Allowing only 230 total yards and under seven points per game, the Georgia Bulldogs defense has been elite this year. Figuring out why isn’t hard; the Bulldogs have the best collection of defensive talent in college football with exceptional coaching. In fact, there are currently seven members of the Georgia defense ranked in the latest TDN100, a number that is more likely to grow as we continue working through our final film assessments.
Whenever there is so much talent on a defense and everyone is performing at a high level, it can be challenging to single out players as the catalyst for the success of the unit because there is so much deserving credit to go around. But every time I watch the Bulldogs defense, my eyes are fixated on linebacker Nakobe Dean.
Dean is an explosive playmaker that is all over the field. He feasts behind the Georgia defensive line, which enables him to diagnose, trigger and pursue the football with a motor that always runs hot. No matter what he’s asked to do, Dean executes at a high level. He’s outstanding playing downhill as a run defender, blitzing, dropping in coverage, and pursuing the ball to the sideline. He’s an impact playmaker in every facet.
An inevitable talking point that will be at the forefront of the discussion surrounding Dean as an NFL prospect is his lack of height and modest build. Georgia lists him at 6-foot and 225 pounds, but more than likely he will measure in under 6-feet tall and in the mid 220s. There will be a subsection of evaluators that will struggle to see past his size, but I’m here to emphatically tell you I won’t be among them.
First of all, Dean is performing at a high level in the SEC, which is the conference where the players are collectively bigger, stronger, and faster than anywhere else in the country. His size hasn’t mattered against the best competition that he can possibly face to this point in his career and he’s done nothing but thrive.
Secondly, given the trends of the NFL, there are numerous examples of linebackers with a similar body type that are impact defenders at the next level. My favorite example to point to is Matt Milano from the Buffalo Bills. Measuring at 6-foot and 223 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine, Milano has emerged as one of the top linebackers in the NFL on one of the best defenses. He’s used as a pursuit-style player that gets plenty of chances to blitz and play downhill. Milano is also exceptional in pass coverage.
I envision a similar role and impact at the next level for Dean, who may even be a more dynamic athlete than Milano. And Milano isn’t the only comparable player when it comes to impact defenders in the NFL that have similar measurements as Dean. Shaq Thompson, Eric Kendricks, Jerome Baker, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and David Long also immediately come to mind.
Being undersized at a non-premium position presents a realistic opportunity for Dean to slide on draft day, and that would be a disappointment. Dean will challenge the desired norms for an NFL linebacker, but the way he is performing against top competition and the examples of how comparable players are making an impact at the next level should alleviate most concerns.