Every year there are a few players who make you stop and just imagine. They are incredible athletes who are adjusting to a new position and need serious work. This year it is Missouri Tigers outside linebacker Zaviar Gooden. Gooden stepped up in his senior season for the Tigers and really started to look like a real difference maker. He can do everything you could ask from a linebacker, and still hasn’t reached his potential. While he was inconsistent, his flashes and potential were on display at his Pro Day where he put his skills on display for everyone to see.
6′ 1″ 233 lbs.
When you watch Zaviar Gooden the one thing that jumps out at you is how much of a freak he is. Rarely do you find players at his position that have the speed to cover receivers and tight ends. Gooden uses his speed in multiple ways as a pass rusher, run stuffer and cover man. Many times this season coaches would bring him down to the line and have him blitz off the edge as a stand up rusher. He also can play man coverage against athletic tight ends or receivers in the slot.
When coming up against the ball carrier in the open field, Gooden has shown a nice ability to wrap up and bring his guy down. He didn’t miss many tackles this season, showing improved form and instincts. For such an inexperienced player at linebacker, he has good vision for reading the play and reacting quickly.
Gooden stepped up as a leader this past season for the Tigers defense as well. He helped get his teammates in position, and was a role model for his younger teammates.
While Gooden has the athleticism and instincts to be a very capable linebacker, he looks like a different player on a weekly basis. He was nonexistent against Alabama and Georgia. Often getting handled by the offensive line and being taken away from the play. Then just a few weeks later against Syracuse, you couldn’t keep him away from the ball carrier. Gooden finished with 15 tackles and looked like a top draft pick. You see flashes of a player who could start at the next level, but you also will find instances where he looks like an athlete trying to play football.
I don’t doubt Gooden has the speed to cover tight ends at the next level, but when he is in coverage I have my doubts. He still gets caught looking and leaves his man open for just enough time to catch the ball. He is a former safety, but still hasn’t fully grasped coverage and the little things that make a great cover linebacker. The tools are there to be successful, but he still needs to put in a lot of work to get there.
Gooden also tends to over-pursue when coming up to stop the run. He will shoot inside a gap only to have the running back split past him for a big play. While he has the speed to get up to the line quickly, he needs to improve in picking the right hole and getting their at the right time.
When you watch Zaviar Gooden you see glimpses of a great linebacker, then are driven crazy when the next time you watch him you think you are watching a totally different player. Because of his inconsistencies and his new transition to linebacker, he likely won’t hear his name called until at least the 3rd Round. His potential is hard to ignore and NFL coaches will fall in love with his athleticism. I think he should hear his name called early in the 4th Round and provide solid contribution as a rookie as a situational player until he develops.