CFF Player Profile: Paul Dawson, LB

Mike Renner looks into the interesting case of linebacker prospect Paul Dawson in this College Football Focus player profile.

| 2 years ago

CFF Player Profile: Paul Dawson, LB

Linebacker is one of the most difficult to evaluate the performance of in all of football. Unless the player is making a stop or blatantly missing a tackle it can be tough to say if he executed his assignment well on a particular run play. Thankfully, Paul Dawson made my life easy when grading TCU games as he blew up more runs than anyone in the NCAA last year and received our highest overall grade of any linebacker in the draft.


When scouting a player you always want to see them at their best and at their worst. Dawson was so consistently dominant, though, that his worst was hard to find. The TCU linebacker didn’t have a single negatively-graded game all season and when he was at his best, no one could match him. Against Minnesota Dawson played as flawlessly as a linebacker played all season, racking up 11 stops and three pressures en route to the highest graded game we saw from a college linebacker.

Overview & Stats

The one word that I just keep coming back to with Dawson is ‘instincts’. He sees runs develop at a truly elite level, racking up unblocked tackles simply because he gets to the point of attack before linemen can get off their combo blocks. There wasn’t a more aggressive linebacker in the country last season and he can play that way because of his instincts. This led to him leading all draftable linebackers in Run Stop Percentage by a ridiculous 8.8 percentage points (23.2% to 14.4%). That margin alone is higher than Shaq Thompson’s Run Stop Percentage (7.3%).

Dawson’s style of play, however, won’t be every defensive coordinator’s cup of tea. There are going to be negatives that come along with his aggression. Gap integrity wasn’t the linebacker’s strong suit as he would often dive into a gap instead of scraping over the top of a block to make a tackle downfield. Dawson also can get caught out of position against play action as he almost always steps towards the line of scrimmage at the snap.

That play style doesn’t just apply to the running game as he’s also a risk taker in coverage. Only two draft eligible linebackers got their hands on the football more than Dawson’s eight combined interceptions and pass breakups (four of each). He showed a great feel for route combinations in TCU’s matchup zone coverages and had more than adequate burst breaking on underneath routes. Dawson is a limited athlete, though, as shown glaringly at the combine, and that was apparent when he had to run the seam or follow a crosser. Once he’s lost ground, Dawson just doesn’t have the ability to make it back up.

dawson combine

The combine numbers above are very notable for two reasons, the first reason being that it did nothing to dispel the poor work ethic rumors that have been following him around in the evaluation process. The second reason is the obvious fact that they are extreme outliers for starting NFL linebackers. According to, none of his measurable are above the 37th percentile among linebackers. That is almost unheard of for an early-round draft pick. It is worth noting, though, that even with limited athleticism, Dawson still finished second among linebackers with a Pass Rushing Productivity of 21.6.

CFF-profiles-inset-dawsonAside from Dawson’s athleticism concerns, there are also question marks about his positional fit that will push his draft stock down. He played weakside linebacker in TCU’s 4-2-5 defense and was rarely asked to take on blocks. A former receiver before converting to linebacker, Dawson relied on his remarkable body control and coordination to beat blocks in college. If he’s asked to play inside linebacker in the NFL he’ll have to stack and shed linemen and lead blockers, something he almost never did a year ago.  The physicality issue also showed up in his tackling where he missed 17 last season for a 9.3 tackling efficiency.

All concerns aside, Dawson was still the most productive off-ball linebacker in this class by a long shot. If he had the measurables of a prospect like Eric Kendricks, Dawson would be a sure-fire Top 10 pick. The NFL will always be wary of players with athletic red flags and as such Dawson will likely slip to the second round or later even with first round output on the field. One of the most curious prospects in the class, Dawson will be a fantastic case study for combine numbers vs. on field performance at the linebacker position.

Hear more from Mike on Dawson here:


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| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • Jake Bumgarner

    Watching how his career plays out will be interesting. This is the ultimate game tape over measurables example. Work ethic issues are always a red flag to me though

  • nonono

    If im not mistaken, he tested positive for adderall and was subsequently suspended. But he was later prescribed adderall during the season. I am not a doctor but I know many people with ADHD and poor work ethic is always used to describe people with undiagnosed ADHD. I read that he was frequently late for meetings. Gross tardiness is a common trait among ADHD sufferers. Nonetheless if it is poor work ethic or ADHD, it will be a red flag for NFL teams

  • Eonizzle

    Dawson improved his 40 time and 3 cone drills by a huge margin at his pro day. 40 was 4.76, 3 cone was 6.76.

    • Malachi

      of course he did “better”, i bet his dad was on the stopwatch and his mom measured out the 40 yds for him to. EVERYONE does better at their pro days

      • Eonizzle

        Yeah, because obviously NFL scouts would allow that to happen.

        • Malachi

          scouts don’t run pro-days, they attend them

          • Eonizzle

            They use their own timers, though. Jeesh.

          • Malachi

            whose results you don’t have access too, the 4.76 40 time you referred to was reported by the school to media. troll.

  • Jim Winslow

    Overall, it just hard to see a line backer with those physical mesurements be extremely successful in the NFL. Note there has been a few notable good ones such as zach thomas and larry foote, but most undersized guys who are good in this league are good to great athletes. And when it comes to college tape we are only looking at like 20-30 games they played against poor competition, some guys who may not look good on tape but have physical ability may be the verge of finding their game in a year or two, they just lack experience. Overall, for paul dawson to be successful, he will have to be run stopper, as there is no way going to beat NFL calibre lineament with that athletic ability.

    • Malachi

      chris borland.

      • Jim Winslow

        Yeah, but I would argue Borland is an ok athlete where Dawson is a poor athlete. The 4.93 40 at 235 pounds is rough though lol.

        • Malachi

          furshur, borland is (was) only marginally better tho, combine numbers wise. i just see production and value from this kid, esp if he fell to RD 3 like borland did.

          • Jim Winslow

            I think he is still a third or 4th round pick. But borland ran a 4.8 at the combine and was 15 pounds heavier. Plus he did a bit better in the other drills than Paul Dawson. I would say he is more than marginally better. If paul dawson had 15 more pounds I would feel better about him as a prospect the size is what really gets me, some running backs are bigger than him.

          • Malachi

            yea, he has room to grow still, most guys gain weight in the league. i doubt he gets out the third tho, borland had to of opened the door more for production based LBs relative to drill/timing based athletic LBs. i hope my broncos take him in late 3rd if he’s still there

  • Phil

    ht wt 40 reps vert broad 20yrd *pro day was 4.76
    Paul dawson – 6’0″ 235 4.93* 21 28″ 9’1″ 4.49
    Navorro Bowman – 6’0″ 242 4.7 26 29.5″ 9’6″ 4.59

    ” Weaknesses – Durability is a bit of a concern. Has a somewhat
    slight frame for a linebacker. There are character questions
    surrounding Bowman from a few incidents in college. Only has average
    size and average strength. His ability to take on and shed blockers is
    in question. Can play over-aggressive at times.”

    Who knows how good this kid will actually be and before I get flamed for people thinking I’m saying that he will be as elite as Bowman I’m not, I’m only posting similar stats because after reading this article all I can think about is how similar it was to Navorro’s analysis back during the 2010 combine.

    • Jim Winslow

      Its a good point, but bowman I believe is bit of a better athlete, pro day numbers are always a bit favourable to the athlete. Especially when it comes to the forty, he probably runs like 4.8 on the field though.

  • Mike

    I think this is one of the ultimate “tape vs. test” prospects this year. Poor combine, tested as a below-average athlete. Not ideal size either. However, the tape is very good and probably better than any LB in the draft. I believe that tape ultimately is the best indicator of future success, but you always have those players like Jarvis Jones who is just a very poor athlete with minimal strength and size limitations that ultimately hinder him.