Georgia’s Nakobe Dean has an excellent chance to be the first linebacker selected in the 2022 NFL Draft. Dean was absolutely electric throughout the 2021 campaign, leading the Bulldogs’ historic defense in tackles for loss (10.5) en route to capturing the Butkus Award. Dean was a crucial centerpiece for a Georgia team that ended a 42-year National Championship drought. Dean’s combination of speed, athleticism, instincts, and sideline-to-sideline ability makes him an incredibly intriguing linebacker.
Dean recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about Georgia’s special championship-winning season, what their practices were like, his experiences and performances at the combine and the Bulldogs’ Pro Day, his abilities in coverage, which teammate he’d bring to war, and so much more.
JM: You were born in Horn Lake, Mississippi. It’s south of Memphis, Tennessee. I’m going to be honest with you. I’ve never heard of it. The population is less than 30,000. What was life like growing up in Horn Lake?
ND: I would say it was alright. I had everything I needed. Maybe I didn’t always have everything I wanted, but I had everything I needed (laughs). My mother did an excellent job taking care of me, my older brother, and my younger sister. She was strict. She kept us busy and on the right path. She definitely kept us out of trouble.
Life was simple in Horn Lake. It wasn’t fancy at all. Things are a bit slower in Mississippi. The older I got, I realized my life could have gone differently if I didn’t have such a great support system in place. I had to keep the right crowd around me. It’s definitely the type of place where trouble could sometimes find you if you weren’t in the right place.
JM: It sounds like you had the right upbringing. You decided to depart the state after high school and attended Georgia despite having some big in-state offers. What brought you to Georgia?
ND: I had prayed on it. I remember praying about my decision before taking a nap. When I woke up, coach Kirby Smart called me. It felt like fate. Georgia was always in the back of my mind throughout the entire recruiting process. I had a great feeling about the program. I felt like I needed to go to Georgia.
It was good for me to get away from home. I purposely wanted to leave the state. It allowed me to grow as an individual. I learned how to grow socially. It matured me. Georgia being as far away from home as it was, it felt right for the specific experience I was chasing after. Last but not least, I wanted to win.
JM: You did all of those things. You won the 2021 Butkus award while helping Georgia end a 42-year National Championship drought. How do you reflect on your final season at Georgia?
ND: It was great. We had a legendary year. I’m going to remember it for the rest of my life. Being able to accomplish what we did for the great state of Georgia, to do it with the guys I’ve been banging it out with all year long, my brothers, it was the ultimate feeling. We really accomplished that. We saw our goals come to fruition.
JM: That’s great. What’s your biggest takeaway from that Championship team? I’m specifically looking for something you’ll always remember.
ND: For me, it’s the connections we built. Outside of some of the high school teams I played on, I feel like my 2021 season at Georgia was spent with a team that truly connected as far as the relationships we built. We really knew each other on another level. We preached connections, we preached getting to know everybody on a more personal level. We were more than teammates. We became brothers and friends outside of football. Those connections translated to the field.
JM: I have to ask about what the practices were like because I asked Jamaree Salyer the same question and he had some legendary stories to tell. What was it like to compete against your own teammates?
ND: It was great (laughs). For one thing, practice at Georgia is different. It’s different from a speed and physicality standpoint. It’s like an out-of-body experience. It’s different. The competition is second to none. I feel like practice was way harder than games, and when I say harder, I mean way, way harder.
That’s true from every standpoint. It was faster and more physical. It required more conditioning. Everything was harder. We embraced practice. A lot of people, a lot of programs, they go to practice and can’t wait to get it over with. If we felt like we weren’t moving in the right direction for whatever reason, practice became even tougher. We embraced the process, we wanted to get better. We loved the grind. We never complained about it.
JM: I absolutely love that. You led the team in tackles for loss last season. You love to come downhill, you love to shoot gaps and you’re highly instinctive. How did you develop those aspects of your game?
ND: Over the offseason, our linebackers coach Glenn Schumann challenged us to be better blitzers. He challenged us to become better tacklers and to improve our abilities in coverage. He asked us to come back to the program with better hand usage. He basically challenged us to get better in every area I’d say (laughs). We took that in stride. We embraced it. We all worked to get better, and I know I did. I did a bunch of specific drills to work on my balance and things of that nature. I put in the work necessary throughout the offseason.
JM: Coach Schumann was definitely onto something. You’re an excellent blitzer. You finished second on the team in sacks with six quarterback takedowns in 2021. In the passing game, you’re athletic enough to play man-to-man against tight ends and running backs, and you get good depth in your zone drops as well. Being able to impact the passing game is so important for today’s linebackers. Tell me a little about your abilities in that area.
ND: It goes back to coach Schumann. He challenged us to become better players in coverage. Being able to cover is so important. When I came here as a freshman, they used to put me in the game on third downs so I could cover tight ends and running backs. It’s a big part of the game, and it’s always been a part of my game. I’m going to continue to develop and get better.
JM: We’ve talked a lot about the defense. Tell me about what Georgia ran from a system perspective, and how playing in their scheme helped prepare you for the next level.
ND: I think it helped me tremendously. We played everything from Cover 0 to Cover 9. I played in such a complex system, everything we ran was complex. It goes beyond playing in it. I understood it, I knew it through and through. It helped me play at the highest level imaginable and I’m ready for anything. No matter what team drafts me, I’ll be able to understand what they run. I’ll be able to pick up the scheme in a timely manner. Playing at Georgia gave me an advantage there.
JM: There’s no denying that. What was your overall experience like at the NFL Scouting Combine, and follow up with thoughts on your Pro Day.
ND: I really enjoyed the interview process at the combine. I loved feeling out the teams and talking ball with them. I loved analyzing how the meetings went. A lot of teams are different. They’re feeling me out, but I was feeling them out at the same time. No two teams are the same. I love getting to know people. I met with people that I’ve been watching on television for a long time (laughs). It was cool.
Unfortunately, I was a little banged up and I was unable to participate physically at the combine, and I was barely able to participate at my Pro Day as well. I was able to get out there and do some on-field work. I just wanted to get out there with my Georgia boys for one last time. I don’t know if I’ll ever take the field with my teammates again. I wanted to get out there and work. I had just started running like six days prior to Pro Day. I really just wanted to see where I was at from a physical standpoint. It felt good to compete again. I loved working with my brothers.
JM: It was great to see you back on the field. You immediately touched on the interview process. Have you completed any virtual or top-30 in-person visits, or do you have any coming up?
ND: I have a Top 30 visit with the Detroit Lions coming up. We’re finalizing my schedule and the rest of my visits at this time. We’re keeping tabs on the rest of the visits. I’ve had virtual meetings with teams every other day. I’ve met with so many teams. I’ve spoken with 22 or more teams since my pro day.
JM: There’s a lot of interest in you and it’s easy to see why. I’m sure you’ve heard the term “undersized” throughout your career and you’ve proven doubters wrong at every level. How do you typically respond?
ND: The chip on my shoulder continues to grow bigger. This entire process has done nothing but make the chip on my shoulder even bigger. I remember being told that I was undersized in high school. My high school coach called me the other day and we remembered a story where certain people told me I was too small to be an inside linebacker. A lot of people didn’t believe I could be a successful middle linebacker in college due to my size.
I recall things like that. I’ve been hearing it my entire life. It doesn’t bother me. I play with that chip on my shoulder. It doesn’t matter if I’m 5-foot-11 or 6-foot-4, I‘d have that same chip on my shoulder. It is what it is. At this point, I’m going to hear that until the end of time. I just have to keep working and proving people wrong.
JM: That’s the best way to handle that. You had so many amazing teammates at Georgia, but I’m going to put you on the spot. If you were going to war tomorrow and could only bring one with you, who would you choose and why?
ND: Man, that’s tough. I’m gonna bail out of that question by saying anybody I played on defense with (laughs). I can trust anybody on our defense. I would bring any single one of them to war with me. The front seven, even the defensive backs, we were all dogs. I would bring any one of them to war with me. I know I can trust them.
JM: I’ll allow it (laughs). I’ve really appreciated your time today Nakobe. I feel like this conversation has highlighted exactly why you’re one of the best linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft. Why should a team use a first-round pick on Nakobe Dean?
ND: My mindset comes first and foremost. I’m going to bring a winning mentality to the program. My mindset is second to none. I’m going to come in and do anything it takes to win. I say it all the time. I’m ready for this opportunity. I’m going to do whatever it takes to help the team be successful. I’m going to do the right thing both on and off the field. I’m always going to represent the organization the right way.
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