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2019 NFL Draft Prospect David Long LB West Virginia

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A weakside linebacker for Greg Williams defense

West Virginia v Iowa State Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images

David Long LB West Virginia 5’ 11 1/4” 227 lbs #11

If the Jets switch to a 4-3 defense the personnel will have to be adjusted as well as the formation. For the most part 3-4 and 4-3 linebackers are vastly different and have very different defined roles. Although these roles have evolved through the years the basic premise of each position has remained relatively the same.

3-4 Defense (very rudimentary description)

The four linebackers in a 4-3 defense are divided up into two groups, the inside and the outside linebackers (duh). The inside linebackers have to take on blocks of offensive linemen and play the run well. They also have to drop into coverage but they only have to cover half the field in zone coverage.

The outside linebackers can play in space, but they usually are like defensive ends who rush the passer on a high majority of plays. They preferably should have long arms, great quickness with a height and weight around 6’ 3” and 260 lbs.

4-3 Defense

The linebackers in a 4-3 defense all have (usually) decidedly different roles.

SAM linebacker is the strong side linebacker because he plays on the side of the defense with the tight end (thus the strong side since there is one more blocker). He should be a robust player because he will usually take on lead blockers on running plays but also must be able to cover the TE down the field on many plays.

MIKE linebacker is the middle linebacker. He also has to take on blocks from interior linemen.He is usually the leader of the defense and must cover sideline to sideline on running plays and drop deep into coverage or carry TEs down the seam. Increasingly the MIKE has to have a rare combination of speed, power, and intelligence along with being a sure tackler.

WILL linebacker is the weakside linebacker. He the linebacker who plays on the side away from the tight end. Now many teams use two TE sets so he also needs to be able to handle blocking TEs. Teams don’t always run to the strong side so he has to be tough also. He frequently has the least blockers against him so he is regularly freed up to make plays. The WILL needs to be able to decipher plays quickly and have speed with power to make game changing plays. He should be a playmaker who can blitz, tackle effectively, and play in space. He must do all of these jobs well. He is sort of a beefed up strong safety who can get through blocks, hold his edge, and run plays down from behind.

David Long is the type of linebacker who was made to play the WILL position in the NFL. He is a heat seeking missile of a player who not only quickly analyzes plays but has the confidence to immediately shoot a gap to make a play. He is not a perfect player (no Draft eligible player is), but he has the tools to be a standout performer as a WILL linebacker.

Here he is down near the goal line against Texas Tech in a dual back formation. West Virginia didn’t run a true 4-3 defense with all the passing in the Big XII. They ran mostly a 3-3-5 odd stack alignment which just means the three linebackers didn’t play the usual SAM, MIKE, WILL roles. They were interchangable with each player needing speed and tackling abilities. Long is playing the ROLB spot on this play so he has outside coverage responsibilities.

You see here at the snap Long almost barely moves. He has to be aware of a play action pass to the back, a run off tackle, and a run that is broken off outside to his right. If he commits too early to the hole the back can jump cut to the outside and almost walk into the end zone. Long holds his ground, and as soon as the back commits to the hole he is off like he is shot from a cannon. He gets low to increase leverage and drives the RB with a head of steam back from the LOS.

Again here Long is playing the MIKE position right on the hash 6 yards off and over the ball. This is a QB keeper all the way, and player #3 gets caught up on a block and loses the contain on the play. The best way to beat a block is to avoid it altogether.

He slides inside the tackle who has come too far out on his set so Long is able to corral the QB out of bounds for a one yard loss. You see no hesitation with Long here. He reads the play and shows great quickness and speed to get to the sideline swiftly. He also shows the elusiveness to get through the traffic untouched then ends the play for a loss out of bounds.

Long is only a little over 5’ 11” so he is a bit shorter than most OLBs in the NFL or major college programs. So Long turns his deficiency into an asset but using great leverage along with some stealth. You see here he reads the play and finds the hole to the back. In turn the back is looking for open spaces to run through.

Long uses all the huge offensive and defensive linemen as concealment from the back. He explodes through the hole while staying low to increase his stealth. He hits the back low almost before he is seen, then makes a sure tackle. You will see this a lot with Long. At first I thought he was an ankle grabber but this by design and is very effective.

Here again you will see the same type of action. This time Long is playing the LOLB position and deciphers the play. Instantly he is off like a shot. The FB is supposed to come across and clean up the blocking to allow the RB to have a clean road to the edge.

Long makes it through the hole before the FB even gets there. The announcer thought the play was to be made to Ateman at the bottom of the screen, but the play was run away from that. You see Long gets through the hole, attacks the lower body, and uses his momentum to roll over (using his body weight) to take down the back swiftly and securely.

Here are two plays that show Long’s total package abilities on back to back plays against a high scoring Oklahoma State team.

On the first play Long is playing as a ROLB and reads the play quickly (again), comes across the entire line, and shoots the gap very low (stealthy) to take the back down for a short gain.

He then has to quickly get himself back into position as Oklahoma State is going to run a play (hopefully) before West Virginia can line up it’s defense. Long gets back into position just as the ball is snapped on a bubble sceeen to the outside. The right cornerback does a nice job of holding up the block as Long is able to come over and clean up the tackle. Long doesn’t make all low tackles. He will rock player when he gets the chance. You see here that Long is able to read, react quickly, get there in a hurry, and make a sure tackle on consecutive plays inside the hash then outside the numbers.

This next clip is subtle but it shows some of the football savvy Long has along with his ability to tackle with great leverage. This is first and goal from the 1 yard line with the offense in 21 personnel (two RBs, two WRs, 1 TE). The defense is in zero coverage (no safeties and single outside coverage) and Long playing as the MIKE linebacker.

The offensive line blocking scheme is slanting to the left with the right tailback blocking the edge pressure. The MIKE LB would usually slant in the direction that the offensive line is slanting, but Long doesn’t do that. He keeps his eyes fixated on the running back and moves to his left. By doing so he swoops in directly around the right tackle and is one on one with the RB. Notice how he gets lower than the RB, puts his shoulder pads into the RB’s waistline which stops him in his tracks for a 1 yard loss. Watching this play it just seems that Long reads the situation so quickly then just flows to the ball almost effortlessly, gets in a great leverage position, and makes a hard, sure tackle.

This is a play from earlier in the same game where Long is again playing the MIKE LB position. The line is again slanting left, but this is from a pistol formation and not a dual back set like the last clip. This time Long flows with the offensive line and quickly shoots the gap before the right guard can close the door.

Long does a nice job of grabbing the RB with his right arm and holding him as his momentum assists with the tackle. Again he pruposely rolls his body to force the RB to the ground for a 1 yard loss. This is a do or die play, and Long makes these happen. He also misses on plays like this, but if he didn’t shoot that gap it is debatable whether he would have any impact on a play flowing away from him. Long just has a incredible way of slicing through offensive lines and making plays in the backfield.

On this next play Long is playing the LOLB position (the WILL in traditional 4-3), and the defense is in man coverage. Long’s man is the RB who is in motion to the right, and Long shadows him. At the snap Long races across the LOS to cover the RB in the flat. When the ball is thrown, Long is 3 yards behind the LOS.

The ball is thrown about 9 yards downfield, and Long races back as the CB misses the tackle. Long is derailed momentarily when the RB he was covering walls him off from the WR. Ultimately Long reconnects to the play and assists on the tackle. This play shows some of the good and the bad of Long. He is fast and dissects plays quickly, but he is smaller than most WILL LBs and can be harassed by blockers moreso than a larger player.

Two plays later in the same drive Long is still the LOLB and quickly reads the play that is flowing away from him to his right. This is an off tackle play that is blocked poorly so the RB cuts the play back inside and is met rudely.

Long again finds a lane through the offensive line and hits the RB at full speed. The collision stops the RB cold, and others assist in bringing down the back. This is just another example of Long picking his way through the traffic and laying the wood to a ballcarrier. As a WILL LB he has freedom to run around and make plays, which is exactly what he excels at.

This play Long is playing the ROLB position over the TE (the SAM LB in a 4-3) and is right at the numbers to that side of the field. At the snap the TE stays in to block, and the QB rolls to his right.

It’s a zone defense. Long does have some backside responsibilities, but those decrease the farther the QB rolls to his right. When the QB abandons the pass option and dives for the goal line it is Long who makes first contact, which is soon followed by two other tacklers. This play is made outside the numbers on the opposite side of the field. This shows some of the tenaciousness that Long has as a player to cover the entire field.

This last clip shows two consecutive plays in a game against Oklahoma. On the first play Long is playing the MIKE LB and reads the situation and takes off after the RB once he sees the handoff occur. The lead blocker takes out the edge contain player and Long sweeps in to make an ankle tackle on the RB. Long’s speed allowed him to make the play before the pulling tackle #71 Bobby Evans could get to the spot. Quickness and speed were the reasons Long was able to make this play.

The second play Long is again inside on a read option hand off to the RB. The QB on this play can fake a handoff and throw the ball so Long doesn’t overly commit to the run at first. The QB can fake the handoff and run, but the edge player #5 doesn’t over pursue the RB. Once the handoff is made to the RB Long is able to work down the line, play off a block by #74 Cody Ford (who will be a top 20 selection in 2019), and make a sure tackle assisted by #5.

Long didn’t do field work at the Combine because he supposedly tweaked his knee at the Senior Bowl (not considered serious). Long was allowed to attend the Senior Bowl even though he is a redshirt junior because he had already graduated form West Virginia. It was very important to Long that he graduated, and if he hadn’t he would have come back for his senior season. Long is 1 of 12 children in his family and promised his mother he would graduate to show his younger brothers and sisters the importance of education. He missed the first 4 games of 2017 because of a knee injury in the spring game. His trainers applauded the hard work he did to get back on the field so fast.

Long’s positive notes:

  • He is a quick study and can diagnose plays rapidly and react immediately.
  • He is a fast LB and can close on the ball quickly
  • He started 31 of 33 games played.
  • In 21 games played over the last two years Long had 183 tackles (8.71 tackles a game), 35 tackles for loss (1.66 a game), 11 sacks, 10 passes defended.
  • He is a great blitzing LB and has a knack for finding creases in the offensive line to make plays behind he line of scrimmage.
  • Long was the Big XII Defensive Player of the Year for 2018
  • He was the 10th player in school history to record 10 tackles in a game, something Long did 15 times in his career at WVU.
  • He earned All-America Second-Team honors by AP, Walter Camp Football Foundation, Athlon Sports, Phil Steele and The Athletic
  • He was a Butkus Award semifinalist in 2018
  • He is a film room junkie who will study upcoming opponents for hours
  • He uses his smaller frame to his advantage by getting great leverage and exploding into ball carriers when coming in his “stealth mode” behind the linemen.
  • He is a high effort guy who is tenacious and plays through the whistle
  • He is said to be a great team mate who is a positive figure in the locker room

Long’s negative notes:

  • He has a smaller frame and lighter than desired by most NFL teams
  • He could use some more good muscle to beef up his frame
  • He played mostly zone coverage at WVU and will need serious coaching in man coverage
  • He is basically only a WILL LB too small to play any other LB spot. Playing strong safety would entail a immense amount of coaching.
  • He lacks ball skills with no INTs in 33 games played.
  • He can come in too hot on tackles and miss player altogether
  • He takes poor angles at times taking himself out of the play

Final Analysis:

Long is a high-energy, sideline to sideline player who brings speed and energy to a defense. He is an undersized WILL LB with speed. He is great on blitzes and shooting gaps to make plays. He didn’t compete at the Combine (except for the bench press with 18 reps) which for the moment keeps him off teams’ radar. His pro day is March 21, and he promises to “show out” so if interested keep an eye out for that date.

I have a mid 3rd round grade on Long with his speed, on field abilities and good character. He gets dinged for his smaller stature, his lack of training in man coverage, his non-exsistent ball skills, and being pigeonholed as a WILL or a hybrid strong safety. I think he will “ball out” at his pro day but that may have little help for his Draft status. His tape says it all.

Even though I have a mid 3rd round grade on Long I think he will be available when the Jets select at 105 (3rd pick in 4th round). There is always a bias against Big XII defensive players with its video game scoring, even though Long was Defensive Player of the Year.

If the Jets switch to a 4-3 defense I think Darron Lee will be the WILL LB in 2019, but it will be his 4th year. I don’t see the Jets picking up Lee’s expensive 5th year option. Long could be a player who excels at special teams and is a situational pass rusher/ zone option his first year while he learns Greg Williams defense. He could take over as the WILL once the Jets move on from Lee. The have picks at 93 and 10t. That will probably get the job done and put a playmaker on the field for the defense.

If you look at the combine results on NFL.com you will see David Long LB, West Virginia, competed in the 40, broad jump and vert, but he didn’t do any of those drills. The NFL mistakenly put those number in but those are actually for David Long CB Michigan (who I also think highly of). Yes ,they have the same name. We could use picks 93 and 105 on two players named David Long. Wouldn’t that be wild?

What do you think?