For Nakobe Dean, the sting of going in the third round of the NFL draft last Friday still lingers a week later.
In fact, the trying experience in Las Vegas is something the former Georgia linebacker thinks he’ll always carry to some degree.
“It’s definitely something that will stick with me,” Dean told reporters Friday. “It’s not my primary or secondary source of motivation — or my tertiary. But it’s definitely something that will stick with me throughout my playing career.”
Dean’s slide from a first-round hopeful to the 83rd overall pick was mainly due to concerns over his health; some teams had him as a medical red flag going into the draft.
As a full participant in the first session of rookie minicamp Friday, Dean took the first step toward disproving the teams that expected him to miss all of his rookie season with a pectoral injury. The 21-year-old is among the group of more than 40 rookies, undrafted free agents, and tryouts going through drills in shorts and shells with the Eagles coaching staff this weekend.
“I’m going to be a full participant,” Dean said. “I’m going to do everything. I’m going to be a part of the team.”
Last week, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said that coach Nick Sirianni would have to “hold his [butt] back,” when referring to Dean’s desire to prove the naysayers wrong. Roseman said Dean wasn’t crossed off their draft board even though there are concerns about knee and shoulder injuries in his past.
After the first session, Sirianni said he could feel Dean’s energy right away.
“I can sense he’s all ball all the time, whether we are in a meeting or on the field, he’s locked in,” he said. “You definitely felt that from him, and we knew that about him before we even drafted him. He definitely showed that today, and he showed that [Thursday] in our meetings.”
Dean, wearing No. 17, walked into the team’s indoor facility at the NovaCare Complex with fellow Georgia standout Jordan Davis, the first-round defensive tackle.
Davis and Dean said they had a close relationship in college. Now that they’re transitioning to a new city and a new team, the familiarity they share has been beneficial for each of them in different ways.
“Having Nakobe here is a huge burden off my shoulders,” Davis said Friday. “Not being here alone, not going through this whole process alone. Obviously we played at Georgia. We have a very strong connection, a very strong relationship. He’s a good friend of mine, we talk all the time. ... I know he’s going to push me to be better; I’m going to push him to be better. Having ‘Kobe here is a huge, huge advantage for me.”
Although Dean was the leader on the Georgia defense, he said he’d take some cues from Davis as the two get to know their new teammates.
“I feel like it’s going to help me from the standpoint of just getting more comfortable,” Dean said. “He’s such an easygoing guy, he can get comfortable with people fast. I feel like I see how he interacts with everybody, I’ll be able to get more comfortable and more connected with the team.”
The two also made an excellent pairing on the field at the center of a smothering defense that led the Bulldogs to the national championship last season.
As a speedy, undersized linebacker, Dean benefited from the fact that Davis often commanded two or three interior linemen on running plays, often giving Dean clean paths to ballcarriers. Dean made the most of those opportunities, logging 72 tackles and six sacks in winning the Butkus Award as the nation’s top collegiate linebacker.
“He opens things up from a standpoint of, he makes the o-line block him,” Dean said. “He’s a mismatch on a one-on-one block, so they definitely have him in the back of their minds when they have to double-team up to a linebacker. They’ll stick on him a little longer and give the linebacker a little more free range to run, so he definitely is a mismatch threat and opens things up.”
Potentially having Dean calling plays and directing traffic at middle linebacker should also be a boon for Davis, Sirianni said.
“I think that’s just one less [adjustment],” Sirianni said. “With Nakobe behind Jordan, helping him get lined up and making the call in the huddle, there are so many new things that they are trying to get used to right now. That’s definitely one less thing. He’s heard so many calls of Nakobe making the call in the huddle and him executing the call. Of course, any familiarity like that is going to help. It’s rare that you get two guys from the same [college] team on a team just because there are 32 [NFL] teams picking.”