Would you like to receive DawgNation news alerts? Excellent! News alerts will be displayed in your browser.
DawgNation photo illustration
DawgNation asked two men who would know if they thought there was anything to all these parallels between Nakobe Dean and Roquan Smith.

Another Roquan? The reel Nakobe Dean breakdown by the two men highly qualified to do so

Want to attack every day with the latest UGA football recruiting info? The play call here was intended to be a debunking of a parallel with freshman ILB Nakobe Dean and a young man who is now considered one of the all-time great Bulldogs. But then, well …

Nakobe Dean only needs to work on being the first Nakobe Dean at the University of Georgia. There will never be another Roquan Smith. It is highly unfair to try to thrust that on a college freshman. 

Roquan Smith-UGA football-Georgia football
Check out the AJC file photo from Roquan Smith as a member of the “Super 11” way back in the summer of 2014. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

“Ko-Dean” just needs to do his own thing. Roquan didn’t even start to flash until his second season. Dean will check the box in a lot of areas but maybe not all the same boxes Smith did. He was the first ILB to go in the top 10 since Luke Kuechly in 2012. 

Those boilerplate phrases do serve as go-to reality checks when it comes to Dean and a recent ballplayer the Bulldogs enrolled from Montezuma in 2015. Those are about common sense and football.

Lofty expectations can only burden a promising career. Not uplift it. Dean should just try to be his own man. That should serve as the proper course with any Dean and Smith narrative.

But then the phone rang.

Horn Lake coach Brad Boyette was on the line. He had two screens scattered and smothered with highlights.

Smith’s greatest hits from his “Montezuma Missile” days was on one of those.

Dean, his star pupil, played on the other.

“I’m sitting here looking at this film of Roquan here,” Boyette said, with exasperation. “Then I’m looking at Nakobe and I have to take a second and sort it all out. I’m looking at these films and I swear at times I can’t really figure out which one is which.”

“This is sort of fun. But at the same time, it is almost a little scary. There are a lot of similarities. I have to catch myself with ‘Ok this is Roquan again’ and then ‘This is Nakobe’ here.”

A reel comparison: Roquan Smith and Nakobe Dean

“I can see now why everyone draws this comparison,” Boyette said. “One of the first things the Georgia coaches said was about that. When you see it now, it is pretty clear. Roquan and Nakobe are both playing inside linebacker but they have the movement skills of a corner or maybe a free safety.”

The view from Dean’s high school coach is only one side of this task. DawgNation also put the Dean essentials in front of Smith’s high school coach.

Larry Harold Jr.’s reply first came via a text message. Harold was still starting to get his arms around all those Dean/Smith comparisons.

“I was skeptical but Nakobe Dean is a PLAYER,” Harold replied via text with the weight of four exclamation points. “He’s quick, athletic, explosive and a tackling machine! He runs side-to-side like extremely well like ‘Ro! He is a hard hitter like ‘Ro.”

“However, he’s a much more polished pass rusher than ‘Ro was. I don’t know if he can cover like ‘Ro but I don’t think they asked him to.”

He capped off his initial text with this phrase: “Big time.”

With that, maybe these lines can serve as a spring practice introduction to Mr. Dean. That young man finished up as a 5-star, a state champ and recorded a 4.38 grade-point average.

Dean was even named the 2018 Butkus Award recipient for his outstanding play at linebacker on the high school level. That’s the same position-specific trophy that Smith won for the college ranks in 2017. He was the first Bulldog to claim that honor.

They do have a slight history. When Dean chose UGA on Dec. 19, he got a message from Smith. The former UGA great welcomed him to the family.

RELATED: Nakobe Dean follows in the steps of NFL first-rounders and a Heisman Trophy winner with Watkins Award honor in Washington D.C.

Roquan Smith and Nakobe Dean

There is no comparison between the 2017 model Roquan Smith and any other ILB in college football today. Period. But what about the 2014 model Smith and Dean from 2018?

Nakobe Dean-UGA recruiting-Georgia football-UGA football
Nakobe Dean slipped to the No.2 overall ILB spot at the end of the 2019 recruiting cycle. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

That’s really the only comparison which will be at work here. But this time it was taken out of the hands of any analyst or scout who needed a “hot take” for a sound byte.

The resident expert on Nakobe Dean’s prep career is one half of our panel.

The second is a man who has been in Smith’s circle from Fridays to Saturdays to Sundays.

The thinking was each coach would say the right thing, but elevating one high school All-American over their own was like getting them to admit which one of their kids they like the best.

They did none of that. Those two football men just clicked on the tape and shared what they saw.

The tale of the tape before the tale of the tape

  • Smith was a 4-star on the 247Sports Composite ratings in 2015. It slotted him as the nation’s No. 5 OLB and No. 48 overall prospect.
  • Dean is the nation’s No. 2 ILB for 2019. It places him as the No. 19 overall prospect. He had been the nation’s top ILB for some time but fell to No.2 in the final class evaluations.
  • Harold gave a truth serum recollection of Smith’s height and weight in 2015: 6 feet. 1 inch. 208 pounds. 
  • Boyette shared his version as if his grandma, her preacher and his superintendent were on the call: 6 feet. Three-quarters of an inch. 220 pounds. 

This table, like many snippets of this missive, will read like its author got dizzy with the Ctrl-V function. It was derived from the profiles of their HUDL highlight pages.

H/W Nike rating 40 Shuttle Vert PB BP SQ
2014 Roquan Smith   6-1/203       97.2 4.55    4.29 35.3 31 305 505
2018 Nakobe Dean  6-0/212       117.8 4.74    4.38 41.2 40 305 525

The 2014 model Roquan and the 2018 model Nakobe

  • Lateral quickness? Big check.
  • Tackling ability? Check.
  • Playmaking ability? Another big check.
  • Aggression and hostility? Check.

Both coaches hovered over those same points of explanation through their breakdowns. These guys exhibit uncommon ability in those areas. Even for an elite ILB prospect.

There are a lot of players who can trot out to track and time well. Smith can run with anyone. Dean was never the fastest guy for his team. There are 3-4 guys on the Horn Lake defense who will time faster.

“But when the ball was snapped nobody got there before Nakobe did,” Boyette said. “That’s the same thing I see while watching Roquan’s tape. The ball is going to the boundary and he is running past five of his teammates to get there.”

Roquan Smith-UGA football-Georgia football
DawgNation staff writer Chip Towers took a picture from the Macon County grandstands of Smith back in the summer of 2015. (Chip Towers/DawgNation)

These two excel at that.

“I think the biggest parallel I see with Roquan and Nakobe is their side-to-side ability and lateral movement,” Harold Jr. said. “Nakobe is obviously a little bit heavier but he runs side-to-side pretty well the same way ‘Quan did.”

See. Diagnose. Go. If one had to describe the coaching points of an ILB in just three words, those will cover it.

Smith had to learn to do that at Georgia. Boyette knows Dean was already doing that at Horn Lakes.

“I was trying to pick it all apart thinking ‘Where is there something different?’ with all of this,” Boyette said. “Looking for something that these two would do differently or find a wrinkle. Roquan I think relies strictly on his athleticism where ‘Kobe’ by watching his tape it looks like he is reacting to what he sees. He goes off what he sees in his keys.”

Nakobe Dean-UGA recruiting-Georgia recruiting-Georgia football
Nakobe Dean and Roquan Smith. Yeah, there is something to it. That’s what the high school coaches of both those young men see on their highlight reels. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

He dialed in on a play where Smith used a stance where his hands were on his knees when the ball was snapped. He’s relaxed and ready to pounce or run down another tackle.

Dean is in a different stance.

“It looks like his vision is through his keys at the start of a play,” Boyette said. “It looks like that more so than what Roquan shows on his tape here in high school.”

Harold is now a Dean fan. He really liked what he saw on film, but the current assistant at Kentucky State University still placed everything in the proper context.

He said “there is only one Roquan Smith” before he saw Dean’s film. He is still right, but that doesn’t mean he was not overly impressed.

Harold saw this clip of Dean and used the words “passionate” and “appreciative” to describe what he saw.

He said Smith had those same qualities coming from a small school in rural Georgia.

“This is a kid that you see it in his eyes that he is going to give that school everything he has,” Harold Jr. said. “I think that DawgNation is going to be very pleased with the play one day of this young man.”

Dean is bigger and thicker than Smith was coming out of high school. The new NFL star is only now just into the 230-pound range.

“He’s a better pass rusher than Roquan was coming out of high school,” Harold Jr. said. “They did a lot of blitzing with him on the outside. He’s more of a guy who can get after the quarterback where Roquan was more of a cover guy.”

Dean wasn’t asked to do that much for Horn Lake. But DawgNation saw him intercept at least three passes during a 7-on-7 morning session during the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game week practices.

What else they said about Nakobe Dean and Roquan Smith

Smith had some initial challenges. He had some turnover with position coaches and coordinators. He had to learn the defense but was still too talented to redshirt. It meant he was an initial special teams standout.

The other holdup was his weight. He had to put on weight north of 210 pounds to play in the SEC. The emphasis there was to do that without sacrificing the vast speed elements to his game.

The lights started to come on for Smith during that TaxSlayer Bowl game performance against Penn State and future NFL star Saquon Barkley after the 2015 season.

Dean won’t need to pack on 15-20 pounds during his freshman year to prepare his body. He also has the benefit of enrolling early. Smith didn’t show up until the summer of his freshman season.

Larry Harold Jr. on Nakobe Dean

“There are a lot of similarities here but of course there are some differences here with the size and the speed with one guy and the other. But I think this kid is going to be really really special here. I really do.”

“He just needs to be his own man and his own special linebacker at the University of Georgia. Nobody needs to put pressure on him. He needs to be able to develop at his own pace and become his own special player.”

“The one thing I need to know more about Nakobe is coverage wise. The one thing about Roquan and that’s what is making him so special in the league is I used to tell all the coaches he can cover wide receivers. For him to cover running backs and tight ends in the NFL, that’s an easy transition. I didn’t see a lot of that on Nakobe Dean’s film.”

“Roquan had a 99-yard interception or a 60-yard return on an interception on his highlights in high school. I don’t think I have seen that long explosive long-distance plays out of Nakobe on his highlight tape here. So their ball skills might be a little different in that aspect.”

“There are really no drawbacks here for either one. I think Roquan was just going to be Roquan at Georgia and I think Nakobe is going to be Nakobe. The thing for Nakobe now will be that off-field work. Roquan was a gym rat. He is going to be in the film room and the weight room.”

“Coach Smart used to tell me all the time about how Roquan was such a student of the game who taught himself how to read and diagnose plays. If Nakobe does the same thing, it will help him get on the field faster.”

“I will tell you this, though. It seems like Roquan has reset the standard for what an inside linebacker should be. Jeremy Pruitt and coach Smart both told me that. They told me Roquan changed the aspect for what an inside linebacker should be. They knew how it was in Alabama. Coach [Nick] Saban wanted this big 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4 gap pluggers. Now everybody is looking for those fast inside linebackers that can fly.”

“With all of these spread offenses, nobody is looking for those big pluggers anymore.”

“Can he play early at Georgia? The big question is if he puts in the work to learn the scheme. But what you see here in the film is the explosiveness Roquan has. That Georgia defense last year was missing that explosiveness and the speed from sideline-to-sideline to track people down. He may be the one.”

“He might be that next one like Roquan. If he is, then UGA might be Linebacker U. instead of Running Back U. with all of that.”

Brad Boyette on Nakobe Dean and Roquan Smith

“There are several clips on Roquan’s junior tape where he is playing some at receiver. There are several clips of him playing wide receiver and making plays in the open field. There are these plays here in the open field that he probably does better than Nakobe.”

“Their athleticism playing the linebacker position looks almost the same here.”

“I mean the direction we should be going is that these guys are not the same. These guys are different. Great players but different players here and there. But the more I look at the films, the more I see there is not a lot of difference in these two kids.”

“I know Roquan Smith is a grown man but I say kids because I am talking about Roquan on this film here when he was a senior in high school.”

“Nakobe seems more like a little bit more polished inside linebacker coming out of high school and Roquan just does some things that to me look like he is somewhat more athletic.”

“Once the ball gets outside the box, I think it is flip a coin as to who is better between these two. I think Nakobe is better inside the box in terms of run fits and angles here. Based on the clips I see here, I think Roquan may be better of getting depth from the linebacker position in coverage.”

Your turn: Check the film of both Bulldogs

This, to both men, felt like comparing the prettiest girl in Mississippi to Miss Georgia.

“We are talking about two guys who are, give or take, six feet and give or take 210 pounds in high school,” Boyette said. “That size is a dime-a-dozen in high school football. What separates these guys from the other six feet tall and 210-pound guys? I think it is their leadership and their work ethic and their overall athleticism.”

These guys are alpha males and leaders. It didn’t have to be stated or announced.

Want to try and replicate this task?

Here are a few of the best collections of high school films for both. The all-time Bulldog great will rightfully go first.

 The best from Dean

Here are the literal “greatest hits” for the Bulldog freshman.


We have a new way to comment on our DawgNation stories. To do so, you must be a registered user on the DawgNation forum. If you haven’t registered, please go to the Forum homepage on DawgNation and look for “register” on the right side.