Ben Mitchum of our sister site Cowboy Altitude recently sat down with BTB to discuss Mark Nzeocha, whom the Dallas Cowboys selected in the recent NFL draft. Nzeocha comes from a program that does not get a lot of national coverage, so it's only natural that fans want to know more about this guy from Germany, by way of Wyoming, that the team invested a precious draft pick on.
BTB: Mark comes to us from Germany, which is not very high on the radar as far as NFL prospects are concerned. There are some concerns being expressed about how a lack of experience against high level competition and guidance from top notch coaching during his early years might impact his development. I understand that he is somewhat raw as a prospect, but just how raw is he?
It is true that in high school (FOS Ansbach in Neusitz, Germany) he didn't play on a high school team but for a club team (Franken Knights). The level of competition he saw wasn't the highest but he was a member of the German National Team who played in the 2009 Junior World Championships. That was his first taste of a higher level of football. He definitely had a steep learning curve once he got to Wyoming, but luckily for him, due to his athletic ability and size, he had the opportunity to play quite early in his college career. So it isn't like he just sat on the bench his first couple of seasons in Laramie, but he actually was able to grow as a player with extensive playing time throughout his college career.
His rawness comes more into play when you are talking about instincts, more so than grasping a playbook. He is a very intelligent kid with high character (he was named to the Academic All-Conference team (Mountain West) in 2012, 2013 and 2014). Nzeocha is quite engaging and articulate. He has proven he can pick up a defensive system quite quickly. He has improved greatly over his career when it comes to his instincts but he was prone to take too many false steps and was slow to recognize the difference between the pass and run at times early on. The one saving grace about his perceived rawness is the fact he is still more of a blank canvas or lump of non-molded clay compared to most NFL prospects. His upside to develop into something bigger is there. I think the Cowboys saw a kid that has the size and athletic ability to contribute immediately on special teams but has the room to grow into a possible starter in time with more commitment to just football on a day to day basis. At worst he is a key special teamer that can be a niche role player for the Cowboys defense.
BTB: I freely admit that I have watched very limited film of Nzeocha in action, but based on what I have seen, he seems to be an intense, non-stop player. Would you like to elaborate on the output that Cowboys fans can expect from him on game days?
I think Cowboy fans expectations with Nzeocha need to be directed towards his ability to make a impact on special teams right away. He played plenty defensively for Wyoming but he was also a mainstay on most special teams units. You could find him on almost all special teams throughout his career. He is definitely someone that will need to be groomed when it comes to the linebacker spot. He can fit in any type of scheme as he has played in both the 4-3 and 3-4 while in college. If you see him early defensively, it is likely as a dime linebacker.
BTB: Dallas currently has a wealth of talent under contract at the linebacker position. In order to carve out a place for himself on the roster or practice squad Mark is going to need something that will make him stand out. In your opinion, what does he bring to the table that will make linebackers coach Matt Eberflus and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli go to bat for him when it comes down to final cuts?
What stands out when it comes to Mark's ability to stick with the Cowboys on either the 53 man roster or the practice squad is that he is the total package of size, strength and speed. From a pure physical perspective, he is exactly what you look for in a pro prospect. He is 6'3", 232-pounds and his testing numbers are a 4.52 in the forty with a 10-foot-11 broad jump and 39" vertical. He moves like a safety but has the size of a linebacker. If he gets coached up further, he could really turn into something a few years down the road. With that said, he is already 25 years old, so he is going to be asked to produce sooner rather than later.
BTB: Passion for the game is a key selling point for Jason Garrett, and from watching Neocha play it is obvious that he has that. He is the guy who does not want to come off the field. His most likely role will be on special teams at first. Is he a guy who is going to come in and make our special teams better?
Oh, I definitely would expect him to make an impact when it comes to special teams. First off, he isn't the type of player that was some star that never played special teams. He did whatever was asked of him at Wyoming. Regardless of the position, he played it if asked to. With him being so athletic, rangy and having the ability to play sideline to sideline, makes him the perfect special teams player.
BTB: Other than what we have discussed already, what would you like the fans in Dallas to know about Mark Nzeocha?
He led Wyoming in tackles, sacks and pass break-ups during the first half of this past season before getting injured (tore his ACL) in the 7th game. He was the second-most athletic off-ball linebacker in this class, and he tested into the 95.3 percentile among off-ball linebackers in the NFL, per 3SigmaAthlete's Zach Whitman. The type of numbers he put up during the draft process was even more impressive when you realized the type of injury he had and how quickly he recovered from it.
He was one of five players from Germany that had been on the Wyoming roster the last few seasons. His brother Eric is going to be a junior starting linebacker this upcoming season for Wyoming. He actually grew up 45 minutes away from Dallas Maverick Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki is from Wuerzburg, while Nzeocha is from Neusitz.
Here at Blogging The Boys we want to take a moment to say thank you to Ben for giving us a brief look into what he saw as he followed Mark Nzeocha's career with the University of Wyoming. Your assistance has been deeply appreciated