Zaviar Gooden #25, ILB, Missouri
Weight: 233 lbs.
- Physical freak. Great closing speed, agility, and overall athleticism.
- Reads his keys very well and doesn’t get sucked into play-action.
- Good feet and hips in coverage.
- Can handle athletic TEs man to man.
- Generally a sound tackler.
- Adequate strength to stack and shed on tight ends.
- Sometimes comes in too high when taking on lead blockers in the hole.
- Smaller size causes struggles against the run when being blocked by offensive linemen, especially pulling guards.
- Generally has a smooth back pedal, but he sometimes pedals on his heels and compromises his balance and ability to immediately close on underneath routes.
- Tends to immediately turn his hips off the snap when taking a receiver man to man without safety help out of fear of getting beat deep, and often times receivers would cut back underneath him and take free yardage.
- Needs to work on angles in all phases of the game whether it be pursuit, engaging run blockers, or covering receivers.
Zaviar Gooden will undoubtedly be one of the biggest stories to come out of the 2013 NFL Combine. His athleticism is already well known, and I think he has a good shot at running a sub 4.5 forty yard dash. With such physical gifts at his disposal, a lot of NFL coaching staffs will be looking to mold him into something special. For now, however, Gooden is a fairly scheme specific prospect.
One of Gooden’s biggest strengths is his great coverage ability, especially when matched up man to man on a receiver. He is fast enough to cover athletic tight ends down field, and shifty enough to handle agile backs underneath (00:01, 1:36, 2:22, 6:28, 6:34, 6:53, 8:02 vs. Tennessee - 1:02 vs. South Carolina). When dropping into zone his impressive closing speed helps to limit yards after catch, and his tackling ability is reliable enough to bring down elusive runners in the open field. Something I really like about Gooden’s game is that he reads play-action very well. He keys on tight ends and running backs well and uses his athleticism to jump all over crossing routes and leaks into the flats (1:11, 2:02, 5:07, 5:58 vs. Tennessee - 00:01, 5:49 vs. Alabama - 00:12 vs. South Carolina).
While Gooden’s coverage ability is far above average, he does have some bad habits that need to be fixed. His pedal is smooth for the most part, but he sometimes put his weight on his heels and compromised his ability to hold up against downfield contact (00:36, 1:27, 8:30 vs. Tennessee). He needs to put his weight on the balls of his feet to keep power in his base and help control his momentum when changing directions suddenly. It’s easily fixable, but it has to be pointed out. When in man coverage with no safety help over the top, Gooden has a tendency to get spooked into flipping and running immediately down field out of fear of being beat on a fly route rather than pedaling and reading the route while the receiver eats up space (3:24, 7:11, 8:11 vs. Tennessee). He gave up too many yards on underneath routes by flipping early, so instilling more discipline into his coverage technique should be high on the priority list of his future NFL coaches.
Gooden’s main weakness is against the run, specifically power schemes. While his athleticism shined when scraping over or sifting through the wash to make a tackle (1:04, 1:24, 1:55, 2:06 vs. Georgia - 00:56 vs. Tennessee), he struggled with generating enough power to stone lead blockers in the hole, and pulling guards regularly blew him off the ball by several yards (00:53 vs. Georgia - 4:00, 5:49, vs. Tennessee - 00:23, 2:45, 5:30, 6:40 vs. Alabama). He certainly tried hard to stack and shed at every opportunity (and did well versus tight ends), but he just simply isn’t big or strong enough to hold up against offensive linemen that have four inches and 90 pounds on him. Gooden also has a lot of work to do on understanding angles of pursuit and engagement (00:11 vs Georgia - 7:30 vs Tennesee - 00:52 1:45, 5:54 vs Alabama - 2:14 vs South Carolina). He had a bad habit of engaging a center line of a run blocker with his lead shoulder, essentially opening the door for said blocker to toss him out of the play before he can square up and shed the block .
Overall, Gooden is an unfinished product. He has the athleticism to be a great Will linebacker in a 4-3 or a Mo linebacker in a 3-4, but considering his skillset is more coverage-based, I believe he could be used in a hybrid safety/linebacker type of role player that specifically handles notorious mismatches like Vernon Davis, Aaron Hernandez, and C.J. Spiller or as a spy for mobile quarterbacks like Cam Newton and RG3. Whatever team drafts Gooden has to be prepared to face a lot of counter runs in his direction, but if paired with good Mike and Sam backers who can flow to the ball against the ground game, he can become a very useful boost to any unit’s pass defense. I look forward to reviewing his tape from the Senior Bowl to see how he has developed.