New to Steelers Depot, we will be highlighting several possible draft prospects the Pittsburgh Steelers may have interest in for the 2022 NFL Draft and their performance during the college football season.
Being a Florida Gators fan and having spent the summer of 2018 working with the team in the Strength and Conditioning Department, I put my bias aside heading into the anticipated matchup with the Georgia Bulldogs knowing fully well that this game would likely be a bloodbath and even told my friends and family to take the Dawgs to cover in this one. While it took most of the first half, the Dawgs came to play, capitalizing on three separate turnovers in the last two minutes before the break that resulted in three TDs, putting the Gators in a massive hole going into the second half.
The Georgia defense has been the most vaunted unit in college football this season, taking pride in keeping their opponents off the scoreboard and utilizing the plethora of NFL talent at basically every position to overwhelm the opposing offense. The leader of the defense, LB #17 Nakobe Dean, had his fair share of plays Saturday afternoon that certainly helped his draft stock in this matchup, none bigger than the pick-six he had on QB #15 Anthony Richardson. Watch here as Dean aligns at the bottom of the screen covering the running back split out wide. He recognizes the quick curl back to the ball, and breaks on it, jumping the route perfectly once the pass arrives and takes it back to the house.
The INT will garner most of the attention by the media, but Dean played a key role in the turnover prior to his pick on this play. Watch as Dean at LOLB to the top of the screen in the box and then runs a twist with the middle linebacker on the blitz, getting a free run to the QB in the pocket as he gets skinny through the hole before RG #51 Stewart Reece and lays a big hit on Richardson as he releases the ball, getting him to throw a little early into coverage. The ball gets tipped in the air and is intercepted by #4 Nolan Smith, giving the ball back to the offense.
Here is an end zone view of the play, showing that Richardson forces the ball a little early with Dean coming in hot before his receiver can continue to work the middle of the field, resulting in the tipped pass.
Standing at 6’0, 225lb, Dean is considered undersized by LB standards, but his lack of size actually plays to his benefit when it comes to working in space. He is a fluid mover in coverage, having the ability to run with backs and tight ends as well as complete zone drops. The former happens on this play a couple minutes before the play above as Dean picks up the back running the wheel route out of the backfield. Dean moves to the back but keeps his eyes on the QB who escapes the pocket and throws the ball to the back, but Dean is right on his hip providing tight coverage. The throw is high, but Dean is in good position.
If you want to see Dean’s capabilities in coverage, take a look at this next play. Florida is stringing together an effective drive in the fourth quarter and is almost in the red zone. Dean picks up #6 Nay’Quan Wright running a Texas route from the H-Back position. Dean initially loses leverage in coverage, committing too much to the outside thus allowing Wright inside leverage and separation on the route. However, Dean recovers and takes a great angle to undercut the route, getting his hands on the football and nearly comes up with the interception, but is unable to bring it in, ultimately resulting in a pass breakup on a critical fourth down stop.
Here is an end zone view of the play, showing the quickness and reactiveness to adjust back inside on the route to close separation by the intended target and nearly comes down with his second INT of the game after initially getting beat at the top of the route.
While Dean had his hand is several big-time plays against the Gators, his flaws also were revealed in the tape as well. As mentioned earlier, Dean is undersized for the position and that represents a problem when he isn’t able to run free to the football and must take on and shed blocks against the run. A perfect example occurs here on this run play where he takes on #72 Josh Braun coming off the double team to the second level. Braun has the clear size advantage on Dean, coming in at a hefty 6’6, 342lb covering up Dean as the tailback runs past his left shoulder as he attempts to reach out and arm tackle while covered up on the block.
Dean can be a physical hitter as we have seen on his blitz to the quarterback, but he does need to play with a more consistent target zone as a hitter. He doesn’t have the same stopping power a LB standing 6’4, 250lb would, and it shows on this tackle attempt on #27 Dameon Pierce. Dean starts to flow to the left, leaving a gaping hole for Pierce to cut back to toward daylight. Dean comes back to the ball, but wraps up high on Pierce’s shoulders, losing leverage on his tackle should he shoot through Pierce’s torso as Pierce keeps on running. Having seen Pierce squat 585lb for a set of eight with relative ease, it’s no surprise he ran through Dean’s high attempt here.
ESPN NFL Draft Analyst Jordan Reid commended Dean for a stellar performance on the afternoon, but not only recognized his contributions on defense, but also the effort and humility to be a key contributor on special teams’ units as well. Reid stated in a post regarding this punt coverage rep: “The pick-six and what he does on defense will get a lot of the love, but it’s not just that about Nakobe Dean. Look at who the first player is down the field on the punt team making the tackle. #17.” This play goes a long way in showing that Dean is willing to do whatever is necessary to help his team, staying in after the defensive series as the first man to the ball.
Overall, this game showcased a lot of the positives and potential negatives Dean brings to the table as a potential NFL prospect. His size can be a limiting factor in terms of stacking and shedding blocks, and his angles to the ball and strike zone must be on-point for him to worth through trash as well as take out motors. However, Dean has a knack for making splash plays both in coverage as well as on the blitz, having the instincts and pursuit to be in the right spot at the right time. He is known for being the vocal leader of the defense and leads by example, taking it upon himself to get teammates in position while also playing special teams.
Size-wise, he isn’t too far off of Steelers LB Devin Bush coming out of Michigan. While Bush definitely has more twitch and juice as an athlete, Dean plays with better awareness and makes his mark on the defense with turnovers, something that Bush has been heavily criticized of since entering the league and even dating back to his days at Michigan. Dean’s athletic testing will likely be the determining factor as to whether he will be considered a Day One or Day Two guy, but his character, unselfishness to play anywhere the team asks him to, and his instincts that help him make big plays in crucial moments make him in contention to be LB1 off the board and a potential Bush/Schobert replacement.
What are your thoughts on Nakobe Dean’s performance against Florida? Do you think he showcased the playmaking skills and leadership qualities of a starting NFL ILB? Do you think he could possibly replace Schobert should Pittsburgh decide to move on in order to save cap space or possibly replace Devin Bush due to his inconsistencies and lack of turnovers should they not pick up his fifth-year option this offseason? Should he be in-play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round, or should be considered more of a Day Two option? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!