In recent years, FCS programs have shown that they are capable of contributing legitimate NFL-caliber talent to the draft. The recent success of players like Tarik Cohen, Cooper Kupp, Zach Zenner, Carson Wentz, Dallas Goedert, and Dane Fletcher shows that there are talented players waiting to be discovered at every turn in FCS football. Today, one of the best linebackers that nobody has heard of in college football can be found in the FCS; his name is Quinlen Dean. Much like London Fletcher was a long-term success story in the NFL after entering the league as an undrafted free agent out of DIII John Carroll, Dean has the talent to stick on an NFL roster and quite possibly start for an extended period of time after he finishes his collegiate football career at DI-AA New Hampshire.
Dean is a 6'0, 230 pound linebacker who has bulked up from 175 pounds following a productive high school career. There is room for development in his game, but as a junior with two more seasons of college eligibility remaining, Dean should put himself on the radar of NFL scouts across the league over the next two years. As a freshman, he won the STATS FCS National Defensive Player of the week award on October 31st 2016, the CAA Defensive Player of the Week award on October 31st 2016, and logged 25 solo tackles, 13 assisted tackles, 3 interceptions (with 77 return yards), 2 fumble recoveries, and 2 forced fumbles. Even in his first season seeing action after a redshirt season, Dean made a major impact on the New Hampshire defense. In 2017, his production skyrocketed; he was named to the All-CAA Second team and the HERO Sports Sophomore All-America First Team. He started 14 games and led the CAA with 124 total tackles (80 solo, 44 assisted). On November 18th, he logged 15 tackles against Albany. He recorded 2 interceptions with 34 return yards and 11.5 tackles for loss during the 2017 season. Early in his collegiate career, Quinlen Dean has shown that he has the ability to generate both tackles and turnovers, two things that will put him on the radar of NFL scouts when he enters the draft in 2020. If his production continues to improve, he should be at least a mid-to-late round pick. Given what he shows on film, a team may get a steal with Dean in the NFL draft.
If you watch a highlight reel of Quinlen Dean as a sophomore, you might be reminded of Brian Urlacher. I understand that Urlacher is a hall of famer, and I am not outright saying that Dean is a hall of fame caliber talent. He has yet to take a snap in the NFL. However, similarities are present. Urlacher was a converted safety who played the position like a safety, roaming the field with a high motor and disrupting NFL offenses at every turn. Dean also plays linebacker like a safety, and is effective both in pass coverage and against the run. Looking at a highlight reel (available here, complete single game tape is always difficult to find online of FCS players, especially before they reach their senior years), here is what Dean looks like as a prospect.
First off, Dean has great anticipation and is able to read a quarterback's eyes. He shows an ability to jump routes in coverage, stepping between the quarterback and an intended receiver. This makes him an interception threat and a valuable weapon in pass defense. As a player who played defensive end in high school, this progression in the passing game is impressive and will help him stick in a pass-heavy NFL, especially with two more years of coaching and development at the NFL level.
He is also a solid tackler. From time to time, he will take an extra step too far in pursuit of a ball-carrier behind the line of scrimmage, but quickly adjusts and squares up to meet the rusher in the hole. Keeps his shoulders square and makes solid, technically sound tackles. Occasionally over-pursues a runner when the runner changes direction, but has the high motor to correct and ultimately make a play on the ball-carrier. He is a relentless, aggressive player who will make a solid hit and ultimately a solid tackle on ball-carriers. Leads with his shoulders and arms and will lock onto a ball-carrier's body to make the tackle. In the NFL, this matters. Rather than leading with his helmet and setting himself up for helmet-to-helmet hits, penalties, and suspensions, his sound fundamental tackling techniques will be an asset to any NFL team that drafts him. Has the motor and speed to make it from the middle of the field to the sideline to make a tackle, and wants to be the first player to the ball-carrier. With two more years of college development, he will be a dominant tackler in the NFL.
Dean's footwork is also fantastic in his best moments. He showcases the lateral ability to pursue and read a play while keeping the ball carrier squarely in his sights. In some cases, will allow passing plays to develop in front of him before tackling the receiver, although this may be a by-product of defensive scheme as much as a product of his own technique as a player. In his best moments, he is able to deflect passes thrown to receivers behind him and quickly tackle receivers who catch the ball in front of him. High motor player who looks NFL ready in his best moments. He also has the awareness to make plays on deflected passes and balls in the air, which will lead to interceptions and turnovers. At his best, the film reminds the viewer of an NFL player's high school film; there are times where Dean looks like a potential future Pro Bowler. The one hole in his game, and this may be a product of his defensive scheme itself or of him as a player, is he can overpursue a ball-carrier by a step or two before adjusting to make a tackle. These one or two steps can make a difference in the NFL, but with two more years of collegiate development, I expect Quinlen Dean to develop into a dominant player.
Here's the run-down on Quinlen Dean as a prospect:
Positives: High motor player, generates both turnovers and tackles for loss, aggressive, plays whole field as a linebacker, patient enough to wait for a play to develop before committing in his best moments. Room for development. Able to read a quarterback's eyes and make plays against the pass.
Negatives: The NFL will criticize his level of competition (although level of competition critiques with FCS players are overblown to a degree, teams will question him, and those questions can be alleviated with on-field production and success in events such as the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl). Needs to get more decisive on that first step on a play. That will come with coaching. If he overpursues a runner in the NFL, even by a step or two, that might make the difference between a TD and a TFL. However, he has two more years of college eligibility to be coached up. If Dean is able to come into the NFL draft with a mindset where he is able to anticipate a play rather than react to the offense's plays, he will be successful. Watch his development over the next two seasons. At the very least, has the talent to make an NFL roster, but also shows flashes where he has the upside to be a potential starter.
Ultimately, Dean's ceiling is as high as he wants it to be. He has two seasons left as a college player, and provided he stays healthy, he has the potential to develop into a special prospect by the time the 2020 draft hits. It's just a question of how badly he wants it. Given his relentless motor on film, I believe that he will emerge as a coveted FCS prospect in 2020. Quinlen Dean may not be on most people's radar yet, but if he continues to develop, he will be a hot prospect in 2020. The highlights show him as a talented player with the potential to play a big role in an NFL defense, even as a potential starter. He needs to go out there and prove that he wants it over the next two seasons. At the very least, he has the talent to be a solid backup or core special team player at the next level. However, there are moments where it seems like he is capable of much more. Over the next two seasons, don't sleep on Quinlen Dean. He might emerge as an extremely solid prospect. Right now, Dean has been overlooked by nearly everyone, but if he continues to develop, watch out. This kid could be special. One thing is certain, I will be watching him intently over the next two seasons. As an absolute minimum, Dean has the talent to make an NFL roster, and his ceiling is much higher than that. I firmly believe that in the right situation, he could compete for and ultimately secure a starting role at the next level.
Mike B, Matt and Mike Sports.
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