Three of the top ten teams in the country have made it to their conference championships by winning on both sides of the ball, with defensive anchors capable of changing the game in a moments notice. These three players lead their respective defenses, and will all likely be top picks in this year’s NFL draft.
Dylan’s Dimes will be a ten step breakdown of three of the biggest draft eligible players taking the field in some of the biggest matchups each week. I analyze background, on the field performance, off the field traits, opinions around the NCAA, all leading up to the dropping the dime on how they could fit with gang green.
Leading off this week is a well rounded corner who’s been a staple for Cincinnati and a catalyst for their success. He’s a leader and a dominant player who figures to be highly touted, he is Cincinnati CB, Ahmad Gardner.
The second man up this week is a core piece of the top team in the nation. His athleticism and versatility has allowed the No.1 Georgia Bulldogs to use him in a variety of packages. He is mr. unlimited, LB, Nakobe Dean.
The Utah football program has excelled this season and as they come off a massive win against Oregon, to win the PAC 12 title. The heart and soul of that defense this season has been LB, Devin Lloyd, the MVP of the PAC 12 championship game, and the final player going through the wringer this week.
-From: Detroit, MI
-From: Horn Lake, MS
-From: Chula Vista, CA
Gardner attended Martin Luther King High School in Detroit, Michigan. At MLK, Gardner played receiver and cornerback, helping vault the team to a state championship. Gardner caught two touchdowns in the state title game, and was named first team all-state. Unfortunately, at 159 pounds and 6’2”, concerns on his weight filling out his frame hindered his chances of higher scouting notoriety. This led to Gardner committing to Cincinnati where he’s played since 2019. Gardner immediately made an impact, becoming one of the top corners in the AAC. He’s only grown from there, as his new goal is to be the best in the nation.
Dean graduated from Horn Lake High School in Mississippi. While there, Dean played four sports, track, baseball, basketball, and football. Dean played both sides of the ball, but garnered attention as one of the nation’s top linebackers. In 2018, he received the High School Butkus award as the top linebacker in the country. He was a 2019 All-American game participant and after receiving loads of interest from seemingly every top program, Dean opted to attend Georgia. At Georgia, it’s been a story of constant development. As Dean has learned the scheme, adapted to tougher competition and utilized his athleticism in various facets, Dean has become a top defensive player in the nation.
Where Nakobe Dean was a highly touted high school prospect, Lloyd was not. Lloyd had a quieter high school career, playing both sides of the football as well. Lloyd excelled in coverage and projected more as a safety at the next level. Lloyd received one power five offer, from Utah, where he ultimately committed. At Utah, Lloyd sat behind his elders, learned the linebacker position and grew into one of the top players in the PAC-12, and now the country.
2020: 9 games, 28 tackles, .5 TFLs, .5 sacks, 3 interceptions and 6 pass deflections.
2021: 9 games, 24 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 1.0 sacks, 2 interceptions and 2 pass deflections.
2020: 10 games, 71 tackles, 1.5 TFLs and 1.5 sacks.
2021: 11 games, 50 tackles, 7.0 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 1 TD and a FF.
2020: 5 games, 48 tackles, 10.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks and a FF.
2021: 11 games, 91 tackles, 21.0 TFLs, 6.0 sacks, 3 INTs, 1 TD, 1 FR and a FF.
Gardner’s an explosive athlete with excellent burst. He’s a refined tackler with very good range. He’s athletic and his length elevates his already high potential. Gardner is a proven producer showing the ability to make plays even in the biggest situations. His football IQ is high, and allows him to have top tier awareness at all times. Gardner is a leader and has been a key piece in a defense that has helped Cincinnati have two very strong seasons in the past two years.
It’s hard to poke a lot of holes in a player as well rounded as Nakobe Dean. On the field Dean plays with elite level tackling range, incredible play speed and excels in coverage as a linebacker. As a former safety, his athleticism is apparent as he plays the linebacker position in a way that few can. He flies all over the field with a high motor that’s constantly present. Dean anchors one of the top defenses in the country, and he’s been touted by many as the glue of the defense, and a top tier leader. On and off the field, Dean brings a lot of good to the table.
Devin Lloyd is a true defensive captain. His communication and football intelligence is up there with some of the best. He provides a high enough football IQ to make up for athletic advantages players like Nakobe Dean may have over him. His reads are incredibly impressive and his versatility allows him to constantly take advantage of mismatches. Lloyd is a strong pass rusher, very good in coverage and excellent in run support. He can do just about everything you ask of him, and those types of players are a dime in a dozen.
Gardner’s shown growth in his footwork and form over time, but he could still stand to work on it in order to elevate it to the same level as some of the other top guys in the class. His coverage skills are strong, but he can tend to play too aggressive and lose positioning on his man at points.
Dean is an excellent run defender, but his impact in the passing game is lackluster at points. Dean utilizes his coverage abilities well, but he struggles to impact the game as a pass rusher, he fails to read passing plays as well as others in the class. Dean is slightly undersized, but that can be overcome. Overall, Dean is still a very good player, but his ability to affect the passing game could improve.
Lloyd does a lot of things really well, there are just some aspects of his game that could stand to improve. His footwork is inconsistent and it puts him at a disadvantage at points. He can be overzealous and a little too aggressive and can tend to disregard patience and try to make a big play. These are two big aspects of his game that could be refined to make him a more well developed prospect.
7/10-The Focus of Improvement:
Gardner: Play More Conservative
Dean: Impact the Passing Game
Lloyd: Skills Refinement
Ahmad Gardner is an immediate starter at the next level. He is a confident, but smart decision maker and if he can tone down his aggressive play style, he can be a number one outside corner for a franchise. Gardner’s nickname is “Sauce”, and he definitely has the sauce. I think he should transition pretty easily and have a good amount of success as a productive starter.
The Isaiah Simmons comparisons are going to flood in from now until April. Dean is a safety/linebacker hybrid who can be used in a variety of packages and schemes. Dean is a non scheme specific Swiss army knife. If used the right way Dean has potential to be a long term starter at the next level. If he struggles to find a fit, like Simmons he could get off to a slow start at first. The potential is there though and Dean will fare well at the next level.
Where Dean provides non traditional hybrid versatility, Lloyd provides positional versatility that can allow him to provide value in a multitude of schemes. Lloyd is a confident player with high football I.Q. who will transition very well to the NFL. Lloyd is an instinctual playmaker who can reach a pro bowl potential. Lloyd is a safe bet to be a long term starter, with a ceiling of being a pro bowler year in and year out.
9/10-The Outside Opinion:
“In Gardner’s two seasons as a Bearcat, starting since he was a true freshman, the young corner has collected six interceptions and has become their shutdown corner. Gardner has a unique skill set of being a big corner but also having great technical skills in his game. Thriving in press coverage at the line of scrimmage, but also having great technique to cover space in zone coverage.”- Jonah Hovis, Fansided
“Nakobe Dean simply has everything that it takes to be a very good linebacker in the NFL and he’s already proven it at the college level. There are a few other linebackers who deserve LB1 consideration in the 2022 NFL Draft like Alabama’s Christian Harris and Utah’s Devin Lloyd, however as of now I give Dean the edge.”- Evan Bachman, Fansided
“Lloyd projects as a starting weakside linebacker early on in his career as his coverage ability, length and athleticism are what NFL teams desire at the position. Whether he can develop into a quality starter is dependent on him improving as a run defender. Defensive coordinators can move Lloyd around and allow his defense to disguise looks if required.” -Lorenz
Gardner is a safe bet to immediately come in and project as the No.1 cornerback opposite Bryce Hall. Gardner is a safe prospect with a low risk, high reward potential. Given the lack of targets his way and his top tier coverage abilities, he’s used this season to diversify his skill set, and he’s taken strides that will allow him to contribute to the run game as well. He’s not scheme specific and would immediately bolster the secondary.
Dean does things your traditional linebacker just shouldn’t do. Being able to hang with running backs, receivers and tight ends and legitimately hold your own is something few players could do. Dean can play like a safety, but also excel as a captain of the defense. He’s instinctual and picks and chooses when to attack or drop back. His versatility is going to suit him well in terms of overall value, but for the Jets, Dean might not be a better fit than Lloyd. For the Jets, Dean’s versatility could actually be a gift and a curse. His athleticism and IQ can allow him to thrive in a variety of packages, and Robert Saleh would assuredly have fun using him all over. With Lloyd though, you know you are getting someone who can immediately slot in the ideal role Saleh wants his linebackers to play. Dean wouldn’t necessarily fit as well as Lloyd in that respect, but if Saleh is looking to add the better athlete and weapon, then he will push Joe Douglas to go for Dean over Lloyd.
Both Dean and Lloyd are exceptional talents, but for the Jets, Lloyd may get the edge. Lloyd plays a more traditional MIKE role but adds versatility as a pass rusher. Not only that, but his abilities in coverage will open things up for Robert Saleh to use him in a variety of different ways in his scheme. Lloyd plays similar to Fred Warner and Bobby Wagner, two guys who Saleh has coached and seen the impact they can have on a game. Adding Lloyd could give the Jets a young anchor to the defense. The only qualm could be C.J. Mosley, given his high cap hit, it will be hard to move on, plus, he’s played very well this year. Mosley could move over to a WILL role or a different role that allows Lloyd to play more comfortably and the Jets to still utilize Mosley’s talents.