Draft Spotlight: Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska

Written by Kip Earlywine

Rundown:   Lavonte David is a senior linebacker from Nebraska.  He was not heavily recruited out of high school and began his college career at the junior college level.  David transferred to Nebraska in 2010 from Fort Scott Community College.  He produced immediately, and was named an All American in 2010.  The next season he was awarded the Butkus-Fitzgerald award, given to the best linebacker in the Big Ten.

Age:  22 (January 23, 1990)

Height:  6’1″

Weight:  233

40 time:  4.65

10 yard split:  1.56

3 cone:  7.28

Vertical Jump:  36.50″

Trivia:  Lavonte David was a high school teammate of Sean Spence (and also Jacory Harris).

Compilation Videos:

vs. Washington

vs. Iowa

vs. Michigan

vs. South Carolina


  • Fast
  • Smart
  • Consistent
  • Very good in coverage
  • Excellent closing speed
  • Keeps eyes in the backfield, tracks ball carrier well
  • Tackle Machine
  • Effective blitzer
  • Insanely productive
  • Standout player on a talented defense


  • Built more like a defensive back than a linebacker
  • Not terribly physical
  • Short arms
  • He played at 225, can he remain as quick at 233?

Lavonte David is an undersized linebacker who saw reps at Mike and Will linebacker.  He could probably manage either role in the NFL, but he’d need to add bulk to man the middle on a consistent basis and his pass defense friendly skillset makes him a natural born weak side linebacker.

Its an imperfect task trying to judge coverage ability from broadcasts, but David consistently ran stride for stride with tight ends, which more often than not discouraged quarterbacks from targeting them.  In the Washington compilation you’ll see David make an eye opening interception against Keith Price on a pass targeting Austin Seferian-Jenkins.  The announcers thought the pass was underthrown, but it was actually a perfectly accurate pass that would have hit ASJ in the chest without him breaking stride.  Price did make a mistake on that play, and that mistake was underestimating Lavonte David’s ability to quickly close space in coverage.  Keith Price shattered school records last year and Austin Seferian-Jenkins could be a future first round pick at tight end.  Its amazing to think that play was David’s only interception of his Nebraska career.  Given his ability to cover and close space, this probably speaks of how little David is targeted as much as anything else.

David was one of the more undersized linebackers of 2011 to receive serious consideration in the 2012 draft.  He played at a meager 225 pounds- the same weight as 7th round pick Malcolm Smith.  Standing out of defensive formation, you might assume him to be a defensive back.  A 4.65 forty time does not seem to reflect David’s field speed very accurately.  Could the extra weight be slowing him down? I was surprised when David opted to stand by his combine performances at his pro-day.  From tape study he looks like a guy that could crack the 4.5’s easily, though I guess he would know best.  Its also worth noting that David weighed in at his pro day (which took place only a couple weeks after the combine) at 227 pounds.  Was the weight gain just for show?

Lavonte David may not be as physical as Dont’a Hightower or Ronnell Lewis, but he knows his limitations and acknowledges his lack of size when making tackles.  His tackling technique reminds me a lot of Marcus Trufant’s (an excellent tackler by corner standards).  He will attack the upper body when he has a perfect shot at it, but more often than not he dives for the legs and wraps up.  He’s sure tackler- very few of them are broken- but going lower body has the disadvantage of allowing the runner to fall forward for extra yardage.  Still, its better than not getting a tackle at all.  The same way that Russell Wilson has qualities that helped him work around his height, Lavonte David uses intelligent tackling technique to get the job done.  While its easy to dismiss David based on his weight, the guy had 285 tackles over the last two seasons, while playing about half his snaps at Will.  That’s unbelievable production for a 225 pound player.

David was consistent game to game in my four game sample.  He plays mostly mistake free football.  He doesn’t take many gambles, but he also doesn’t make as many tackles downfield as Luke Kuelchy or Bobby Wagner.  He tracks the ball carrier in the backfield and does a great job meeting the carrier as soon as that player penetrates the first level.  David does not attack behind the line of scrimmage often, but when he does, he makes it count. He’s a very dangerous pass rusher when he has a lane to attack and can easily track down rushers in the backfield when given the green light.  He had 24.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks over the last two seasons.

With 31 3/4″ arms, David has some of the shorter arms among this year’s outside linebacker class.  The only other big name outside linebackers to have arms under 32″ are Sean Spence (who can play Mike where arm length matters less) and Melvin Ingram.  Arm length is not a glaring weakness for David, but he does struggle sometimes to get off blocks quickly and arm length plays a role in that (and will only get worse at the next level).  Arm length also plays a role in coverage, though David more than makes up for it by staying in the hip pocket of his assignment.  This isn’t much of a strike against David, its really more a case of how the best players often force evaluators to scrutinize the smallest of flaws.

In conclusion:

Lavonte David may be undersized, but in my opinion, he is the best pure 4-3 Will linebacker in the draft.  If David was 240 pounds, he’d be a no doubter 1st round pick, and who knows, maybe he’ll end up a 1st rounder anyway.  David could probably bulk up to 240 pounds if he really wanted to, but I suspect whichever team drafts him will just play him at his comfortable weight to begin with and see how things go.

With Malcolm Smith already on the roster, would Seattle draft another identically sized weak side linebacker?  I’m starting to lean towards yes.  David only played two seasons at the BCS level, but he stayed healthy, something Smith couldn’t do in four years at USC.  If you compiled Smith’s career numbers over 4 years and put them in one season, it still wouldn’t be as impressive as David’s 2010 All-American campaign, and David’s 2011 season was very impressive as well.  If Pete Carroll envisions a role for Smith, he could do the same for David.  Lavonte David is not without risk, but only a few defensive talents in the 2012 draft stood out amongst good defenses like David did.  I don’t know how the front office rates David, but he’d be a 2nd round pick I’d be excited about.  That’s if he even reaches the #43 pick, which he probably won’t.


  1. Steeeve

    Thanks for the writeup, Kip. I really like David. Not as much as McClellin or Kendricks, but he’s definitely a good player who would instantly improve our D against TEs and speedy backs like Lesean McCoy. This is probably one of the best landing spots for an undersized LB, not just because of our huge line, but also because of the coaching staff’s willingness and ability to scheme around each player’s weaknesses.

  2. Ben2

    A linebacker with his size? He’ll be there @ 43.

  3. Attyla the Hawk

    He’s an interesting prospect. Although in truth, there are so many good LB prospects, I can’t see taking him in round 2. Some team is going to Ruskell their draft and take the guy. And they could strike gold like Tim did with Lofa.

    He’s a very productive guy in space. But watching him in a crowd leaves a lot to be desired. He doesn’t appear to navigate through the wash of the LOS very well. The comparisons with playing like a DB aren’t all that far off. That’s not to say he’s soft … I don’t see that. The guy is quick and can get to where the ball carrier intends to go with speed and attitude. But watching his tape, he either gets to his spot clean or he doesn’t get there at all.

    His tape strikes me as a good to great college LB, who is going to have serious troubles at the next level. Comparing him to Kendricks is actually a pretty relevant comparison because they are both 2nd round grade LBs who have height concerns. Doing a side by side, and David’s relative inability to navigate blockers, to attack and fight off blockers and to deliver solid impact tackles is incredibly obvious. I would invite anyone to settle down with some footage of both of those players. The difference is really stunning. Kendricks is where David needs to be in order to succeed in the NFL.

    David could certainly succeed at the next level. It is a development league. As of this past season, his natural tendency to abhor physicality is going to get him into a lot of trouble in the pros. This draft is just chock full of LBs that relish the physical nature of the position. An even better comparison would be Demario Davis out of Arkansas State, a 3rd round LB prospect. Even at that grade of talent, you see a guy who looks more NFL ready.

    I do like David over Zach Brown. Both players really don’t demonstrate the ability to even make stalemate plays at the point of attack. David does show an ability to slash through blockers to get at the ball carrier. David also shows excellent coverage awareness. He seems to sense what goes on behind him — like a QB that can sense pressure. I consider him a feast or famine kind of backer. If allowed to run free, he takes good crisp angles with game tape speed and puts his guy down. Not with a lot of violence. But more of a clamp on and become a 220 pound anchor that can’t be freed.

    He will need to develop an affinity for physical play that he appears to try to avoid in college. If he does that, he would be an excellent pro because he clearly is an instinctual player whose head is in the game. But that will have to come post draft because he doesn’t show that at the collegiate level.

  4. CWU Hawk

    I love Davids coverage ability and sound tackling, I think he would help fill a major hole in lady years defense. Covering tight end and rb was one of our poorest aspects of or defense last year. Having said that, have some faith in Malcolm, he is a far superior athlete and only a year into his career. There is write a bit of depth in this years draft at lb, David just seems like a relatively low ceiling got the place we’d take him. Give me Q. Couples and Kendrycks and rb in round three, whoever falls… Cough cough Polk

  5. CWU Hawk

    Quite* phone fail

  6. D

    I was going to post but then I realized Attyla the Hawk had said everything better than I could.

  7. akki

    He’s not going to play at 225 in the pros, so any weight fluctuation is probably directed by the NFL scouts via his agent. He wanted to demonstrate that he could still change direction well with the added weight, I’m thinking. I wonder if this issue caused Malcolm Smith to be a late draft pick – that he couldn’t gain weight if requested to do so.

    Maybe there’s a similar explanation for there being so many tweener LB/DE prospects lately. 10 years ago when most teams ran the 4-3, it was probably made pretty clear to the player whether he’d be a LDE, RDE, OLB, or MLB in the NFL. Now that the 3-4 is in style and on top of that every team has multiple special situational packages, or even plays in nickel over half the time, different teams probably want to mold the same player in different ways. If you have half the teams wanting a Melvin Ingram to play DE and another half wanting him to play LB, then maybe he wants to maintain himself as a tweener to make him attractive to as many teams as possible – and so he lost weight for the combine.

  8. John_S

    Great stuff as usual Rob! I love that you can engage in conversation even if the other person has differing opinions and that is why I love coming here.

    How do you compare Malcolm Smith and Lavonte David? They are similar in size and build so it would be interesting to use a 2nd rounder on David when you picked up Smith with a 7th rounder. Either way I can see David being a special teams standout for many years to come at the very least.

  9. BJA

    I’ve said a few things on this site but I just want to add that your time and thought provoking analysis makes me a daily reader on this site, pretty much the only reason i get online. THANKS ROB!!! keep up the good work.. You too KIP, don’t think I forgot about you.

  10. CWU Hawk

    Rob can correct me if i’m wrong but I am under the impression that Smith ran a low 4.4 or high 4.3 at his USC pro day.

    Rob Do you think that irvan could last until our third round pick?

  11. Rob

    CWU Hawk – I expect Irvin to be a R3-4 pick at best.

  12. Jayson

    As long as we draft Ingram or Upsaw with #1 pick I would not be upset with David @ pick #2. Seems like a everything PCJS want in a LB.

  13. CWU Hawk

    David s size I believe can be sighted as why Pete and John likely pass

  14. Kip Earlywine

    Nice post Attyla.

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