The product of TCU is only 6 feet tall and 235 pounds, but his size and lack of impressive speed didn’t diminish his accomplishments in college.
At Texas Christian, he started only 18 of 38 games, seven at middle linebacker and 11 on the strong side, but he recorded 241 tackles, including 31 for losses, 6½ sacks, six quarterback pressures, three forced fumbles and five interceptions. As the only player in the nation to post at least 100 tackles, five sacks and four interceptions during the 2014 season, he was named All-Big Twelve Conference first-team and league Defensive Player of the Year.
The challenge for the Vikings would be where he fits in their defense. He is mostly considered an outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, like the Vikings employ, but his instincts might give him a chance at middle linebacker, too.
Here is the scouting report on Dawson from the NFL’s lead scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas:
Dawson has a developing frame with good overall muscle development. He displays toned arms, tight waist, broad shoulders, thick chest, thick thighs, good bubble and knotted calves. He added 15 pounds of bulk to his frame the last two seasons, but has just adequate timed speed (4.93 in the 40-yard dash) and will also need to add more weight to compete in the NFL.
Dawson compensates for a lack of speed with quick recognition skills and the agility needed to recover when beaten. He is effective taking on ball carriers and dropping back in pass coverage, adding a new “wrinkle” to his game as a developing pass rusher during his senior season. He’s a solid playmaker, evident by his 227 tackles the last two seasons for the Horned Frogs, based on 20 starting assignments combined at two different positions.
Dawson is a good athlete with fluid hip snap, and shows he has a good short area burst, agility, and a physical demeanor. He plays at a low pad level and has the wrap-up skills to stop the forward progress of a runner and enough slippery moves to get past blockers when blitzing or coming off the edge. He has just adequate strength, but is active using his hands to gain leverage and shed. He also is quite effective at using his wing span to reach out and drag down ball carriers from behind or just wrap and secure them.
The Horned Frog plays with good focus on plays in front of him, though, and knows what to do once he locates the ball near the line. He is a decent student and needs only normal reps to retain. He plays with good alertness in the box, doing a nice job of picking up blocking schemes.
The thing you notice on film is that Dawson does not have great strength to escape when he gets attacked in traffic. Still, despite giving up considerable bulk, he will not hesitate to combat vs. the larger offensive linemen. He just does not fit and fold well and can be stone-walled by bigger blockers when playing a nine-tech. He is not the type that will maul a ball carrier but does generate a good thud on contact. He is an efficient leverage player, tough and is not only combative, he uses his hands with force to play off blocks (has above average rip and club moves).
Dawson has a valid hand jolt to reroute tight ends and receivers, doing a nice job of directing the opponent’s release. He is the type that plays bigger than his size indicates, using good wrap-up technique to compensate for a lack of “blow ’em up” type of power, but he will shock an opponent with an effective hand punch.
He uses his hands more effectively to keep blockers off his feet. He demonstrates the natural hands needed to be efficient as a pass thief, stealing four tosses while breaking up five other throws in 2014. He gets most of his success vs. the pass because he knows how to use his reach and leaping ability to high point the ball. He is also agile enough to escape blockers to work around the ball carrier in attempts to dislodge the ball from the runner.
With six sacks and 20 stops behind the line of scrimmage last season, Dawson demonstrated why he is regarded as an above average wrap-up tackler, as he is equally productive working in space and behind the line. He likes playing over the tight end and is a physical striker who brings a good thump upon impact and will jar the ball loose when he attacks the ball carrier’s body (three forced fumbles, recovering two in 2014). It is rare to see him try to take a side or get his hands outside his frame when zeroing in on a runner in the open field.
While Dawson is a quick reactor who hits with a thud, he is much more effective using his vision to locate the free lane needed in order to make plays in-line (knows that if he tries to overpower the offensive lineman too much, it will result in him failing to shed quickly). He shows good leverage on the move and when given a clear lane can run downhill to fill.
At 4.93 speed, some teams might be concerned about his range to make the tackle on outside running plays. Even at that timed speed, his fluid hips gives him lots of chances to generate a sudden burst needed to head off the ball carriers near the sidelines. In the last two years, he has gotten much smarter and plays under control. He is a good trailer type than can not only run down plays from the back side, but he also showed that he has valid straight-line quickness to combine with his lateral agility to negate anything the stopwatch says about his speed.
Dawson seems to have good vision and timing to anticipate the flight of the ball in pass coverage. He might not have the speed to cover past the short-to-intermediate areas, but he does come out of his backpedal without having to gather in order to accelerate. He gets good depth in his pass drops and his success as a ball thief was the senior doing a nice job of keeping his head on a swivel.
Dawson also has zone awareness, building off of the receivers’ switches and getting depth in his drops. He does not eyeball the quarterback too long and has a good understanding for zone concepts, as he quickly anticipates and shows good urgency to react to the thrown ball.
Dawson gets a good push off the blocker when he uses his hands, but on the times when he just short arms, it results in him getting absorbed inside. He gives total effort coming off the edge and shows explosion when left uncontested. He seems to generate a better burst with his hand on the ground than when in a normal linebacker’s stance.
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