Nakobe Dean is one of many overly-talented defensive products from Georgia’s championship defense. His role as an inside linebacker was extremely valuable. The former Bulldog was required to do everything from pass rush to seal the edge to cover running backs. With so much talent around Dean, what makes him stand out? Let’s dive into the tape and find out.
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Name: Nakobe Dean
Jersey: No. 17
Weight: 225 lbs
Games Watched: Alabama (2022 CFP Championship), Michigan (2022 Orange Bowl), Alabama (2022 SEC Championship), Florida (2022)
Major Injury History: Torn labrum (2021)
Whether it is identifying the correct read on a run-pass option (RPO), or whether it is following the quarterback’s eyes and progressions to take away his primary reads, Dean does it all to almost perfection. Even Devin Lloyd, the other first-round-ranked linebacker, reacts slower. The Georgia product simply is in a class of his own. Dean tracked down a play from across the field to halt a first down. His ability to identify the running lane is superb. Simply put, he is elite.
While Dean is not perfect at tackling, he provides effort and angles to improve his efficiency. The Bulldog has a 12.2 percent missed tackle rate, per PFF, which is not particularly great nor particularly poor. This is an easy-to-fix issue, however. The foundation is already laid out: Dean has the speed and football IQ. Now all he needs is to get more comfortable finishing the tackle. This is nitpicking, but it has to be said.
Block Shedding (8/10)
This came as a surprise, but Dean can shed blocks quite well. The grade drops slightly due to his run-defense shedding needing work, but the pass-rush shedding is elite. Dean slices and dices through gaps to have an enormous impact on the quarterback. In run defense, the Georgia product does need to be a bit more comfortable taking on blocks while maintaining focus on the developing play. Dean sometimes got caught focused on block shedding rather than making a play on the ball carrier, who usually ran right by him.
Run Defense (7.5/10)
This is a bit of a repeat from the last category, but block shedding is the primary concern here. Dean gets too focused on the block rather than the play. With time and training, this is an easy fix. At his size, it is not surprising that he aims to not get pancaked over making a play, but the fact remains that Dean becomes a nonfactor on certain run plays due to his lack of focus outside of his direct engagement.
Pursuit/Closing Speed (9.5/10)
It was so hard to not give a 10 here. Dean is laser-precise on his pursuit angles. As discussed before, he tracked down a ball carrier over 30 yards away to stuff the run and prevent the first down. Dean just has an innate ability to know exactly where the runner is going to be regardless of his position on the field. That being said, he does choose the wrong holes sometimes and messes up his own pursuit angles. That is more than correctable. There is a lot to love here with this five-star product.
Pass Rush Ability (9.5/10)
Is this real? Can Dean really be this talented as a pass rusher? The answer is yes. With 31 pressures on the year, this do-it-all linebacker produces more than some high-end pass rushers. Dean’s ability to slice through micro-gaps on the interior of the offensive line is warranting a nine grade alone. The insane thing is that he also has edge bend on the outside. This category is once again one where Dean could very well be a 10 out of 10, but let’s just save that honor for Lawrence Taylor.
Man Coverage (8.5/10)
There is very little to nitpick here for Dean. The main issue comes with his change of direction on certain routes and his tendency to over-pursue. Dean has fallen over a few times as well as misread route concepts leading to significant gains. That being said, he earned over a 90 PFF coverage grade this year, including the playoffs. In other words, Dean is really good. These minor criticisms are far from damaging to his overall grade, but they are noteworthy.
Zone Coverage (9/10)
As stated before, Dean earned over a 90 PFF coverage grade this year. Zone coverage essentially blends man coverage skills with instincts. The Georgia product passes players quite well from his zone to theirs, not to mention taking on receivers at a high level as well. There really is little to complain about with Dean. He is a do-it-all defender, simply put. Any team looking for a linebacker to lock down a slot receiver or running back over the middle should be enticed with adding Dean to their roster.
Ball Skills (4.5/5)
Dean has two pass breakups and two interceptions on the year, including one touchdown. That may not sound that impressive, but his one interception return for a touchdown was caught at full stride. This trend should continue at the next level. In other words, do not worry about Dean lacking in this category on your team.
Can there be a better linebacker to do it all? Maybe if Dean were 20 pounds heavier at the same speed and skill level, he would be more versatile, but not many others could contest him in this category. The Georgia product’s versatility certainly raises his draft stock. Having the ability to cover, pursue, and blitz at an elite level are indicative of Dean’s early-first-round talent.
Dean was a treat to study. His ability to play the run and pass at an elite level is a very solid indicator of his success at the next level. Any team that is looking for a nifty, do-it-all linebacker should be rushing to the podium with Dean’s name on the card. His ceiling in this draft is at pick seven to the New York Giants, who are certainly looking for this exact type of linebacker. Worst case scenario, he will fall to 24 where the Dallas Cowboys could not afford to pass on such an amazing talent. The sky’s the limit for this hyper-talented stud prospect.
Rookie Projections: Starting Inside Linebacker
Third Year Projections: Top-15 Inside Linebacker
Final Grade (89/100): Top 10 Pick
Player Comp: Devin Bush
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