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2021 Cowboys scouting report: Virginia LB Charles Snowden

One of the more intriguing prospects in this draft has a lot to offer

Louisville v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Before getting started, I have to disclose that Virginia’s Charles Snowden is my top draft crush this year, so get ready for some gushing. A native of Washington DC, Snowden opted to stay close to home when he committed to the Virginia Cavaliers. He joined the first full recruiting class for a new coaching staff looking to rebuild the program, and by the time Snowden graduated his team had gone a combined 28-22, including a division title and a bowl victory.

Name: Charles Snowden
Position: LB
Height: 6’6”
Weight: 232 lbs

2020 Stats: 8 games, 44 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 3 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble

As a full-time starter for three of his four years there, Snowden was a key figure of a defense that made major strides during his time. Snowden offers a lot of versatility that the team utilized to perfection. He has the frame of a basketball small forward with the athleticism of a football linebacker, so Virginia used him in a variety of ways, but notably as an extra pass rusher.

Playing sparingly in his freshman year, Snowden was used almost exclusively used in this manner, as well as on special teams. He finished the year with 13 tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble. Snowden became a starter his sophomore year and posted 62 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two picks, eight pass breakups, and had both a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. In his junior year, Snowden put forth his best year yet with 72 tackles, 11 of them for a loss, as well as five sacks, four pass breakups, and a fumble recovery. Snowden won All-Conference honors for it, and was named to multiple award watchlists going into his senior year, in addition to being named a team captain. Snowden missed the final two games of the 2020 season with a fractured ankle, ending his year early, but his body of work already speaks for itself.

Tackling: Snowden is a wildly accurate tackler, and as is the case with most of his game, it’s due to his insane length. At the Senior Bowl, Snowden’s wingspan measured just over 82 inches (!) on top of his 6’6” height. Physically, Snowden looks like a Madden create-a-player, and he uses that to his benefit. While he isn’t the most fundamentally sound tackler out there, he understands how to use his length and size as a tackler with great effect. It’s why he totaled nearly 200 tackles and over 30 tackles for loss in his three years as a starter at Virginia, as Snowden was able to routinely get in position and bring the ball-carrier down.

Coverage Skills: This is another area where Snowden’s length pops up in a big way. As mentioned, Snowden was originally used as a situational pass rusher, but his coaches rightly gave him more zone coverage reps to take advantage of his frame. It worked beautifully, as Snowden floods passing lanes with little to no effort just because of how long and tall he is. As a result, he wasn’t thrown at much but he has plus ball skills for a linebacker. He knows how to use his size in coverage, especially when asked to man up on a running back or tight end, and does a good job of playing through the catch point.

Run Support: As good as Snowden is in coverage, he may be better as a run defender. This is no doubt due to his early experience as a pass rusher. Snowden understands leverage against blockers and how to extend his arms to hold off blocks in that capacity. He isn’t an overly-strong player, but he makes up for that with his leverage and hand usage. That allowed for multiple opportunities to get into the backfield as both a downhill run-stopper and a blitzer, resulting in lots of sacks and tackles for loss.

Block Shedding: Snowden gets off blocks very well, and he’s consistent with his technique. He’s able to use his size advantage against tight ends and smaller linemen to keep moving while engaged with blockers and does a good job of breaking off contact to go after the ball-carrier. How well Snowden continues to do this at the NFL level against much better blockers remains to be seen, but it’s not like he was facing chumps in the ACC.

Pass Rush Ability: If the Cavaliers had decided to leave Snowden as a pass rushing linebacker in their hybrid defense, he likely would have been just fine, because he is a matchup nightmare rushing the passer. He has the frame to go up against interior linemen and hold his own physically, but has the speed and athleticism to beat them with finesse moves. However, Snowden offers too much value as a run-stopper and coverage linebacker to be relegated to that role, and having the versatile role he did in college probably only made him a better pass rusher. At the next level, Snowden should be seen as a traditional off-ball linebacker who offers well-above-average value as a blitzer on passing downs.

Athleticism: As is usually the case with bigger guys, Snowden can be a bit bumbling at times with his movements. However, he is very precise in his footwork and has very fluid hips - he also played some receiver back in high school, and those route-running traits pop up on occasion. If Snowden were trying to play in the secondary, he’d be an athletic liability, but at the second level he plays at he has the ideal blend of athleticism to match his ridiculous frame.

Processing: Snowden is a very cerebral player, and it’s one of the reasons he became an impact player so early on for Virginia. A big reason he made so many plays in the run game is his quick processing ability, rapidly diagnosing the play and flowing to the ball. In coverage, he demonstrates a knack for maintaining space between his man/zone and the quarterback, rarely giving up good throws due to that. His final two years also featured being the green-dot guy for the Cavaliers, meaning the defensive coordinator relayed play calls into Snowden’s helmet and then the linebacker made sure his defense was properly aligned and knew what to do. That’s impressive enough on its own, but Virginia ran a very complex hybrid system that’s actually fairly similar to what departed Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was going for, so Snowden’s ability to manage his guys in that system speaks to his high football IQ.

Toughness: Snowden isn’t the strongest guy out there, so he doesn’t carry the profile of a thumper like a Donovan Wilson does, but he certainly plays that way. Snowden is unafraid of contact, and he’ll do whatever is required to make the play. He’ll rush into contact, be aggressive in coverage, or sacrifice his body. That, combined with his leadership in the Virginia program, inspired his teammates to do the same. The ankle injury will concern scouts, especially since Snowden ended up sitting out Senior Bowl practices due to an undisclosed nagging injury, but toughness is not a question for Snowden.

Intangibles: Snowden was not only a prominent leader at Virginia, but he was the heart and soul of the defense. That was reflected by him being named a captain his senior year, but Snowden had been a leader for a while before then too. Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall had this to say when Snowden went down with his season-ending injury:

“Charles’s influence on our program has been breathtaking in terms of maturity and growth, and in a lot of ways, his own maturity and growth have matched that of the program,” Mendenhall said. “He came in as tall and thin [as] a basketball player, and he’s blossomed into a future NFL player with amazing leadership skills and a captain of our team in a four-year period. That trajectory almost has been straight up, and I think it is almost a mirror image of the program’s culture and direction, so it’s hard to separate Charles Snowden and U-Va. football. They seem to be one and the same, and I’m not sure there could be a better exemplar than him of what I would like our program to be.”

There’s no question that whichever team drafts Snowden is getting a consummate professional capable of being a vocal leader in the locker room from day one.