As NFL defenses continue to employ more hybrid schemes, teams are starting to look for prospects that can be a factor in many different ways more than ever. Draft prospects need to have the ability to line up in multiple positions. As offensive play callers continue to get more creative, defenses have to know how to counter too. Former University of Southern California outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu fits into that mold of a versatile LB that NFL teams are going to find to be effective in different areas on the defensive side of the ball.
Coming into the University of Southern California as a three-star recruit, Nwosu was a 6-foot-2 and 195 pound safety. He eventually bulked up to 245 and was then employed as a strong-side linebacker in USC’s 5-2 defense. The 5-2 scheme is similar to a 4-3 under, except that Nwosu is in a two-point stance instead of a three-point.
This meant that he was lining up in a 3-4 stance but actually being employed in a 4-3 position. Nwosu showed the ability to rush, stop the run, and even drop into coverage. This versatility alone makes Nwosu an intriguing prospect. Though versatility is important, it alone won’t get it done in the NFL. I dive into what I saw and my thoughts on the former Trojan linebacker as the 2018 NFL Combine is less than a week away.
– Stanford (2017)
– Ohio State (2017)
– Arizona State (2017)
– Texas (2017)
– Washington State (2017)
Nwosu shows great acceleration here.
Here, he’s forced to watch for the option, which was ran a lot by Colorado but as soon as he's recognizes the play, he’s off. Forces a throwaway as he beats the RT around the edge with his speed. pic.twitter.com/6h2WGGDOop
— Gavino Borquez (@GavinoBorquez) February 24, 2018
Nwosu is quick, explosive, and one of the best jumping abilities for out of this linebacker, as he had 13 passes defensed, which is the most out of any non-defensive back in the NCAA in 2017. He demonstrates good mental processing, being very instinctive when timing on when to knock down quarterbacks passes, great understanding of diagnosing an option play. Many of Nwosu’s pass deflections emanate from reading the passing lane and exploding vertically. Athletic ability demonstrated when used as a pure edge rusher in blitzing situations. He has great play speed, as he shows elusive ability to beat offensive linemen around the edge and has solid closing speed.
Has long arms, which allows him to be good as an open field tackler and the ability to wrap up ball carriers. Good against the outside run, where he showed on film that he did a nice job closing the edge. Good in zone coverage against most running backs and tight ends, especially in shorter regions, where he is capable of making a play on the ball, and does well with moving with the eyes of the quarterback.
Nwosu times his jump extremely well and he will bat a lot of passes down, but if he learns to harness this athleticism, those batted passes could turn into interceptions just like this play where the ball is dropped. pic.twitter.com/Jes8rmNldQ
— Gavino Borquez (@GavinoBorquez) February 24, 2018
Nwosu will have to work on his strength at the next level, where he struggled primarily against stronger offensive lineman and getting off of his blocks. He doesn’t seem very natural moving in man coverage and has some stiffness, while his change of direction ability is limited, making him only able to hold anything but a smaller zone. He tends to look like he was running at half-speed on multiple occasions and showed inconsistent effort when trying to get involved in the run game. He doesn’t show the eyes to track the ball-carrier and has the tendency to put his head in the dirt. If Nwosu can be more decisive with his angles it would make him much more effective in run defense.
Needs to show more desire finishing out plays as a tackler. He often got turned around by good route runners as he wasn’t able to keep up with most. Shows lack of hand usage, and likes to keep them low which means he won’t be the first to make contact. While he doesn’t have a lot of moves at his disposal, he has a good spin move when he throws it out, but he needs to be more frequent with the usage of it. Despite having so many pass deflections, if he learns to harness this athleticism, those batted passes could turn into interceptions, where he dropped balls quite often.
Over the past two seasons, Nwosu recorded 168 tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks, 20 passes defended, and one interception. Uchenna Nwosu is a player with an explosive first step, he’s a capable pass rusher, defends the run well, can excel in zone coverage, and is an overall intelligent football player. At the next level, I could see Nwosu playing in a stack linebacker role where he’s on the line of scrimmage or as an off-ball linebacker where he can use his quickness in zone coverage.
Concerns on size and flexibility will keep him out of the first round, but a lot of teams could be looking at him in round two where they are more comfortable taking a prospect that has questions in that aspect. His overall size will likely force him to move inside, either to a 3-4 ILB slot or he could be a 4-3 OLB. Nwosu is another example of the NFL’s desire for movable pieces. Ultimately, Nwosu has the chance for a successful career based on his ability to fulfill a lot of different roles at a high level.