to slow the opposing quarterback and muddy protection calls. Dennis quickly gets good depth in his zone drops and shows adequate range as a coverage player. He does a good job of letting the quarterback’s eyes lead him to the intended target and flashes good hip fluidity for a linebacker.
Dennis is a very competitive defender, gives consistent effort throughout the game, and is willing to lay big hits or take on much larger blockers.
That said, Dennis’ frame can work against him when he is forced to take on blockers directly. He doesn’t appear to have long arms and he will be unlikely to add any muscle mass without compromising his athleticism. And while his athleticism and instincts can allow him to beat blockers to spots, he can get “stuck” on blockers when they’re able to establish their blocks. He struggles to shed blockers when forced to take on bigger blockers and that can slow his pursuit.
Dennis’ aggression and athleticism can also work against him when playing against savvy quarterbacks. His downhill aggression can be a liability when facing an offense that is good at executing run fakes. Likewise, Dennis does a good job of letting quarterbacks lead him to their intended targets, but that can make him vulnerable to manipulation by passers with good eye discipline. In both cases, Dennis can be pulled out of position, creating opportunities for big plays by the offense.
Overall Grade: 7.1
Dennis projects best as a rotational off-ball linebacker early in his career.
His exact position – either weak-side or weak-inside linebacker – will depend on the scheme into which he is drafted. His experience as a MIKE linebacker should allow him to play as a WILB in the NFL, though teams will want to limit how often he’s forced to contend with blocks from offensive linemen.
Dennis will likely begin his career as a nickel linebacker and special teams player, but he has the upside to grow into a starter in the right situation. Teams with good defensive lines to keep him from having to face offensive linemen and schemes that ask linebackers to flow to the ball will be the best fit. Likewise, he has the potential to thrive and be an impact player for a team with a blitz-heavy defensive scheme. Dennis is a good blitzing linebacker, with plenty of burst to run past blockers, good instincts, and a feel for timing his rushes.
Teams will need to walk a fine line in developing Dennis. His aggression and instinctiveness are assets, but he is vulnerable to being manipulated by savvy offenses. Coaches will need to figure out how to temper those traits without dulling them or compromising his ability to play fast.
Dennis might be considered too small for some teams, and likely won’t be for everyone. That said, coaches will likely fall in love with his football IQ, instinctive play, and competitive toughness.