The New York Giants obviously need a linebacker. That much was clear from watching their defense in 2022 — or for most of the previous two decades, for that matter.
Fans are obviously hoping that the team will select a linebacker highly, but the draft board might not work out that way. So the team will need to look at all of their options at linebacker, and they may want to double down on the linebacker position by selecting two if they do take one highly.
TCU’s defense played a big role in their trip to the 2022-2023 College Football Playoff National Championship game. Linebacker Dee Winters played a big role in that defense and was a factor as a pass rusher, coverage player, and run defender.
Could Wink Martindale put Winters’ skills to use?
Games Played: 45
Tackles for a loss: 33.5
Passes defensed: 7
Games Played: 15
Tackles for a loss: 14.5
Passes defensed: 2
Best: Aggression, short-area quickness and agility, leverage
Worst: Play speed, range, size
Projection: A sub-package linebacker and special teams player with starting upside in the right scheme
(Winters is TCU LB number 13)
TCU’s Dee Winters is a highly experienced and productive linebacker prospect. Winters has played in 45 games for the Horned Frogs and is consistently among TCU’s most productive defenders and has been among the team leaders in tackles and tackles for a loss in each of the last three years.
He typically aligned as an outside linebacker, usually to the strong side of the offensive formation. Winters was a three-down player for TCU and was active in run defense, pass coverage, and as a blitzer.
He is disciplined in coverage zones, reading the quarterback’s eyes and not getting “stuck” on opponents passing through his area of responsibility. Winters has enough twitch and quickness to carry tight ends and running backs through shallow coverage zones. He also typically tackled well in space, allowing his teammates to rally to the ball.
Winters is quick to trigger downhill and attacks blockers with good explosiveness once he identifies the play. He generally makes good use of his natural leverage and short-area quickness to position himself and leverage the ball. Winters has a solid football IQ and understands his role in the greater defensive scheme. He’s a disciplined defender when asked to contain the play and does a good job of forcing ball carriers back to his teammates.
He generally times his rushes well as a blitzer, either knifing through gaps or beating blockers to their landmarks. When he has to take on a blocker directly, he often appears to play with a fullback’s mentality and fires downhill to deliver a sudden jolt before trying to work into the backfield.
While Winters has plenty of play strength to stack and shed tight end, fullback, or running back blocks, he can struggle to disengage from offensive linemen when he doesn’t have the initiative. This is likely in part due to his lack of height and length. Winters also lacks true “sideline to sideline” range as a coverage player and isn’t able to keep up with athletic tight ends or running backs down the field in coverage.
Winters’ aggression is typically a positive trait, it got away from him on occasion. There were instances where he over-ran the play and turned a sure stop into yards after contact for the offense.
Finally, Winters shows a noticeable pause or hesitation at the start of most plays. TCU’s other second level players show a similar pause, so this could be a coached behavior, rather than a lack of instinctiveness or processing speed on Winters’ part. That said, it is something to be aware of and NFL teams will need to do their due diligence to find out the root cause.
Overall Grade: 6.5
TCU linebacker Dee Winters projects best as a rotational off-ball linebacker and a core special teams player, at least to begin his pro career.
Winters lacks the size or range to get scouts truly excited, though he certainly has the traits to contribute to an NFL defense. He usually played the strong-side linebacker in college, but might be best used as a weak-side linebacker at the NFL level. Winters will likely need to be protected by a stout defensive line and probably shouldn’t be asked to take on blocks from offensive linemen that often – at least early in his career.
Winters is a very experienced linebacker and seems to have a high football IQ. However, the persistent pause at the beginning of plays is concerning. He often didn’t start moving until after the offense committed to a course of action, which hurt Winters’ play speed and forced him to catch up to the offense. It’s possible that he was coached that way as a reaction to how Big 12 offenses use misdirection and spacing to manipulate defenses. However, he will need to play more instinctively at the NFL level.
Winters is at his best when able to play fast, and defensive coordinators should look to put Winters in situations where he can do so at the NFL level. Limiting to passing situations where he can drop into coverage in the flat or hook/curl area of the field, or fire into the backfield as a blitzer, would likely be the best use of his skills to start out.