When the Detroit Lions hired a defensive-minded head coach, the thought was that an overhaul was incoming. It ended up being far bigger than most fans had realized, and the year started out as close to a disaster as possible. The team started to develop a defensive identity by mid season and it started to become very clear the type of defense they were trying to build.
With a clearer idea of what the team is trying to do, we started looking at what they need to fix to make that goal a reality. Linebacker gap discipline was one of our chief concerns going forward and one of my favorite names to possibly fix that issue is Notre Dame’s Te’Von Coney.
Te’Von Coney, Notre Dame
Height: 6010 (6 feet, 1 inch) Weight: 240
2015 Stats: 8 Games | 6 Solo Tackles | 13 Total | 0.5 TFL
2016 Stats: 12 Games | 33 Solo Tackles | 61 Total | 1.5 TFL
2017 Stats: 13 Games | 56 Solo Tackles | 116 Total | 11.5 TFL | 3.0 Sacks | 1 FR | 1 FF
2018 Stats: 11 Games | 57 Solo Tackles | 99 Total | 9.0 TFL | 3.5 Sacks | 1 Int | 3 PD | 1 FR
Current Draft Projection: First Round
Some notes from his team profile here:
HONORS AND AWARDS Butkus Award Watch List (2018), Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watch List (2018), Bednarik Award Watch List (2018), USA Today All-Bowl Team (2017), Notre Dame Impact Player Award (2017), Bednarik Defensive Player of the Week (Oct. 21, 2018 vs. USC)
A four-star linebacker out of Florida in 2015, Coney chose Notre Dame over a gauntlet of schools known for producing pro talent, and based his choice in part due to scheme fit. He would go on to have a fruitful and productive career, putting him as one of the top ranked linebackers in the upcoming draft and the highest ranked senior.
Though not a large linebacker at (generously listed) 6-foot-1 and 240, Coney appears to have very long arms and uses that length well to keep blockers from getting inside his frame. He’s functionally strong and when used in conjunction with his length, he’s able to disengage from blockers quickly. He’s got a set of powerful hands as a tackler and maintains good technique, rarely losing a runner once he has his mitts on him. Coney is assignment sound, keeps to his gaps and zones, doesn’t go rogue and bail if the quarterback is flushed from the pocket unless his zone is empty. His football IQ is very high, and he takes nearly perfect angles to the ball carrier in pursuit while almost always taking the correct gap in the run game.
Athletic ability is not a strength. Though billed as a top athlete coming out of Palm Beach, he doesn’t appear to have the level of explosiveness and speed we’ve come to expect from top linebacker prospects in recent years. Watching linebackers in succession as I do, I watched Coney after seeing Devin White, Devin Bush, and Mack Wilson and there is a very clear and steep drop-off in those important athletic traits from those three to Te’Von Coney. Balance and lateral ability are alright, so he may end up around average, but it’s something to watch. This tends to show up as a pass rusher and on designed rollouts or stretch plays where the linebackers are running longer distances.
Position Specific Traits
This is a huge area of strength for Te’Von Coney and one of the biggest reasons the Lions should consider him as a prospect. Coney seems to understand gaps and assignments well and does a very good job of maintaining his responsibilities in that area, both inside and on the edge.
There’s no concern of missed tackles for me. Coney has long arms and strong hands, latching on like a magnet and as tough to shake as one. The only times I saw tackle attempts without wrapping up was on the sideline when he’s trying to knock runners out of bounds rather than taking them down (and for those uninitiated, that’s what you’re supposed to do).
This area is a bit concerning. Without much speed to speak of, Coney struggles when he’s covering in-breaking routes where he has to cover long distances and lacks the explosiveness to deal with out breaking routes well.
Oddly, Coney seems to do better in this area despite not being very explosive. He seems to read both quarterback and receiver well and understands passing lanes, though he’s sometimes too reactionary, highlighting his lack of explosiveness. He also hands off receivers to other defenders in coverage at roughly the correct times, showing, at the very least, an understanding of the concepts needed to succeed at a pro level.
As much as I like Te'Von Coney, this is my best guess for how numbers turn out. Not based on my projection model, just a stab at it. Would end up with a below average #ProjectedRAS, and while I think he might split explosiveness and agi drills I don't think either are strengths. pic.twitter.com/KDmMRIn1U3— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) November 22, 2018
As I’ve mentioned several times, this is an area of concern. I don’t see the quick twitch athleticism you want from a linebacker who’s going to be chasing down the Tarik Cohens of the NFL. Seeing a gap and knowing which one to be in, as well as being able to shed your blocker to switch gaps or cover more than one are important traits, but not being able to reliably explode through those gaps can limit a linebacker to more of a part-time role since upside is limited. Both of these traits, explosiveness and speed, can cause problems in coverage.
I love Te’Von Coney. He’s one of my favorite players in the draft so far and a guy I would love to have on my football team. I think he has a future in the NFL and is a guy that I’d be willing to take a gamble on despite not meeting my normal, mathematical/analytical benchmarks. That’s where the issue comes in for me, though. My hit rate when going against my numbers has been exceedingly low, even lower than the actual hit rate of lower-rated athletes in general. I don’t gamble with poor athletes often, and while tape is always supremely important, it comes down to value when talking about where to take a player and how much you’re willing to bet that they’re an exception. For my money, I like Coney a lot and would love to draft him, but I’m not willing to invest a high draft pick on a linebacker in a strong class.
Though he’s projected in the first round, I wouldn’t take Coney until, at best, the third round, maybe the fourth. The NFL Combine is going to be incredibly important for him, more so than it is for the other linebackers in this class, and if Coney has a good day there, he is going to immediately jump in my rankings. Sometimes being wrong can be exciting, and if I’m wrong about his athletic limitations then sign me up for the Te’Von Coney LB1 debate!