So the Karl Joseph profile I wrote last week got some decent feedback on the interwebs, but as nobody provided any recommendations about who to profile next, I’m going to stick with what I know and look at West Virginia linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski. Nick will be graded on Size, Athleticism, Positional Skills, and Intangibles, same as last time. Comment or tweet @jordanpintoUWF or @WeAreTheUN to recommend a player for the final profile before the Draft. Let’s roll.
Nick Kwiatkoski is a linebacker prospect from West Virginia University. He’s been a 3-year starter in the second level of the West Virginia defense, playing one season at each of the 3 linebacker spots. He spent his senior year on the strong side, earning 1st Team All-Big 12 honors with 86 tackles (11 TFL), 4 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 7 pass breakups.
Kwiatkoski showed up to the combine at 6’2 243, which is probably about 10 pounds heavier than he played at last year. I’m guessing the extra poundage was added to help alleviate the concerns of some scouts that think Kwiat will have a bit of trouble holding up at the point of attack in the NFL. Seems like a sound strategy to me, but for the record I thought you were fine just the way you were, Nick.
I know I’m only grading him at a B, but this is an area of Nick’s game where he might sneak up on some people. Though he’s now about 6’2 240, Kwiatkoski was recruited out of high school as a wide receiver/safety and still displays the agility and speed necessary to succeed at those positions. I’m not a huge fan of judging a player based on measurables alone, but look at some of his combine numbers: 4.22 20-yard shuttle (5th among linebackers), 7.16 3 cone drill (11th among linebackers), 10′ broad jump (9th), 4.73 40. Taken individually maybe only the 20 yard shuttle will make you raise your eyebrows, but taken together they paint the picture of a solid athlete with good quickness and burst. This confirms what my eyes have told me over the last several years.
Passing Game: B
Another area where Nick is sneaky good. A lot of people might see a white linebacker and just assume he’s out there to crack skulls and clog up running lanes, but Kwiatkoski actually makes a surprising number of plays in the passing game. He shows good play recognition and has a knack for getting into passing lanes in zone coverage, which tells me that he reads the hell out of the quarterbacks eyes.
He’s also surprisingly good in space, which is crucial for limiting that dreaded YAC.
Overall, he’s definitely more effective in zone coverage than in man, but has a good enough understanding of what opponents are trying to do to him in either scheme that he’s usually able to overcome any gaps in athletic ability.
Running Game: B
Nick can be a mixed bag against the run, though he definitely brings more to the table than he takes off of it. He has the athleticism to make plays sideline to sideline, reacts well at the snap, and navigates well through traffic, but can occasionally get stuck on blockers.
One thing that’s not a mixed bag is his tackling. Whether or not he gets guys squared up, he has a knack for getting them on the ground:
And for fun, here’s one where he definitely gets the guy squared up:
In general, Kwiatkoski has a great nose for the ball and will make the tackle if the opportunity presents itself.
A 3-year starter and senior captain alongside Karl Joseph, and, like Joseph, somebody you never hear about off the field. Kwiatkoski led the team in tackles all 3 years that he started, despite playing a different linebacker position each season. This speaks to his defensive instincts and motor. This is a guy who was recruited as a wide receiver/safety out of high school, redshirted as a freshman, and then worked his way into a 1st Team All-Conference linebacker by his senior season. He understands that you have to make sacrifices to get where you want to go, and that’s why I think he’s a lock to make somebody’s 53-man roster this fall.
Just as a refresher, here’s the grading scale that I’m using:
The overall grade is simply an average of the 5 sections. Kwiatkoski had an A+, a B+, and 3 B’s for a total of 19.8 and an average of 3.96. That’s a pretty solid B+ rating, and is a fair representation of how I feel about him as a prospect. I might be a little higher on him than most of the scouts out there, but I don’t think it’s cuz I’m wearing the gold and blue glasses. On the surface Nick is your classic high production white guy, but I think his sneaky athleticism, high football IQ, and versatility point to more potential than most scouts are giving him credit for. He might never be a Pro Bowler, but he could absolutely grow into and lock down a starting linebacker spot for somebody over the next few years.
Where should he get drafted?
Most of the projections that I’m seeing are saying anywhere from the 4th to 7th round, and I think that feels fair. Kwiat is probably going to make a team and his name as a special teams player early on, and unless you feel realllllllly good about the rest of your roster you don’t want to take a special teams guy any higher than that. However, he was in on too many plays to take off the field in college, and once the NFL game slows down for him I think that could be the case there too. It’s possible that some team out there feels the same way, falls in love with him, and picks him 2 rounds higher than everyone else thinks they should.
Right now I think Nick’s best fit is probably as a weak-side backer in a 4-3. However, if he continues to get stronger I could see him moving over to the middle in either a 4-3 or 3-4. The kind of versatility he displayed in college isn’t easy to come by, and even if it doesn’t pay dividends right away it will serve him well over what I think will be a nice, long NFL career.