Dawson is arguably the best zone coverage linebacker in this draft. He can read the QB, patrol his zone, and is a constant interception threat.
On this play Dawson does exactly what he should do. He sees the running back coming into his zone and he backs off knowing that he doesn’t have the speed to keep up with him if the route calls for a streak. The running back curls out his route and Dawson immediately reacts to limit the gain after the catch.
For this play Dawson is in a shallow zone. He sees the play action move, doesn’t buy it and reacts to the throw to get in on the tackle.
Here Dawson is in a shallow zone again. He quickly jumps on the receiver running the quick out and forces the incompletion.
On this play Dawson picks up the running back out of the backfield. He does a great job of staying with him and blankets him on the out route.
Dawson has the backfield receiver on this play. He makes sure to cover the receiver once he sees the play breaking down and is able to make the catch on the throw away. Here’s a closer look at the catch.
Dawson’s hands are unbelievable for a linebacker. As I noted at the beginning of the article he is a converted wide receiver, and you can see his former position shine as a linebacker.
Here’s another example of his hands:
This is just a fantastic job all around by Dawson. He’s coming in on the delayed blitz and reads the QB from the start. The QB never takes his eyes off of his first target and Dawson simply gets in the way of the pass and makes the catch.
Where Dawson struggles the most is in man coverage. From his speed and agility alone he’s not capable of keeping up with faster players, but he also tends to grab at players and be overly physical with them.
Dawson drew a pass interference flag on this play. He made an awful effort to cover the running back and just made a dumb decision.
Some more holding on this next play.
This next play is an ill-advised bump.
Not even sure why he bumped the receiver on the play, but had the throw been near Dawson’s man then it’s an easy pass interference call. Dawson didn’t even attempt to hide it.
Here’s one more blatant holding from Dawson.
While Dawson is very good in zone coverage, his man coverage limitations will hold him back. He doesn’t have the ability to keep up with faster players and resorts to grabbing and holding to keep himself close to his assignments. Dawson is strictly a zone coverage linebacker in the NFL.
Dawson is a very effective pass rusher. He’s most effective on delayed blitzes where he’s able to read how the offensive line is blocking and then find the gap that he needs to go through for the sack.
Dawson never displayed any pass rush moves at all. No rips, spins, swims, or anything like that. Dawson did struggle to shed his blocks when running downhill into the backfield so he likely doesn’t know any of these moves, or at least how to use them effectively. Dawson is definitely better suited to a scheme that allows him to delay blitz. If he is able to read the offensive line and find the gap to burst through, then he’ll be a fine pass rusher in the NFL.
Draft Projection and Pro Comparison
Dawson is definitely a top tier talent at linebacker and probably even worthy of a late first round pick. However, his work ethic is questionable and that could very easily cause him to slide to the mid or even late 2nd. Dawson’s limited athleticism doesn’t help either. A below average athlete with a poor work ethic is not the kind of player that excels in the NFL. Dawson is a mid-2nd rounder to me and should be the 3rd linebacker off the board.
Pro Comparison: Stephen Tulloch with better coverage ability. While Dawson stands two inches taller than Tulloch, he plays in a fairly identical style. Very instinctive and always around the ball. Dawson likely will play in very similar way to Tulloch. Finding his way to the ball, making plays on anticipation, but he can add a dimension to his game that Tulloch does not have. The ability Dawson has in zone coverage is much better than Tulloch’s and Dawson likely will shine in a WILL or MIKE linebacker role in a 4-3. Dawson also can get into the backfield better than Tulloch, but does so with the help of delayed blitzes which, go back to his superb instincts.