In college football, where there can be such drastic changes in offensive philosophies from opponent to opponent in a season, some tweeners and hybrid players have developed into outstanding defensive weapons. One of these players is Dion Bailey from USC. Bailey has played linebacker as well as safety and in his junior season, he played a hybrid of the two quite a bit.
His versatility made him valuable for when opponents tried to spread USC’s defense out while having the ability to slide inside and play against the run. The combination of athleticism, understanding of the position and a knack for making plays made him an extremely valuable component to the Trojan defense, which powered USC to a late season surge.
Projecting toward the NFL, Bailey has an intriguing skillset that makes him viable at a few different spots depending on the situations, but with some questions still to be answered. Bailey excels playing in the box and is most comfortable when he is able to run with opponents in coverage and able to play underneath. He has shown an impressive amount of closing speed and great hands to make plays and is a threat to cause turnovers. The questions Bailey faces are how well he can play on the back end, his relative lack of experience playing over the top and in zone. He has rarely been put in a position where he was the last line of defense. Bailey’s unique skillset and viability to play on every down as well as on special teams makes it so he warrants a top 100 pick, but a team could end up taking him in the second round due to his unique ability to contribute in basically every situation in the right scheme.
Vitals & Build
Bailey is listed at 6’ 200lbs but seems to play a little bit bigger than his size. He has adequate but not overwhelming strength. His agility, fluidity and body control is impressive and his speed is good for the position. Bailey has the frame to continue adding strength without losing any athletic ability but depending on where he ends up going as well as where they have him playing, how big he decides to get could be dramatically different.
Bailey is pretty good at consistently wrapping up on contact. The notable exception is when he thinks he is sort of pile jumping or finishing a play when he will go with a shoulder. He has shown he can do a nice job of breaking down and he has the lateral ability to slide and react to opponents to keep them in front of him. Bailey does need to do a better job of driving his legs on contact so he can show a little more pop, but he gets the job done and is pretty reliable. He can continue to get stronger and get better with using power, but especially if he is put on the back line, he should be good about not giving up the big play.
Bailey is active and will help against the run. On obvious running downs, he is far better suited to play as a safety than a linebacker, but he is comfortable in the box. He has the athleticism and speed to cover a lot of ground.
Bailey’s vision and ability to read and see the field can vary quite a bit from play to play. At times, he seems to have a great feel for where things are going, sees how the play is developing and is able to react accordingly. There are also a number of examples where he is late or completely lost on where the play is going.
His angles can improve and part of that is how he tends to try to take wide angles to try to avoid blocks. At times, this has Bailey take himself out of the play entirely or create a running lane behind him.
The fact that he does show the potential to be able to read and react at the second level should make it so if he does move back a level, he should be able to really excel in his ability to see the field and react quickly; being accustomed to having to do it so fast at the linebacker level should make it far easier to do it on the back end.
Bailey is most commonly used in man coverage. He has experience playing against tight ends, running backs and wide receivers in the slot. Bailey has shown he can be effective against all three, but he is at his best when he is able to play underneath. He has fluid hips and the ability to plant and react with opponents, but especially with tight ends, he is a playmaker when he is playing like a linebacker and has help over the top. Bailey’s burst and recovery speed is impressive and has caught several opponents by surprise thinking he was out of range to make a play only to be intercepted.
Bailey has some experience in zone, but he is still at the second level. He gets to his drops quickly and can backpedal to his spots well. Bailey has the quickness and burst to break on the ball well but he is not as comfortable as he is in man.
The question for Bailey is, in the event, he is playing on the back end, how well can he play in zone and play over the top. It is not something he has really been asked to do. His athleticism suggests he should be able to do a solid job in that respect, but there is little evidence actually showing it.
Bailey has good ball skills and is really comfortable catching the ball with his hands. He makes it look easy for the most part. Not only does he catch the ball well, he does a nice job of putting his body in position to where he can shield the opponent out and makes it so he is the only one who can make a play on the football.
Bailey punishes opponents who are not careful with throwing the ball around him. His athleticism also makes it so he can be a threat after he secures the interception.
Bailey’s size and athletic ability make him ideal for coverage units on special teams. For both kickoff and punt, he should able to excel on both units early.
The best fit for Bailey is with a team that plays a ton of man coverage and wants an in the box safety on running downs. He can become a tremendous option as a nickel linebacker on passing downs, but has to work to make sure he is not exposing the defense to runs there.
Bailey has the skills to play on the back end, but he has to actually show it. Nothing about his athleticism limits him to playing in the box. That just happens to be where he has played virtually his entire college career.
Bailey should also be a valuable asset on special teams. He could start his career as a nickel and sub package player as well as a weapon on special teams, but he certainly has the potential to start once he gets comfortable and has the upside to end up as a player that basically never leaves the field.
Bailey’s skillset could make him comparable to Aaron Williams of the Buffalo Bills. Williams was a former corner out of Texas that the Bills moved to strong safety, but has the man cover skills that give him an added dimension on the back end. Bailey is coming from a different spot likely to the strong safety position, but also has an added element in his ability to play man coverage that could make him a good option.
Dion Bailey has been a big cog in the USC defense and his breeding and development makes him an intriguing player for the NFL. He could be a strong safety on running downs and then switch to a nickel coverage spot or linebacker to give a team an added element of athleticism as well as cater to Bailey’s ability to play underneath. There are questions that remain to be answered as to how well he can transition to the back end, but he demonstrates the skills needed to do it and just has to show it. Bailey projects as a top 100 pick based on just how much he can potentially do for a team, but it is not out of the question a team could take him at the end of the second round with the thought process that he will never leave the field.
Some of the film used for this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com