Tape courtesy of Aaron Aloysius
As Seahawks fans embrace the likely attention the front seven will receive in this upcoming draft, Lavonte David (LB, Nebraska) is a name that keeps being mentioned. He was a Butkus Award runner-up in 2011, he had a solid Senior Bowl and expectations are that he could impress at the combine. You want to see pure speed from a linebacker who’s playing at 6-0 and 220lbs and it’ll be interesting so see how he performs. Players without prototypical size are always going to have to compensate, so an impressive athletic showing will allay fears that size will matter at the next level. That could be the issue, however.
I’ve seen some projectionists suggest he could get into round one contention, but I think that’s very optimistic. He may test well at the combine, but the tape above shows an athlete with above average mobility, but not the kind of consistent explosion that could promote him beyond a R2-4 grade. See the play at 4:54 where he has an angle on the runner, but is beaten on the outside for speed. He needs to make that play if he’s going to be considered a smaller, quicker linebacker at the next level. His best asset is working through traffic against the run when the play is in front of him. Check the tape at 0:16, 0:36, 4:06 and 4:14 to see an example of read, react and finish. Footwork is key here and he moves well to avoid blocks when trying to work in traffic. He also does well to diagnose plays quickly and get to the ball carrier. Reports say he’s a hard worker who’s spent a lot of time in the film room during his two years in Nebraska.
At times he gets overwhelmed, but that’s not a total surprise at 220lbs. You see at 1:29 when he plays at the LOS that he struggles when starting in a more attack-minded position. He cuts into the middle to try the inside rush, but gets stoned by the lineman allowing a big run on the outside. He doesn’t look a mature or effective pass rusher at this stage (although he’s not really used as a rusher) and at his size he really needs to learn to avoid contact and use his mobility to greater effect to work as a threatening pass rusher. Teams will need to feel confident he can develop this side of his game. At the moment he looks like a player who will predominantly play a lot of his snaps behind the LOS, but you have to believe teams are going to want to be more aggressive with a 220lbs linebacker knowing he could be a liability in the second level at that size.
When he gets low on tackles he’s effective. He understands he won’t be able to overpower bigger runners and receivers and I like his overall tackling technique which seems to be consistent. However, there are still times when he seems to deflect off runners. That’s a risky play, especially against the caliber of back he’ll face in the NFL. Go low, but make sure you wrap up and take the ankles – don’t rely on your shoulder knocking Ray Rice or Marshawn Lynch off balance. I like the play at 2:59 purely because it’s opportunistic. He senses a chance to strip the ball loose and force the turnover and he executes.
I wonder if teams will consider a move to safety, especially given he actually added weight before his Senior year (he previously played at around 210lbs). Switching to strong safety could be an option, because his frame is pretty maxed out as it is. I think he’s more suited to the WILL where his size will be less of a concern – but he’ll need to reassure teams he’s quick enough and capable enough of adding some pass-rush threat. In college he was a tackling machine – one almost as impressive as Luke Kuechly at times (albeit with greater lateral mobility, if not overall technique). Yet at the next level he’s going to have to adapt. That’s what makes David such a difficult projection right now. He could be that guy who everyone expects to go early but falls a bit.