As NFL defenses continue to employ more hybrid looks, teams are looking for prospects that can be a factor in many different ways. Now more than ever, draft prospects need to have the ability to line up in multiple positions. As offenses continue to evolve and get more creative, defenses have had to step up, too. In chess, the queen is widely thought of as the best piece because of its ability to take on many different roles. In the NFL, more and more teams are starting to move their “chess pieces” around and more and more are looking for that “queen.” Uchenna Nwosu fits into that mold of a chess queen that can be effective in different areas
Coming into the University of Southern California as a three-star recruit, Nwosu was a 6’2” 195-pound safety.He eventually bulked up to 240 and was then employed as the 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. You have to be able to do something consistently well. From what I’ve seen of Nwosu, he does most things well, just nothing excellent.
When looking to project talent for the NFL, athleticism is on the top of the list when it comes to traits. A former high school basketball player in addition to being a safetyin football, Nwosu consistently displayed a quick get-off with the ability to accelerate to the ball or move laterally in coverage. There are many times where Nwosu’s get-off alone opens up opportunities to get pressure on the quarterback. While get-off can sometimes be overvalued, causing some teams to reach on a guy solely based on that, there's no denying how much it helps.
Get-off alone is not the only thing that determines a successful pass rush. A pass rusher must be able to bend and show flexibility running the arc. Being flexible allows edge players to get to the quarterback in less total distance. Nwosu doesn’t show great flexibility around the edge. What I mean by flexibility is having the ability to get low and have the body contours when going around the arc. Without the ability to really bend the edge, it becomes hard to become a truly elite pass rusher unless he has other traits to make up for it.
Nwosu did a good job utilizing quick and violent hand technique this past season.Hand usage is extremely important to continually be able to get pressure. Especially in the NFL, you will not be able to win with just speed or power. The hands become a big part of the pass rush; they can make the difference between being great and merely average. Just look at Aaron Donald, who is only a hair over six feet tall but really knows how to use his hands to wreak havoc on offenses. Nwosu has done a good job utilizing a quick hand swipe to avoid being blocked. For all that good, there are still times when he has a tendency to get caught up with lineman who are bigger than him and get taken completely out of the play. With better hand usage, the ability to shed those blocks becomes more promising. If he can improve even more with his hands and make them a true weapon, Nwosu has the potential to make an impact with more than just athleticism.
In his senior season, Nwosu used his quick get-off to set up everything. He displayed effective inside moves off of his speed rush. This was a key development for him. The counter moves allowed him to be more than just another athletic guy. Once he realized how to use his speed to setup the counter moves, he became a force for the Trojans.
One of the more underrated aspects of Nwosu’s game is that he’s a smart player. He’s aware at all times on the field and almost always makes the right decisions. Whether it’s the little things such as staying disciplined on a read option or something more noticeable like deflecting a pass, you can always find Nwosu being in the right spot and doing his job. There are some guys that are more talented than Nwosu, but have less discipline and on-field awareness. I feel more confident with a guy like Nwosu than someone who is not as smart. Nwosu knows that not every play is going to be a highlight, but he is always in the right spot performing his role.Being consistent and doing the little things on each play are the type of things that will earn him playing time as a rookie.
In his senior year, Nwosu had more pass deflections than a lot of defensive backs did. This can be attributed to his high awareness level on the field. Often times, he would recognize a quick pass, and time his jump perfectly, breaking up the pass. Breaking up passes is a skill that is hard to learn and requires a lot of intelligence on the field. These instincts are things that just can’t really be taught.
Nwosu also is solid in run support. He never gets pushed off the ball and plays with good power, leverage, and technique. Nwosu seems to enjoy being physical, which is something you look for in prospects. Although not the biggest, he has functional strength and knows how to use explosive power to go against bigger offensive lineman in the run. By no means is he a dominant player, but again he does his job well. Functional strength is different from weight room strength meaning a guy doesn’t have to bench a ton to be strong. It comes down to if you can hold your own on the field and be strong enough to use strength to get off blocks, which Nwosu has.
Motor is another thing that can sometimes get lost behind all the 40-yard dash times and other NFL Draft Combine numbers. You can't teach motor, nor can you teach winning attitude. Just look the Browns 2014 pick of Justin Gilbert. He’s a guy who didn't love playing football. When watching Nwosu, you can see the passion and energy he plays with. He’s a guy who is always swarming to the ball and playing with a purpose. Every little inch counts in the NFL and again, playing with a high motor is a trait that will help a young player earn time on the field.
The final aspect of outside linebacking is coverage. While not asked to do a lot in defending against the pass (mainly taking on checkdown backs and tight ends) it’s clear that he has the mobility needed to cover proficiently. When I look at projecting guys with the ability to be used in coverage, I look for the ability to move effortlessly in space, turn the hips, then close the space. Some guys just look more comfortable dropping into coverage, and he is one of those guys.
As with all prospects, Nwosu isn’t perfect. I still have concerns on if he will be able to pass rush effectively in the NFL. Listed at 6’2” 240 lbs. Nwosu is a bit undersized as a traditional outside linebacker. Without elite strength and without the ability to really bend the edge, I see him more as a guy that will be able to get pressure, but not enough to finish the play.
I still think Nwosu is a good prospect. For starters, he’s a player with an explosive first step, he’s a capable pass rusher, defends the run well, can play in coverage, and is just a smart overall 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 coverage. What position you think Nwosu will play next year is based on if you think he can be a true edge kind of guy. I think that he isn’t a natural pass rusher and will be better served as anoff-ball linebacker. That’s just my opinion though, some teams may see him as a guy that can be an elite pass rusher. The fact that he has the versatility to succeed in a lot of different areas is one of the reasons he should be a lock for these and round. He just does so many things well. 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 size questions. 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.