At the end of the season, the Jets signed several players to futures contracts for the 2021 season. We’re going to take an in-depth look at the strengths and weaknesses for each of them over the next few weeks, continuing today with linebacker Noah Dawkins.
The 23-year old is listed at 6’1” and 235 pounds and was undrafted out of The Citadel in 2019. Dawkins played in 10 games with the Bucs in 2019 and five with the Jets in 2020 but has recorded just one tackle and played just four defensive snaps.
Dawkins was a productive defensive end in high school, racking up 23 sacks in his senior year to earn the ESPN Upstate Player of the Year award. He was offered a scholarship by South Carolina State and the The Citadel, opting to attend the latter.
Playing as an undersized rotational defensive linemen in his freshman season, Dawkins recorded just nine tackles and 1.5 sacks in 13 games. At the end of the season, he converted to off-ball linebacker and racked up 33 tackles and five sacks as a sophomore.
As he continued to grow into the role, Dawkins had 61 tackles and led the team in quarterback hurries as a junior, then had his best year as a senior with career-highs in tackles (66), tackles for loss (31.5) and sacks (5.5). He also had the first two interceptions of his career, as he was ultimately named to the 2018 all-Southern Conference first team.
Dawkins unfortunately suffered an injury at his pro day which not only scuppered his chances of being drafted but also meant he wasn’t initially signed as an undrafted free agent. However, he was invited to a mini-camp tryout with the Bengals and stood out there to earn himself a contract.
In preseason, Dawkins played in four games with the Bengals and recorded four tackles. However, he never got off the third unit, so it was no surprise when he was released in final cuts and signed to the practice squad. However, in October, he was poached by the Bucs and played in the last 10 games of the season with them, albeit almost exclusively on special teams.
He returned to the Bucs this year and attended camp with them, but was released in final cuts. The Jets signed him to their practice squad a couple of weeks into the season and he remained there all year, during which time he was elevated for special teams duties for each of the last five games - twice as a standard elevation and three times as a Covid-19 replacement.
Having recorded the first regular season tackle of his career in the season finale, Dawkins signed a futures deal the next day after reverting to the practice squad.
Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Dawkins brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
Dawkins is an excellent athlete and planned to put on a show at his pro day, having run a 4.37 in the 40-yard dash about a week before. Unfortunately, he pulled his hamstring a few strides into his pro day 40 and wasn’t able to do a full workout.
Remarkably, he still ran a 4.41, which was only beaten by one linebacker (Isaiah Simmons) at last year’s combine. However, he was only able to do a 31” vertical jump and decided to shut it down at that point. Dawkins had earlier posted a 125” broad jump and did post a 39” vertical when he was in high school.
He is slightly undersized, although he’s bulked up considerably from his listed weight of 215 when he was in college. He was even more undersized when he was playing as a defensive lineman though.
As noted, Dawkins was a defensive lineman until his sophomore year in college, but then converted to linebacker. He mostly plays in the box, although he does match up in the slot or creep up to the line of scrimmage sometimes.
Dawkins was a productive run defender in college but probably lacks the size and physicality to be effective in the box at the NFL level.
He has good range and closing speed, though, so he can be most effective when going from sideline to sideline and keeping blockers off him.
He was in on two run stops in preseason, but one of them saw him dragged for extra yardage at the second level. Dawkins (#44) found his way back to the ball to get in on this stop though.
Although he’s a converted lineman, Dawkins worked to improve his coverage abilities in college and this paid off in his final season when he intercepted two passes, including this one which he returned for a score.
While he has the speed to stay with a receiver, or close on the ball after a short pass, Dawkins’ relative lack of experience in this area can be exploited.
Although he was productive in college, Dawkins had some missed tackles from time to time. He also had this one in preseason action, on which he displayed a concerning habit of going for a big hit rather than trying to wrap up.
Generally speaking, he seems to take good angles and finishes well once he gets his man wrapped up. He forced two fumbles in his college career and several more in college.
Dawkins’ experience on the defensive line means he has some good pass rushing ability. His high school film is interesting because he displays incredible quickness, a knack for shooting into the backfield and surprising power on the bull rush.
Since moving to linebacker, Dawkins still got plenty of chances to blitz as he had 12.5 sacks in three seasons to close out his college career. However, he hasn’t had many chances to do that at the NFL level.
Here’s a play where Dawkins shows off his impressive closing speed on a blitz up the middle.
Special teams is where Dawkins most likely will need to make his mark, as evidenced by the fact that’s how both the Jets and Bucs primarily sought to use him. The fact they both continued to do so perhaps suggests his coaches were pleased with what they saw.
Despite this, he didn’t generate any statistics with the Bucs and actually had two penalties and a couple of missed tackles. In preseason action with the Bengals, he made this good play in kick coverage, though.
With the Jets, Dawkins made a few contributions in his five appearances. He just about got enough of his man to spring Corey Ballentine for a long return, generated pressure on one punt rush and blew up this kickoff nicely.
Rushing punts could be one area where he might excel given his experience of getting his hands in the dirt and exploding into the backfield.
Having had some experience in the trenches is no doubt beneficial to a linebacker like Dawkins, but the fact remains that he is still going to have to adjust to the physical nature of the game at the NFL level and there are times when he struggles to fight off blocks, or has to give ground in order to do so.
Dawkins is quick to the ball but probably needs to get better at making quick reads and not hesitating, both in the running game and in coverage. It’s worth remembering that he hasn’t been playing as an off-ball linebacker for very long, though, and certainly not at this level.
On this play he seems to lose track of where the ball is and completely takes himself out of the play.
The Citadel is a military college operating a one-strike system so Dawkins obviously doesn’t have any off-field issues and is used to hard work and discipline. His demeanor is said to be cool, calm and collected.
Despite this attention to discipline, Dawkins had a couple of special teams penalties in 2019 - one as he was called for holding while blocking on a return and the other as he had a personal foul for this late hit.
Dawkins hasn’t had many injury issues so far in his career although the hamstring injury at his pro day did affect him in the pre-draft process.
Dawkins would presumably factor into the Jets’ linebacker rotation as a reserve inside linebacker, although the system that the Jets will run next year is not yet known.
His best chance of making the roster is as a core special teamer anyway. Preseason will provide him with a good opportunity to build on his performances at the end of this year.
Dawkins was a teammate of Josh Malone while he was at training camp with the Bengals in 2019.
Dawkins should be viewed as a potential contributor on special teams but more of a long-term prospect as a defensive option.
His athletic ability is outstanding and he has shown a knack for finding his way to the football in a variety of situations. Whether the Jets can develop him into an even more impactful special teamer as well as someone who can potentially also contribute on defense is a matter for the new coaching staff.