By Adam Aniba
Every draft features game changing prospects on both sides of the ball, but finding early round franchise linebackers is difficult. The nations most electrifying linebacker and 2021 Butkus Award winner, Nakobe Dean made his case to be the top linebacker selected in the 2022 NFL Draft. During the College Football Playoffs and into the National Championship vs Alabama, the UGA linebacker was an absolute force.
6'0" 225 lbs | LB | Georgia
1st Rd Grade Top 15
Career Stats(36 games) 168 total tak (89 solo),13.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 2 ints,1 td, 7 PD & 3 FF
2021(15 games) 72 total tak (36 solo), 10.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 2 ints, 1 td, 5 PD and 2 FF
Dean didn't miss a start in 2021, registering 31 QB hurries. He led the team in tackles for a loss with 10.5 and finished second on the team in sacks and interceptions. The Bulldog linebacker was dominant in '21, keeping opposing DC's up at night.
Dean's contributions can't be understated with UGA defeating Alabama in the national championship, finishing 2nd in the FBS in overall defense and concluding the season 1st in touchdowns allowed. Deans innate ability to process and diagnose plays pre-snap, led to big plays for the UGA defense all season.
The Bulldogs linebacker had arguably the best game of his career vs Michigan in the college football playoffs, registering a career high 5 QB pressures, 7 tackles, 2 tak for a loss (ties career high), 1 sack and a forced fumble. Dean was all over the field, showing his ability to cover sideline to sideline.
Dean attended Horn Lake HS in MIssissippi and was the first 15 year old to start on the varsity squad. Horn Lake Head Coach, Brad Boyette had the following to say about Dean during a recent interview with ESPN's Paolo Uggett
"Some kids mature early and they're physically ready, but there's no way they can handle the playbook and the calls and all the things that are going on, but to have both at that age, that has only happened to me one time, and it was with Nakobe.
In 50 career games while at Horn Lake, Dean registered 390 total tak (222 solo), 7.8 tak per game, 17 sacks, 6 int, 5 FF and 1 FR. The linebacker also contributed on offense with
367 rush yds (7.5 yds per carry average) for 11 tds in addition to 5 rec 63 yds for 1 td. During his senior season, Horn Lake would win the 6A State Championship with Dean being the recipient of the Dick Butkus award for the nations top high school linebacker.
Dean was a 5-Star recruit with offers from multiple SEC schools with Alabama, Ole MIss and Georgia leading the way. He would ultimately select UGA and excel as a mechanical engineering major with a 3.5 GPA. HIs efforts on the field and in the classroom led to him being the recipient of the Ken and Jody Family Scholarship in addition to the Ramsey Scholarship for Academic & Athletic excellence. His older brother Nikolas also plays in the SEC as a tight end for Ole miss
'21 Butkus Award Winner
AP & Coaches’ All-SEC 1st Team
SEC Defensive Player of the Year by Pro Football Focus (PFF)
'21 Chuck Bednarik Award semifinalist (outstanding defensive player of the year)
Pre-Season watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Award (nation’s top collegiate defensive player)
* 15 Tackles vs. Florida, '20 & '21 pick-six for a 50-yard TD return in win over Florida
* 2.0 Tackles for Loss vs. four teams (recent: Michigan, 2021)
* 2.0 QB Sacks vs. Clemson, 2021
* 5 QB Pressures vs. Michigan, 2021
* 1 INT vs. Auburn, Florida, 2021
Dean is the most instinctive linebacker in this draft class. Some evaluations will project him strictly as an outside linebacker, but limiting the type of impact Dean could have contributing as middle linebacker would be shortsighted.
Dean is a self proclaimed "Film Room Junkie" and it shows in his production. His ability to diagnose plays, pre-snap, is second to none in this linebacking class. His understanding of gap assignments, when to exploit mismatches or drop into coverage, shows just how cerebral Dean is.
Excellent wrap-up-tackler particularly vs the run and plays under control with very few career missed tackles
A field general that routinely gets his teammates into position
Play recognition/football IQ is impressive and film study is evident
Shows impressive burst off the line with no wasted movement
Deceptive speed in the open field
Advanced understanding of pursuit angles
High intensity motor and will be the last player to stop on the whistle
Disciplined eyes are always focused on the ball
Although excelled as pass coverage linebacker, will need technique refinement particularly with zone assignments on the next level (predominantly man-to-man assignments at UGA)
Final measurements and overall length will fall short of some NFL team baseline standards (minor concern)
Some concern regarding his ability to quickly disengage when offensive lineman get a hold of him in the open field
Medicals need be evaluated for torn labrum prior to season (slight concern)
At times can be overzealous, which resulted in being out of position
Georgia HC Kirby Smart dedicated a lot of resources to building a dominant defense. Fellow All-American, DL Jordan Davis and 2nd Team All-American, Devonte Wyatt led the way for the UGA defensive front. However, Dean understood how to exploit the opposing offensive coordinators' attention dedicated to the Bulldogs' defensive lineman.
Playing in the box or further off the line suits Dean either way. The UGA linebacker is a thumper when facing the run and attacks downhill. His ability to constantly get a jump on lineman is a testament of his attention to detail, especially when it comes to snap counts and quarterback pre-snap tells.
Although Dean is projected to be a weak side linebacker (WILL) on the next level, his field vision and ability to call plays as a middle linebacker (MIKE) is worth exploring. The primary attribute of an instinctual MIKE linebacker is an innate understanding of where to align his teammates and when to attack the line of scrimmage.
NFL teams will have to ask themselves, if they envision Dean as a WILL, a MIKE or even a combo of both. Last draft featured PSU linebacker Micah Parsons (selected at #12 overall) and Mizz LB Nick Bolton (selected at #58 overall). Both prospects had the ability to play multiple linebacker spots and had impressive rookie seasons. Dean could have a similar impact as well.
Dean is a high energy linebacker who offers the ability to set the tone vs the run, but also can be relied on to cover tight ends and running backs. His ability to be a 3-down linebacker who doesn't have to come off the field will make him an appealing early round prospect for teams looking to solidify their defense.
*Games Watched- 9/4 vs CLEM, 9/18 vs S.CAR , 9/25 vs Vanderbilt , 10/2 vs ARK, 10/9 vs AUB, 10/30 Florida ,11/13 vs Tenn, 11/27 vs GA Tech, 12/4 vs ALA, 12/31 vs MICH (Orange Bowl) and 1/10/22 vs ALA (CFB Championship)
*Team Fits- WFT, SEA, PHI, MIA, NYG, NYJ ,DEN, MIN, CLE, LAC, TEN, CIN
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