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2022 NFL Draft: Potential Patriots target Nakobe Dean not worried about his size: ‘If you can play, you can play’

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Georgia at Georgia Tech Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots need to improve their off-the-ball linebacker position, and few players available in this year’s draft are better targets than Nakobe Dean. The Georgia product is one of the top linebackers in the class, and will likely hear his name called as a first-round selection.

Whether or not the Patriots will be the team handing in the card with his name on it remains to be seen, but they are doing their due diligence. Dean and the team have had multiple encounters during the pre-draft process, including a meeting at the Scouting Combine and another at the Bulldogs’ pro day in mid-March.

“I definitely enjoyed talking ball with them,” Dean said about his get-togethers with New England’s representatives during a recent appearance on the Next Pats Podcast.

Dean’s ties to the Patriots are manifold. Not only have they shown interest in him recently, he also pointed out that they would be his mother’s favorite team. He furhtermore sees plenty of structural similarities between the two defenses at Georgia and New England.

Given the close relationship two head coaches Kirby Smart and Bill Belichick have, this does not come as a surprise. It was still noteworthy for Dean, though.

“Everything that they do is kind of from under the same tree,” Dean said about the two organizations. “I remember talking to the coach, he was like, ‘What was this check when you go empty?’ I’m like, ‘If it’s this, you check this.’ And he was like, ‘Where do you think it came from?’ I’m like, ‘Uh, I don’t know,’ and he was like, ‘We made it up.’

“They kind of run the same system as far as defense, and Coach [Kirby] Smart actually busted in on me when I was meeting with them. They looked like they had been friends for a long time. You could tell that they were very acquainted with each other. They seem to have the same philosophy when it comes to playing defense, when it comes to playing football. So, that’s great.”

A junior defender who won the Butkus Award in 2021 as the nation’s best linebacker, Dean is a prototypical modern-era player at the position. Despite his relative lack of size, he has proven himself a rangy defender capable of impacting the passing game in various ways and making big plays on a regular basis.

His size is arguably the biggest question mark when it comes to his NFL outlook and a potential union with the Patriots, though. Under Bill Belichick, New England historically likes its off-the-ball defenders bigger and more in the mold of Dean’s teammate at Georgia, Quay Walker.

Walker checked in at 6-foot-4, 241 pounds at the Combine. For comparison, Dean’s measurements list him as 5-foot-11, 229 pounds.

“I feel like if you can play, you can play no matter what your body says,” Dean said about his dimensions. “If you can play ball, you can play ball. If you can ball out, you can ball out.

“Looking back on my college career, if I did good it wasn’t going to say, ‘It was because I was 6-2, 230 and I can run like crazy.’ If I did bad,I wouldn’t be like, ‘It’s because I’m 5-11, 230.’ Nothing would have gone back to my size. It’s all about how you work and how you perform on the field.”

Perform, Dean did at a very high level. His individual accolades speak for themselves, as do his statistics. The 21-year-old appeared in 15 games during the 2021 season and registered 72 tackles, six sacks, two forced fumbles and a pair of interceptions en route to helping Georgia win the National Championship.

His championship pedigree is just one thing he hopes to bring to the NFL, regardless of where he ends up.

“I hope I can bring that winning mentality,” Dean said. “I feel like my mindset is second to none, not just in football but in life. I feel like I can bring that winning mentality and leadership to whatever team I’ll come, and that energy and passion that I play with.”