The big story from a Packers perspective from the 2015 NFL Combine has been the overall disappointment of the inside linebackers. Mike Mayock mentioned it on the broadcast and Paul Dawson and Denzel Perryman disappointed in particular.
Dawson was a big disappointment to me, as he was my top inside linebacker in this draft after watching his TCU film. I’m not going to back off that yet, but his 4.93 40-yard dash and his 28″ vertical leap were alarming. For reference, that 28″ vertical leap ranked dead last among all linebackers and would have ranked fifth worse among all defensive lineman. It seems like Dawson came ill prepared for the combine at the very least and that backs up some work ethic and character concerns about him.
While these workout numbers shouldn’t change your thoughts based off the film, they should make you go back and see if you missed anything. Dawson’s tape looks nothing like those test results.
The thing that jumped off the screen about Dawson that does not show up in these workouts is his instincts. He can find where the ball is quickly and is not afraid to attack a gap when he sees the opportunity. Yes, he hit those gaps with speed, agility and authority. He often looked like he was on another level quickness wise than the other players on the field. There were more “splash” plays that stuck out with him than any other inside linebacker this class.
Dawson was also fluid and able to change directions quickly in coverage, which is so crucial in today’s NFL. He played wide receiver in high school so it’s pretty stunning he tested this poorly. The reality is though his test results will probably knock him out of the first round and maybe even get him down to the Packers’ second round pick. They should pounce on Dawson if that happens, as to me he seems like a guy who just knows how to play when the lights come on for real and seems like this year’s Chris Borland.
Perryman did nothing to silence his critics that he may not be a four-down NFL linebacker. He only ran a 4.78 forty-yard dash, which backs up his tape more than Dawson’s time. Perryman is only 5’11” and not very long, which along with not great speed is not a good combination of things to have in pass coverage. He was not put in a position to cover a ton at Miami. There are no questions regarding Perryman’s run stuffing ability. He packs a huge punch with his hits and is not afraid to take on any blocker. However, the Packers just cannot afford to take another two-down inside linebacker in this draft.
One inside linebacker who did have a good day was UCLA’s Eric Kendricks. Kendricks ran a a 4.66 forty-yard dash, which backed up the excellent coverage skills he displayed on tape. He had three interceptions last year, showed the ability to cover sideline to sideline and to be aware of his drops in zone coverage. Also, Kendricks was an adept pass rusher with four sacks. He won’t wow anybody with his strength like Perryman, but his 149 tackles last year showed he can use his agility against the run and has good instincts. Kencricks just seems to fit the bill as the new breed of today’s NFL inside linebacker.
With Dawson and Perryman probably taking themselves out of first round consideration(although I personally would still consider Dawson) the Packers may trade down or have to look at another position at pick 30 if Kendricks is gone. Defensive tackle seems like a possibility with Malcolm Brown, Jordan Phillips and Eddie Goldman all having a chance of being available. It’s still early in the draft process, but the Packers certainly should not be locked into an inside linebacker in the first round.