2015 NFL Scouting Combine Watch List: Middle Linebackers

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Oct 25, 2014; Fort Worth, TX, USA; TCU Horned Frogs linebacker Paul Dawson (47) during the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Dawson, TCU

Paul Dawson, who is listed officially as 6’2″ and 230, suffers from the same “undersized” stigma as Eric Kendricks. The stigma is made worse when some scouting services and sites make him as much as four inches shorter and 10 pounds lighter: I’ve seen 5’10” 230, and 6’0″ 221 listed for his height & weight. Regardless, despite his small stature, he was an incredibly active linebacker in TCU’s defense who can line up all over the field and do almost anything you ask of him. This past season, he accounted for 127 total tackles, five sacks and four interceptions, after starting the season not even on any significant award watch lists. Now he enters the drafts with a number of question marks about his size and strength but none about his instincts and motor. While he looks a bit stiff in his hips, Dawson has shown that he is excellent in pass coverage, has great lateral quickness, and great reaction time. He will likely show up and show out in all the position drills, but in order to crack the top of the draft board for Reggie McKenzie and Jack Del Rio, he will need to show out in the measurable drills as well:

1. Bench Press: sounds familiar, right? McKenzie loves the bench press, and a smaller player like Dawson will have to show that he has the upper-body strength to compete at the NFL level. His tape shows that, if a blocker is able to actually get to him – which isn’t often due to his quick feet and great reaction time – he can easily be blocked out of a play. In order to keep using his quick feet, instincts and great tackling ability at the next level, he will need to have the strength to engage and separate from blockers, or at least stack them at the point of attack. Based on his tape, he hopefully has been working hard in the weightroom since his season ended to improve his upper-body strength, specifically his bench number.

2. Broad Jump: the same can be said of his lower-body, which is the second half of the block-beating equation. While he certainly has the explosive power in his frame to be a great tackler, tackling a 200-pound running back and stacking up a 310-pound offensive guard require two totally different levels of strength. That explosive strength is measured in the broad jump, and to a lesser extent in the vertical, and Dawson will need to marry a good performance in the broad jump with a good performance in the bench press in order to show NFL GM’s and coaches that he can play the middle of their defense.

3. 40-yard Dash: the 40 is generally not a very important event for interior linebackers, for whom change-of-direction ability and short-range quickness is far more vital than their ability to run 40 yards in a straight line quickly. But with a linebacker like Dawson who will likely be used heavily in pass coverage at the next level, NFL talent evaluators are going to want to see how fast he is. The rumor on Dawson is that, despite his quickness on tape, he doesn’t possess top-tier speed even for a linebacker, which would make him a liability in pass coverage situations, especially when blitzes are on and he must cover a tight end or a running back in man to man. With players in the division like Antonio Gates, Travis Kelce, and Jamaal Charles, Del Rio and McKenzie are not going to want to risk having a cover linebacker who isn’t fast enough to keep pace.

Next: Linebacker to Watch: Taiwan Jones