When Paul Dawson arrived at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, he knew that every team was going to ask him about his work ethic and other off-field concerns. Truth be told, he was looking forward to it.
Prior to the combine, Dawson, a productive and instinctive inside linebacker at TCU, wrote a draft diary for USA Today in which he addressed the myriad issues he believed teams would have with him, despite a senior campaign in which he racked up 136 tackles and was named the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year.
These include: a failed drug test for Adderall his sophomore year (which he says he later got a prescription for) a penchant for tardiness (which he says he fixed as an upperclassman) and a questionable work ethic (which he flatly denies).
“I’m not mad (now),” Dawson said, when told that he sounded mad in the diary. “It was just mistakes I made, small mistakes that I corrected in my senior year. (But) yeah, I was pretty upset that it was brought up. I’ve made many changes in my life. I’ve matured a lot.”
Dawson — who told The Star he had a formal interview with the Chiefs at the combine — tried to make that clear to teams, too.”
“I’ve matured and don’t make those mistakes anymore, and I don’t plan on making them in my future,” said Dawson, a junior-college transfer who played at TCU during 2012-14. “I plan on being in this league a long time. Those mistakes can’t happen.”
Dawson said his tardiness to team events (by a few minutes or so) was the major issue.
“Time management, mostly, just making the wrong choices,” Dawson said. “Sometimes being around the wrong people at times … most of the time I was by myself a lot.”
But Dawson said he turned it around when he realized there are other people depending on him to do so.
“Realizing that this is my life, I’ve got to make the best of what I can do, especially to provide for my daughter (Destiny) — she’s 2 years old,” Dawson said. “Just having the best life for her, like my parents tried to have for me.”
Dawson’s off-field concerns will likely effect his draft stock, as he’s currently projected to go anywhere from the second to fourth round. His marginal size (6-feet, 235 pounds) and combine testing numbers didn’t help, either: He ran a 4.93 40-yard dash and posted a vertical jump of 28 inches, both of which were among the worst marks at his position.
However, there is no doubt Dawson can play. On tape, his instincts stand out; he sniffs out plays quickly and plays faster than his timed speed. In 2014, he posted 20 tackles for loss — an indicator of an inside linebacker’s quickness, instincts and ability to make plays.
“Size doesn’t really matter,” Dawson said. “It’s all about your heart. I plan on showing that every day in my game.”
Dawson, who models his game after another undersized linebacker, Tampa Bay All-Pro Lavonte David, has no shortage of confidence in his ability to do so, either.
“Of course I feel like I’m a first-round pick,” Dawson said. “I feel like I am the best linebacker in this draft. It’s all about what teams need and want. … I know I’ll be gone in the second if I’m not in the first. So it’s all good.”
That’s what the combine was about for Dawson, in a way — trying to convince teams that no matter where he goes, the team that selects him will get a good — and more mature — football player than what he showed earlier in his college career.
After all, his daughter — and others in his family — are counting on him.
“That’s my heart — she looks just like me,” Dawson said. “So when I see her, I see me, and I want the best thing for her. … She just gives me kisses all the time, so that’s enough inspiration.”
Inside the 2015 NFL Draft: inside linebackers
From now until the draft begins on April 30, The Star will take a look at each position.
▪ What the Chiefs look for: There are two inside linebacker positions in the Chiefs’ 3-4 defense. The strong-side inside ‘backer, commonly referred to as a “Jack,” is charged with taking on blocks vs. the run and diagnosing quickly. He needs to be stout and smart. The weakside inside ‘backer can be a little smaller — this player needs to be instinctive, quick and a good tackler. He’s often tracking the ball carrier down in pursuit. In today’s NFL, zone coverage skills are a must, and two-down linebackers — while valuable at times — can be exploited. Plus athleticism and man-to-man cover skills can expand the flexibility of a defense.
▪ Chiefs’ needs: The Chiefs will get a major part of their defense back in star inside linebacker Derrick Johnson. Thanks to his veteran savvy, he will represent an upgrade at the position, regardless of whether he’s the same guy, physically, after the season-ending Achilles injury he suffered last September. The Chiefs re-signed his replacement last season, Josh Mauga, to a three-year, $8 million deal, and will also bring back James-Michael Johnson, 25, who earned some meaningful snaps last year. However, the Chiefs would still be wise to draft Derrick Johnson’s heir apparent this year; the three-time Pro Bowler turns 33 in November.
▪ Sleeper: There’s no shortage of try-hard linebackers in college, but Texas State’s David Mayo might be the rare one who can pull off a conversion to the NFL. He has good instincts, plays faster than his timed speed of 4.7 and has a motor that doesn’t quit — as evidenced by his 154 tackles in 2014. His level of competition wasn’t great, but he might have the traits to help on special teams while he gets acclimated to the NFL.