George Uko has been a versatile player for the USC defense, playing both defensive end and defensive tackle. He has a great amount of speed and quickness along with length that has allowed him to make plays and cause problems for opponents. Uko did not finish his career on the best note as he was ejected in the final game of his career as USC pummeled Fresno State in their bowl game before declaring. While Uko has an intriguing amount of potential, he really never put it all together at USC, so the decision to leave does come with questions.
Uko’s physical ability and overall build make him an intriguing prospect for the NFL, but he is somewhat of a tweener as well. He has been moved around in his career at USC, though he seemed to be the best fit as a 3-technique defensive tackle, but only as a pass rusher. Uko has trouble holding up against the run and gets driven off of the ball, which is an area he will have to improve. Nevertheless, Uko could be an attractive prospect because he can play in a number of different spots on a defense. Overall, Uko looks like an early third day pick, but the more interesting aspect will be what scheme and position a team wants to use him.
Vitals & Build
Uko measured 6’3” 284lbs at the scouting combine with 33 ¼” arms. He shows impressive burst and speed that can catch people by surprise. Uko has quickness and good body control. His power needs to improve and while he can demonstrate some good functional strength when he can create momentum, he can also be overpowered far too easily at times. His motor can run hot and cold depending on how much gas is left in the tank. When it is running hot, he is extremely active, but there are times when he will shut it down when he thinks he is not in a play. Uko has an intriguing amount of upside because he appears to have a ton of room on his frame to continue adding strength and bulk, which he needs and if he can do it, he could add another dimension to what he does and really become a terrific, full service player and athlete.
Snap Anticipation & First Step
This is an area where Uko can really excel. He has shown a number of examples where he beats the man in front of him off of the ball and is already able to be in the backfield before they can react. It seems to depend on how much energy he has at a given time, but he can really be on top of the snap count at times.
His first step is inconsistent. How much speed and distance he is able to create is always good, but his pad level and how tall he comes off of the snap can vary. There are times when he is able to fire out really low, hit opponents with a rising blow and dictate the action from there, but he also has too many situations where he comes off of the ball too tall and the opponent is not only able to get into his body, but starting driving him down the field. Until Uko can improve his strength a good amount, his pad level is critical for him to be successful.
Much of what Uko does is by being able to play half the man and continue to work through and ultimately off of the blocks, but he has shown the ability to beat blockers head on as well. Uko tends to use a push pull move and will occasionally just use a violent move with his hands to throw opponents out of the way. The issue that comes up for Uko is that he tends to take too long to get off of blocks. His speed and quickness can help make up some ground, but if he can shed quicker, he can make more plays.
Uko’s ability to stop the run comes largely on his ability to penetrate quickly and either make the tackle himself or force the ball carrier to work around him. He also has a ton of speed to work down the line and range, so he can track down plays going out wide and from the other side of the line.
When it comes to holding up in his gap, Uko tends to struggle, especially when he plays inside. Particularly when he exposes his chest, he cannot hold up and there are far too many examples where he is driven down the field like a blocking sled. Uko opts to stay on his feet and keep fighting, but in many of these situations, he may be better off making a pile and trying to stop the damage.
At this point, Uko is really going to struggle playing on run downs at defensive tackle and if he is going to play on run downs, it is going to need to be outside at end, but it is imperative that he continues to get stronger and work to get stouter at the point of attack.
Uko’s speed and quickness, especially from the inside, allows him to get into the backfield and pressure the quarterback early and often. He is able to work half the man and with his ability to get off of the snap, he can put opponents at an immediate disadvantage. Uko’s closing speed is impressive and he is able to chase down quarterbacks who are mobile or can make a quick move to make an opponent miss.
Uko certainly can help a team as a pass rusher from the defensive end spot, but in obvious passing situations, he is really problematic for interior linemen and gave the Trojans versatility and options in how they wanted to attack the pass, having a ton of speed in their front four as a result. He can show quick hand use and when he is able to create momentum, he shows some pop, but as he is able to add more strength and additional technique, he should be continue to improve.
Uko’s combination of athleticism and skill makes him an interesting player. He could be a player that is a base end in the 4-3 and then slides inside to rush the passer. If he can add the necessary bulk, he could potentially stay as a base end or move inside to be a full time 3-technique tackle. Some teams may only want him to play as a 3-tech, in which case he would initially be a role player that comes in for sub package situations.
Uko could also be a nice fit in a 1-gap 3-4 scheme as a 5-technique end. Again, he could kick inside to rush the passer. 2-gap 3-4 teams could look at Uko as an end, because he does have the length to do the job as well as the speed to keep opponents honest, but he would be a bit of a project as he has to get stouter to hold up against double teams. At this point, in a 2-gap scheme, he would be more utilized in terms of depth and a sub package rusher.
Depending on what team takes him, Uko could be someone that makes an early impact or be more of a specialist with long term potential to be a full service player. In either situation, his long term potential is intriguing.
In some respects, Uko is similar to Pernell McPhee of the Baltimore Ravens. Coming out of Mississippi State, McPhee had some of the same traits but had not really found a true home in terms of a position, playing in their hybrid scheme. McPhee ended up being drafted in the fifth round and has been a nice role player with the Ravens, able to play in a few different spots. Uko could have a similar path to success in the NFL.
George Uko is a great athlete in terms of what he can do, but he needs to get stronger and stouter to be a full service player in the NFL. His burst and length have allowed him to find success at a pass rusher, but he needs to keep developing. Uko is asking an NFL team to pay a little bit of the freight, but his long term potential and ability to possibly play a few different spots make him an intriguing prospect. As a result, Uko looks like a relatively early day three prospect that has some star potential if he can develop over a few years.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com