The Cincinnati Bengals have been among the NFL's best at finding late-round and even undrafted free agent talent at defensive tackle.
That's actually a problem for Virginia's David Dean, who looks to be one of the team's best UDFA signings this year, but is facing stiff odds of cracking a roster loaded at tackle. Dean is one of those smaller, penetrating defensive linemen in the mold of current Bengals players at the position in Geno Atkins (6'1"), DeShawn Williams (6'1"), Andrew Billings (6'1") and Brandon Thompson (6'2").
While many view that lack of size as a weakness, guys like Dean know how to use it to their advantage. As a senior, Dean had 4.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss, along with a forced fumble. His lack of size was more than made up for with his strength, as you'll see above.
Like Atkins , Dean does a great job of pushing lineman off of him and getting a good path to the quarterback and/or running back. Dean played for a Cavaliers team that's been among the ACC's worst during his career, so it will be interesting to see how he does with a better cast around him.
Weight: 295 pounds
Pro Day: 40-yard dash: 5.12 seconds; 20-yard dash: 3.00 seconds; 10-yard dash: 1.70 seconds; Bench reps: 33; Vertical Jump: 31"; Broad Jump: 09'02"; 20-yard shuttle: 4.69 seconds; 3-cone drill: 7.46 seconds
Over his final three seasons of college ball, Dean racked up 134 stops, 23 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks across 35 games. That's good production for any lineman, let alone one playing in a Power 5 conference that produced nine Bowl-eligible teams, while the Cavaliers faced nine bowl teams as well.
Dean actually had a draftable grade by Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, so don't underestimate his ability to make the 53-man roster or practice squad. Here's some of what Zierlein had to say of Dean:
Gets off to quick starts after the snap. Has experience as a shade-nose and 3-technique. Barrel-chested and broad through his waist. Has good hips for an interior lineman. Able to chase ball and occasionally capture runner from the backside. Has short arms, but makes most of his length by getting into blocker first. Plays with violent forceful hands, using them to slap and club at blockers hands. When pad level is right, can get a decisive, early win. Adequate play strength. Plays with coordinated feet and hands and can flash as a pass rusher from time to time.
Dean is a strong player with good balance and a sturdy base, but when he plays tall (which is too often) rather than bending to create leverage, he robs himself of the aforementioned strengths. If he can get his pad level right, he has enough talent and strength to be a rotational 4-3 nose who can also be disruptive as a pass rusher.
Chances of Making Roster
Watching Dean's tape, it's clear that he has the talent and potential to be an NFL player, which made him signing with the Bengals a bit of a surprise to me. It's such a loaded position through the 53-man roster and possibly into the practice squad that it's hard to see him having a future with the Bengals.
Then again, for my 53-man roster prediction (coming soon), I have DeShawn Williams being waived and claimed by another team, opening up a practice squad spot for Dean if another team doesn't claim him during final cuts.
The Bengals tend to keep two or even three defensive lineman on their practice squad, and I like Dean's potential over any other practice squad-eligible tackle other than Williams.
As long as Dean has a good camp and preseason, the Bengals should try to keep him on the practice squad, but regardless, I feel good about Dean's chances of making it in the NFL, wherever and whenever that may be.