Dawson is a very good, not great athlete on film. His athletic traits are all enhanced due to his instinctual prowess. Inside the box he is exceptionally quick, agile, and balanced. In pursuit and in space his lack of athleticism rears its head a bit. He has excellent short-area quickness/foot fire to avoid OL at the 2nd level & to close on ball carriers inside the box but loses twitch and speed quickly the longer a play lasts. In the same manner his COD is excellent due to having a high level of body control & bend to work from a vertical motion horizontally and flatten his angle around blockers. His overall coordination is outstanding as he is a very fluid mover inside the box showing very little wasted movement. His sporadic struggles tackling in space stem from his tendency to stop his feet short on contact and is more of a technical issue than coordination.
Section Grade: 6.8
Pride / Quit
Dawson is a hard nosed player who brings an edge to his defense in the way he plays. He is often seen delivering heavy hits from all areas of the field, celebrating enthusiastically, and at times getting under the opponent’s skin. He has a knack for making the clutch play in crucial times (’14 Oklahoma tape he made a pick-6 in the 4th quarter with the game tied 31-31) making key stops on 3rd downs. He is only an 18-game starter but in those starts has produced masterfully in multiple facets (sacks, turnover creation, TFLs). I only saw film from ’14 but in those he was consistent with his effort with only one or two early pull ups on plays he deemed out of reach. He obviously takes a lot of pride in his game as evident by how high his FBI is on the field in knowing what the offense is doing ahead of time.
Section Grade: 7.1
Learn / Retain
Instinct / Reaction
Most of Dawson’s success in ’14 was attributed to reading offensive formations and players both pre & post snap. He demonstrated the rare ability to mentally process information at a rapid pace, putting himself in positions to muck up a high number of plays. This talent is a testament to obvious time in the film room as well as an uncommon ability to pinpoint what the offense’s intent is on a given play both versus the run and the pass. He’s able to consistently synthesize his read/react ability in a spectacular way.
Section Grade: 8.2
Strength / Explosion
Dawson isn’t particularly cutup but rather possesses thickness throughout his frame. He is a three-year player at TCU as well as a previous JUCO player and has not suffered any major or minor reported injuries. The explosiveness that shows on tape is more generated from his anticipatory skill and aggressiveness rather than fast-twitch fiber. He also is able to unlock his hips at contact with force to generate violent collisions. One area of concern is his inability or disinterest to take on blocks head up. When he does he needs to be the initiator to utilize momentum because his strength is only average at the POA and he has gotten overrun at times on film. An area where he displays more functional strength is in his arms/hands on wrapping up and bringing down ball carriers.
Section Grade: 6.6
8.5 Read & React
Expeditiously diagnoses plays by reading his keys and flowing to the ball with stellar consistency
7.5 Initial Quicks
Sharply anticipates the play and is exceptionally quick inside the tackle box maneuvering through the trash
6 Play Strength
Lacks the necessary strength to thump blocks or hold his ground at the POA versus momentum. Demonstrates his strength at contact with ballcarriers in his ability to bring them to the ground with strong arms/hands
Superb in the box tackler, not very consistent when he has to chase. Very punishing on contact w/ability to unlock hips and drive. Possesses the ability to square up, set feet, anticipate movement, and accurately strike moving targets. *At times his feet stop short of contact in space, but more so on long routes to the ball carrier (which speaks more so to his lack of long speed)
6 Shed Blocker
Has the ability to jolt blockers with a quick stab/shed but prefers to go around instead of through blocks. Struggles holding ground once locked on due to aforementioned lack of strength/size
7 Run at Him
Excels here through tremendous use of deception. OL struggle to find him at times or latch on due to him reacting before they have a chance. Does an excellent job of out leveraging OL & working around them for tackles
6 Pursuit / Range
Takes the excellent angles to the ball in pursuit but doesn’t possess the necessary long speed to chase down many players from behind or over long distances
7 Closing Burst
Outstanding job of accelerating into his spots (the hole) oftentimes causing disruption in blocking schemes
6.5 Zone Coverage
Does a nice job of gaining proper depth and reacting with excellent anticipation to the ball. (’14 Oklahoma game pick-6) Feet can get sluggish at times as he tends to QB watch & lose his man
7 Man Coverage
Shows the patience to allow his man to make his break before overreacting prematurely. Results in excellent body positioning on the ball
6 Pass Rush Ability
Excels in coverage blitzes picking the correct spots to hit, oftentimes untouched. Shows good bend in his lower half in other areas of his game which would likely translate to some sort of ability to blitz off the edge effectively (limited exposure to this on tape)
FBI is off the charts. Rarely ever is fooled by misdirection and I haven’t seen him make the same mental mistake twice. Football IQ is special
Section Grade: 6.8
6.5 ATH ABILITY
7.5 INITIAL QKS
7.5 PLAY SPEED
6 PLAY STR
Section Grade: 7.2
Overall Grade: F 7.1
- 4.93 40 yard dash 4.75 (PD), 21 reps of 225, 28 vert (30 PD), 9-1 broad jump (9-4 PD), 4.49 20 shuttle, 3 cone 6.76 (PD)
Possesses incredible play recognition and mental processing ability – high FBI. Diagnoses what the offense is doing and demonstrates the instincts to react with impeccable quickness. Highly coordinated player who’s mind and body fire in sync seamlessly, masking some of his athletic limitations. Evades blocks with ease in the box. Initial quicks allow him to roam through trash easily. Makes big plays in big situations. Very aggressive tackler who unlocks on contact delivering calculated, decisive blows. Very comfortable in coverage, achieves depth, and reads/reacts to the route runner & QB fluidly.
Limited athleticism in space. Lacking the long speed to chase down ballcarriers from behind. Explosive in short-areas but loses gas in areas outside of that. Doesn’t have enough strength to hold up at the POA and doesn’t show much interest in doing so either.
Dawson is a one and a half year starter (18 games) who has primarily played in the 4-2-5 formation throughout his career. He was lightly recruited out of high school (as a WR) before deciding to go JUCO for a year. He came to TCU in 2012 and played sparingly on special teams. He made the switch full-time to LB in 2013 appearing in 12 games, starting the final 7 games. His first start he notched 17 tackles, 3 TFL, 0.5 sacks, & 1 PBU. In 2014 Dawson started 11 of 13 games (unknown why 2 games were missed) earning the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and was named a consensus All-American. He racked up 136 total tackles, 81 solo, 20 TFL, 6 sacks, 4 INTs, 5 PBUs, 3 fumbles recovered, 2 FF, and 1 TD (pick-6).
Dawson possesses a thick build and is a smooth athlete on tape. He doesn’t have a high level of twitch nor does he generate a ton of raw explosion in his movements. His play speed however is exceptionally fast. His ability to process information at a high rate of speed and utilize in his reaction time is spectacular. He routinely displays high levels of FBI by putting himself in advantageous positions to make easy plays against the run and the pass. Versus the run Dawson stays focused on his keys despite the fluff an offense may throw at him on a given play (misdirection). From inside the tackle box he uses subtle, quick movements to disrupt plays at the LOS or in the backfield before the OL even get to the 2nd level. Other times if OL are quicker, Dawson uses the same subtly to get perpendicular to them along with out-leveraging them to work under and through them back to the ball. This “work back” ability to the ball before it passes him by also puts on display impressive bend in his ankles and hips. Coming downhill he shows the ability to set up blockers with deceptive initial angles to the ball before cutting back at the last moment, leaving OL standing still, and making tackles in the backfield. He has very strong arms and hands to wrap up ball carriers when he isn’t squared up with them. When squared up Dawson breaks down, gets low, and unlocks his hips on contact thus delivering violent collisions. While his strength is evident in this area, it is lacking head up with blockers at the POA. He does show a nice spin and some initial pop in his hands, but he will get engulfed and overrun at times due to his lack of girth and functional strength to withstand momentum from bigger blockers. He shows a strong preference on film to work around, not through blocks. In pursuit Dawson takes excellent angles to the ball, eliminating wasted movement, and closing down space nicely. In the open field his lack of athleticism rears its head a bit as his isn’t extremely agile nor fast enough to chase down many guys from behind. It leads itself to coming up short with swipes at ball carriers’ ankles.
Versus the pass Dawson’s same instinctual prowess is on display far more than not. He shows the ability to gain accurate depth in his drops in zone and does an outstanding job of baiting the quarterback in man and zone coverage. There are times when Dawson catches himself on a blitz to pick up a flaring RB or TE with incredible fluidity, almost like it was planned from before the snap. He also does a nice job of seeing through the WR to the QB, again speaking to the overall focus he plays with from snap to snap. His hands in coverage are also very good as he makes very difficult grabs seem easy. Overall Dawson’s FBI, instincts, ball skills, and aggressiveness lend themselves to a highly successful player in a scheme where he has room to operate. With his football IQ being so high I see his scheme versatility being excellent. His lack of girth and strength may lead him to moving outside but his overall command of the defense should give him a shot to stay in the middle and captain a defense as a pro. His intelligence paired with above average athleticism should see him get a bit undervalued but serve as a longtime fixture and playmaker for many years to come.
Pro Comp – NaVorro Bowman