Eagles: Realistic expectations for Nakobe Dean in year one

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Now that third-round pick Nakobe Dean has officially signed his rookie contract with the Eagles, it’s time to look ahead to his rookie campaign.

We all know that Dean was an absolute steal in this year’s NFL Draft. A bonafide first-round talent, Dean slipped due to questionable health concerns and because he doesn’t possess the extreme athleticism that most teams covet in their off-ball linebackers. If Dean didn’t dominate at the highest level of college football, his athletic limitations would be a legitimate criticism. But that just wasn’t the case.

Dean was the best player on a Georgia defense that saw five players get selected in the first-round of the draft. He finished the year with the highest PFF grade of any off-ball linebacker in the nation. Per PFF:

[Dean] became the first off-ball linebacker of the entire PFF College era (since 2014) to earn a 90.0-plus grade as a pass-rusher and in coverage. Dean racked up 31 pressures and 15 passing stops in 2021 — both of which ranked top 10 at the position in the Power Five, something no other player at the position accomplished. He ranked sixth in the Power Five in pass-rush win rate (22.3%), allowed a first down at the lowest rate (13.5%) among linebackers and didn’t surrender a single touchdown on the season. Dean also came up with a pick-six against Florida, placing him on a rare list of coverage defenders to score more touchdowns than they allowed.”

2022 NFL Draft: Georgia LB Nakobe Dean shouldn’t be sliding down boards

Simply put, Dean can do it all, despite being under 6-foot.

With Dean now in the mix, the Eagles suddenly have a plethora of different skill sets at their linebacker position. Dean and T.J. Edwards are the do-it-all types. They’ll be able to play the early downs effectively and they should be able to hold their own in passing situations. Then you have Kyzir White and Davion Taylor, two athletic linebackers who can do a little bit of everything as well, but fit best in passing situations where they can play in space and utilize their athleticism.

During training camp, we’ll start to get a clearer picture on how Jonathan Gannon plans to utilize each backer and what their roles will be.

Dean, for all his physical limitations, is still the most well-rounded linebacker on the Eagles roster. He can fly around and diagnose running plays like Edwards, while still being able to drop back into coverage effectively like White. For that reason alone, Dean should get the majority of playing time out of all the backers on the team.

In 2021, Alex Singleton saw the highest percentage of defensive snaps at the linebacker position, playing 68 percent of the time. Dean will likely hover right around that number in 2022, or even exceed it. Although Gannon rotated a lot of his linebackers last year, it was more out of necessity than anything else. Singleton was a liability in coverage, Eric Wilson was just bad at everything, and Taylor was still developing as an NFL player. Edwards really came into his own down the stretch and took a big step forward in his coverage ability, which is why he became the unquestioned starter in the latter half of the year.

Dean and Edwards are pretty comparable players. Both are limited athletically, but they’re able to make up for it with solid football IQ and a nose for the football. They should hold down the two starting linebacker spots entering Week 1, and when Gannon inserts his nickel and dime looks, Dean may be the only linebacker on the field in those situations.

With a high projection of defensive snaps, Dean should put up some solid numbers as a rookie. He very well could lead the team in tackles, along with recording a few sacks and maybe one or two interceptions along the way.

We should all be excited about what a linebacker like Dean can bring to this Eagles defense. It’s been a very long time since Philly has had an impact player at the position, but they may have finally found one in Dean.

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