Gifted with supreme physical tools, 2nd-year linebacker can become a force to be reckoned with
Divine Deablo is an Al Davis-type throwback. A chiseled 6-foot-3, 226 pounds and 4.42 speed, the college safety-turned-linebacker immediately turns heads. To say the late, great Raiders owner would’ve loved Deablo is an understatement.
Not only does the Virginia Tech-product checks all the boxes on Davis’ requisites with his size and speed, but Deablo is also a student of the game and showcased his ability to learn, capitalize, and produce on the field.
Davis would’ve been enamored with Deablo from the jump and perhaps would’ve have taken him much earlier than the third round (80th overall) if the legendary Raiders owner would’ve been alive to make the picks in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Nonetheless, Deablo is a blossoming piece of the Las Vegas Raiders. His physical tools and mental makeup allows the second-year linebacker to bring things to the table that no other LB on the roster can.
“Yeah, a guy that has a lot of talent. Obviously transitioning from that safety position to linebacker. But there’s a lot of physical traits there that I can’t coach, I can’t give them,” said Raiders linebacker coach Antonio Pierce when asked of his impressions of Deablo during a post mandatory camp session press conference. “The mental aspect is where we’re working on and he’s doing a great job of that. What you see is a guy that’s real eager and happy, loves being around the building, loves being in the building, loves ball. I think those are all traits that you want from a linebacker, especially a young guy.”
Size, speed, smarts — Deablo has them in spades. And as Pierce noted, Deablo has the strong willingness to learn and absorb every nuance to become a better player. He displayed this during his rookie season. Case in point, the transition from an ACC safety to an NFL linebacker is no simple task. But not only did Deablo do it, his advanced progressed made him hard to keep off the field.
Originally thought of as a project that would carve out a niche on special teams as he developed, Deablo had the looks of a “redshirt” rookie who would use Year 1 ironing out all the kinks. Yes, Deablo played plenty on special teams (254 snaps or 53 percent of the total Raiders special teams snaps), but he took to the defensive teaching seamlessly. This allowed him to earn more defensive snaps in practice and, when he got snaps on defense in game, the 23-year-old proved capable at the point of attack and defending the run — something that was a concern when the Raiders transitioned him from safety to linebacker.
Couple all that with the speed and size, from Week 12 on, Deablo was a regular on the Raiders defense. From that point on, he played 274 snaps on defense as an outside linebacker and racked up 41 total tackles (26 solo stops and 15 combined stops) with one pass deflection and a fumble recovery. Deablo appeared in 12 games total this past season and drew five starts — all at the tail end the year. He also started in the Raiders AFC Wild Card playoff round loss to the Bengals collecting 8 total tackles in 29 defensive snaps before being lost to a concussion in that game.
Deablo’s solid progress and development in 2021 makes him a candidate to start in 2022 under the new staff comprising of Pierce and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. He offers the Silver & Black new defensive staff a versatile and willing defender who can continue to hone his ability to defend the run and cover the pass. And Deablo’s height, weight, and speed is ideal for today’s pass-happy NFL offense’s that stretch defense’s in every which way possible (vertical and horizontal).
In turn, Graham and Co. should look at deploying Deablo in every which way possible as run stopper, cover man and even pass rusher at his linebacker spot to maximize output and put him in the best possible chance to succeed.
Add in the increased competition at the linebacker position coming from free-agent addition Jayon Brown (a once highly-regarded cover linebacker himself) and the push to earn snaps and a starting spot will be good for not only Deablo, but the entire unit. (I’ll have more on Brown in a separate piece.)
Pierce noted the trio of middle linebacker Denzel Perryman, Deablo and Brown have been vocal follow-our-lead types during camp and OTAs and that’s an excellent sign the linebackers are taking ownership of the defense.
There’s plenty to be ironed out as in July when the Raiders embark on training camp. Will the trio of Perryman, Deablo and Brown be the starters in the base alignment? Who will be the two linebackers on the field when Vegas is in the nickel alignment? Or will they use three or more in the sub package — that nowadays is the “base” formation?
Count on Deablo being right in the thick of things and earning his spot. He may not lead the Raiders in tackle this coming season — that trait likely belongs to Perryman who’s a tackling machine — but he can impact the game just as much. He has all the physical gifts you could want and the work ethic to continuously improve. He’s got the makings of a matchup-type defender and the blistering speed to be an impact linebacker. Once his instincts take over and things become second nature to Deablo, his freakish speed will truly shine for the Raiders defense.
Not even wearing the red non-contact jersey in the Raiders previous camp and OTAs excursions will dampen Deablo’s spirit and ability to contribute — even though Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels didn’t divulge exactly what resulted in the linebacker wearing the jersey.
“Yep. We’re just trying to be smart,” McDaniels began if when asked if there was something limiting Deablo. “There are some guys that are obviously dealing with little things here and there and we just try to make sure we’re smart with those guys, especially if there’s something they can get some value in being out there, but we also don’t want anybody to accidentally do something that they shouldn’t do. I think we’re doing a really good job of staying off the ground and there’s no piles, no collisions. We’re doing all of that stuff right. It’s just if they’re in a red jersey, whether it’s a quarterback or someone else, it just alerts the rest of the players that he can work, he can get a lot of reps here. He can get value in what he’s doing, but it’s not a physical part of the thing for him. It will be the same thing when we have pads on. If we have pads on, they got those kind of jerseys on, it will be the same thing. Everybody treats them with respect and make sure that the health of the players comes first.”