I talked about Mychal Kendricks yesterday as a potential linebacker selection for the Seahawks in this year's NFL Draft and I nearly made that piece a two-parter, and was going to add All-American Nebraska Cornhusker Lavonte David as another intriguing prospect. I decided to just do a stand alone piece on David instead, because there are a number of reasons that I think he could fit here.
My first thought on Lavonte David is that he plays in Nebraska's defense and though there are obvious differences, if there's a team in college football outside of USC that runs a similar scheme to that of Seattle, it's probably Nebraska. Obviously, Monte Kiffin was the godfather of both defenses, both Pete Carroll and Bo Pelini are Kiffin disciples so some of the player evaluation and role assignment philosophy has been passed down through the ranks. Tendencies for size/speed at certain positions have been passed down as well.
Both Carroll and Pelini run two-gap read and react defenses, particularly in the front seven, and eschew the attacking defensive end standard for stopping the run and containing the quarterback in the pocket. Managing gaps and keeping o-linemen off of the smaller guys at the second and third levels is key. Both coaches employ 3-4 and 4-3 looks from time to time - Nebraska used 4-2-5 looks a lot and some dime from time to time as well.
Also importantly, Pelini and Carroll are friends, and I mentioned this last year as well when the Hawks signed Cornhuskers Pierre Allen, Rickey Thenarse, and Zac Lee in undrafted free agency. Coaches talk, and they influence each other, and Pete Carroll is certainly a coach that really listens to his coaching staff or former staff members. This is all speculation from me at this point, but I get the feeling that Carroll takes Pelini's advice to heart and knowing enough about Pelini, I'm sure he doesn't sugar coat that sh*t. The Nebraska Head Coach flew out to California in '09 to give a lecture on "Stopping the Run" at a Pete Carroll coaching clinic, and Carroll was a big part of the reason Pelini got a job as Defensive Coordinator under then-Nebraska-HC Frank Solich in 2003 so, I think it's fair to say that they have a good connection.
So, if the Seahawks are interested in Lavonte David, they're going to have an excellent resource in Pelini for some insider scouting and character reviews. That leads me to the next question - should they be interested?
Whenever I have a question about Nebraska football, I contact the best resource on it available in Washington - my dad. I'm actually from Omaha and my dad still bleeds for Nebraska football, and he treats his fandom much in the way I treat mine for the Seahawks so I respect his take. His scouting report on David was interesting - as you'll see below, David played the Will a lot in Nebraska's defense when they went with their nickel 4-2-5 look and when they went with Dime, he was typically the only linebacker on the field, or the Mike. The first thing my dad pointed out was David's efficiency in coverage of tight ends and running backs and you'll see it on the tape below, it's a big part of what he did in Nebraska's defense.
Dr. Kelly pointed out one anecdotal example of this by referencing a play where David dropped back in coverage with an opposing tight end. The tight end pushed off in order to catch the incoming pass, knocking David down to the ground. The offensive pass interference was called, but before the play was blown dead, David was back up and in pursuit, catching the tight end and stripping the football for a fumble. You can see that below in the Iowa tape at the 2:47 mark (tip of the cap to Nate for pointing that out).
My pops talked about his excellent instincts and playmaking ability and said David is without a doubt the MVP of Nebraska's defense. "He's honestly probably a better pro prospect than Alfonso Dennard or Jared Crick."
One thing he pointed out though, is that for the NFL, David probably needs to bulk up. David's Nebraska bio lists him at 225, which is probably generous, but he came into the Combine at 233, so it's clear that he's already trying to add weight. His size is one reason some scouts have him making the move to safety.
To that, David replies, "I have no problem (playing safety), but I'm naturally a linebacker and it's what I've played my whole life. I think that is where my game is at."
From Omaha.com -
"My game shows for itself," David said. "I love playing the game of football and I think that my passion shows on film." David feels his speed, agility and quickness allow him to excel in pass coverage, but also knows what he needs to improve to appease scouts. "One thing I've been working on is getting stronger and being more physical, to get off blocks of offensive linemen," he said.
While analysts feel David needs to play in a 4-3 scheme, the former Husker noted he played in a 3-4 and 4-3 at Nebraska. "We had a mixture of both, and I feel I had a great feel for it," David said.
The experts weigh in -
"The more I watch him, he's never going to be great taking blocks head on, but he does a great job of staying unblocked and using his hands," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. "He's quick, competitive, tough and flies around the field. He's a good tackler and knows he's not big, so he gets low and tackles with leverage, but doesn't dive at guys."
McShay is ready to heap high praise on David, but only if the right team drafts him. "I think if he's on a 4-3 team that can allow him to get a little bigger and stronger, and then can protect him, he has a chance to be one of the surprises of this year's draft," McShay said.
"Does he fit everyone? No," said Wes Bunting, director of college scouting for the National Football Post. "But he fits one thing and I think he does it really well. I think some people focus on him being smaller, but I see a good football player."
He isn't the biggest, (6-1, 233) but Nebraska LB Lavonte David displayed good straight-line speed (4.56) and looked real quick footed/explosive during positional drills. He settled his feet quickly, could sink his hips and despite getting a bit out of control at times trying to "play the drill" instead of reacting. To me, he's a linebacker who will be one of the most productive second round prospects picked in this year's draft.
"Really encouraging for David's stock that he got his weight to 233 and still showed off plenty of athleticism, including a 4.56. He could be a solid second-rounder now and is a tackling machine."
The scouting report is an interesting one because of the way Seattle plays their defense. With Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane, and Alan Branch plugging up the middle of the field (this past year, anyway), the linebackers are asked to take on fewer head-on blocks from offensive linemen than in some defenses and a byproduct of that is smaller, faster players can get by at linebacker. Both Leroy Hill and David Hawthorne are a bit undersized, by NFL standards, but their instincts and tackling ability allow them to do the job. Their speed is the main issue, and the Seahawks suffered at the hands of running backs and tight ends. This is where a player like David (or Kendricks, from yesterday) could prove valuable.
David measured in at 6'0, 233 at the Combine, with about 32" arms. He did well for himself in the physical testing portion of the day - running the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds, the seventh-fastest time among linebackers, the 20-yard shuttle in 4.22 seconds, sixth-fastest; and a vertical jump at 36.5 inches, eighth-best. He's not the athletic freak of nature in testing that Kendricks, mentioned yesterday, proved to be, but his on-field production and instincts speak for themselves (133 tackles, Butkus Award finalist, All-American).
I like that a big part of his game was coverage of tight ends and running backs, and you'll see him lined up over slot receivers from time to time as well. Put that with his ability to tackle and play in the middle of the field stopping the run, and you've got an intriguing prospect.