Damien Wilson started his career at Alcorn State and was one of the top FCS freshman pass rushers, but wanted to play at the FBS level. After a season at Jones County Community College, he transferred to Minnesota and became a starter in 2013, recording 79 tackles (5.5 for loss) and a sack. The following season, he started 12 games and, after losing some weight that allowed him to play faster, led the team with 119 tackles (10.5 TFLs) adding four sacks and one forced fumble, earning Second Team All-Big Ten honors.
Since Wilson was selected in the fourth round, comparisons to 2013 fourth-round Big 10 linebacker Anthony Hitchens are inevitable, but he is actually a very similar player. Wilson is the kind of active, run-and-hit linebacker that the Cowboys covet. He is well-rounded and boasts an aggressiveness and a physical temperament that fits what they seem to like from their LBs as well. Plus, like Hitchens, he's intelligent; he directed his fellow defenders pre-snap, and shows strong diagnose skills.
Want to know more about the newest Cowboy? Let's start by looking at his measurables:
|6' 0"||245||33¾"||9⅜"||4.77||1.66||22||37"||119"||7.21||4.20||121.9 (54.9)|
And here they are in the form of a spider graph, courtesy of the folks at Mockdraftable.com:
How about his tape? Here he is in action against San Jose State from 2014, in a game where he collected nine tackles.
That out of the way, let's see what our esteemed panel of scouts has to say about the Cowboys new linebacker:
Gary Horton (ESPN.com) 8th-ranked ILB; 199th overall:
Instincts/Recognition: Makes calls and good communicator. Good situational player i.e. doesn't bite on play action in pass heavy situations. Flashes ability to sniff out misdirection. Above average initial read against the run and rarely takes false steps. Highly inconsistent gap discipline though and gets caught out of position too much. Gets into trouble and at times and appears hesitant when loses sight of ball. Periodically manipulated by quarterbacks' eyes but good overall awareness in coverage.
Take-on Skills: Flashes ability to sidestep and slip blockers. Extends and uses long arms to keep blockers off frame scraping down the line. Struggles when doesn't with quickness in phone booth though. Takes too long to get off blocks and tends to give ground when offensive linemen get their hands on him. Sporadically takes himself out of plays trying to run around or dip under blocks. Failure to stack and stay square when teams run at him simplifies read for running backs.
Range vs. Run: Effort is almost always good and relentless at times. Above average fighting through and over traffic chasing inside-out. Quick enough to beat backs to the corner when makes sound initial reads but doesn't have the closing burst to regularly chase down backs on a straight-line. Room for improvement in terms of angles.
Tackling: Flashes the ability to latch on and drag down ball carrier. Shows the ability to wrap and wrestle ball carriers to the ground but inconsistent in this area. Looks to deliver big hit by lowering shoulder, fails to wrap and falls off too many tackles. Below average open field tackler that tends to lower head and eyes before contact.
3rd Down Capabilities: Good depth in drops and functional range in underneath zone. Good balance and adequate lateral quickness in off man. However, doesn't have the fluidity or burst to stay with quicker backs when he doesn't get a cushion. Does a good job of reading quarterback and getting hands up in passing lanes when rushes but takes too long to counter when doesn't win with first move and average closing speed.
Intangibles: Son of Patricia Wilson. Cousin of Minnesota running back David Cobb. Played defensive end at Alcorn State. Attention to detail and responsibility off the field need to be investigated further. Skipped a practice in junior college. Born May 28, 1993. Transferred from Alcorn State to Jones Community College in 2012 because he wanted to go to a bigger program. Transferred to Minnesota in 2013.
Dane Brugler (CBSSports.com) 10th-ranked ILB; 197th overall:
Strengths: Solidly built frame with above average arm length for the position - lost 15 pounds prior to his senior season...quick first step and loves to throw his body around with very good closing burst...reliable tackling technique, lowering his head and opening arms to wrap and drive through his target...physical pop at contact with good take-on skills, using his long arms to work off bodies and keep blockers at bay. Dialed-in instincts and plays with a chip - appeared more confident as a senior with a full year under his belt at Minnesota...passionate player who loves to compete and hates to come off the field...high threshold for pain and toughs through injuries...productive senior season, finishing third in the Big Ten in tackles per game (9.2).
Weaknesses: Needs to keep his weight under control and maintain consistent conditioning...aggressiveness hits both extremes, waiting for the action to come to him on some plays and then overpursuing misdirection on others - needs to find balance between his eagerness and discipline...has some hip tightness that shows in coverage when covering down the seam...room to improve his spatial awareness in zone coverages. Needs to control his intensity and play smarter, eliminating late hit penalties...good speed, but struggles to make up ground after a false step...durability could be a long-term issue due to his propensity for physical collisions - tore the meniscus in his knee (Nov. 2013) that required surgery, but didn't miss a game.
Summary: A cousin of former teammate David Cobb, Wilson started his career as an undersized defensive end at Alcorn State, but his desire to play on a bigger stage led him to the JUCO level where he was the National Defensive Player of the Year in 2012. He spent the last two seasons at Minnesota where he developed into one of the Big Ten's top linebackers in 2014 - lost weight, played faster with showed more confidence in the scheme. Wilson is active and directs traffic pre-snap, showing the diagnose skills to attack and finish, although his aggressive play style will get the best of him and lead to mistakes. He is well-rounded with the physical temperament that fits what NFL teams are looking for at the position - back-up at the next level and late rounder.
Nolan Nawrocki (NFL Draft 2015 Preview) 15th-ranked ILB:
Strengths: Good athlete. Very active and runs to the ball. Does a good job slipping blockers. Good playing range. Will face up ball carriers. Times up the blitz well and knifes into the backfield. Has a 37-inch vertical jump.
Weaknesses: Is not strong to take on blocks. Could stand to do a better job of using his hands to disengage and awrd off cut blockers. Takes some bad angles and gets hung up in traffic. Football does not come natural and lacks discipline being on time and following assignments. Marginal football character. Is easily fooled by play-action. Limited cover skills.
Future: A more quick than fast, compact-built "mike" linebacker ideally suited for a fast-flowing defense such as Dallas, Tampa Bay or Carolina. Needs to learn what it means to be a pro to make it.
Draft projection: Late draftable pick.
Strengths: Productive, volume tackler over his two years as a Gopher 'backer. Stays committed to the chase when ball spills wide. Shows a feel for blocks coming at him from an angle. Lines up the defense. Drops into zone coverage and spies the quarterback, mirroring the quarterback's eyes and cutting off the passing lane.
Weaknesses: Production and level of play fell off over his final four games against better competition, including Ohio State and Wisconsin. Allows himself to be cut-blocked on the second level. Lacks natural instincts from inside the box. Over-runs his run fit and can be easily pinned. Vacated his run responsibility, leading to long TDs from Ohio State's J.T. Barrett and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. Too often waits for blockers rather than beating them to the spot.
Draft Projection: Round 6 or 7
Bottom Line: Fills the stat sheet, but is missing traits associated with becoming a starting linebacker in the NFL. He is an average athlete with average speed and loses leverage in his run responsibilities. He's a willing chaser and he's around the action, so a move to the WILL outside 'backer spot might make the most sense in order to limit his liability against downhill rushing attacks.
Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Eberfluss noted that he currently sees the starting trio as Rolando McClain as the Mike, Sean Lee as the Will and Anthony Hitchens as the Sam. If that is indeed the case, then we can see that Wilson assumes Hitchens's position as the do-everything backup and key special teams contributor. If he can approach the success Hitchens enjoyed as a rookie, I'm on board.