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Everything you need to know about Titans sixth-round pick David Long Jr.

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A comprehensive look at the Titans’ aggressive new inside linebacker

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NCAA Football: Oklahoma State at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Returning after a brief delay, this article is the sixth and final in a series of articles breaking down the Titans 2019 draft class. You can check out our breakdowns of the rest of the picks using the links provided below:


“Value” was the story of the Titans’ 2019 draft haul, and sixth-round pick David Long Jr. out of West Virginia at No. 188 was no exception. Here’s a sampling of Long’s draft grades from various analysts around the web:

According to Long’s NFL.com draft profile, one NFC executive said:

“Personally, I would rather have David Long over Devin Bush for a round or two discount. They have about the same size but Long is more productive and maybe less prone to injury.”

Background

The son of heavy-weight boxer David Long, David Long Jr. grew up just north of Cincinnati, Ohio. One of twelve children, Long played high school ball at Winton Woods, where he was an honorable mention All-Ohio Division II pick his senior season before heading to West Virginia.

Mitch Vingle of the Charleston Gazette-Mail spoke with Andre Parker, Long’s high school football coach:

“I knew when he was in the eighth grade he was special,” said Long’s high school coach, Andre Parker. “He had a maturity about him. He was a relentless worker. And he made sacrifices. So many kids in this day and age hit adversity and don’t know how to deal with it. He did.”

According to Parker, Long’s parents are divorced and travel back and forth to Winton Woods High in Cincinnati, where the player attended, was a 30- to 45-minute drive.

A three-star recruit, Long received offers from Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisville, Missouri and Marshall, in addition to WVU.

As Bruce Feldman details in this excellent piece for The Athletic (which I can’t recommend highly enough), Long immediately began to grab the attention of the West Virginia coaching staff upon his arrival on campus. From Feldman’s piece:

In the middle of the 2015 season, Dana Holgorsen realized he had a problem. It was a good problem, but as an offensive guy, it was still a problem. His first-team offense couldn’t block a short linebacker they were redshirting at West Virginia who had proven to be unblockable.

“I was like, ‘God-damn. Can we block the middle linebacker?!? His pad level is this high!’” Holgorsen told The Athletic while motioning to about mid-thigh level. “He goes underneath people. He gets skinny and goes around people. I know we’re good at linebacker, but we can not block this guy. Put him on kickoffs. Cover punts.”

Defensive Coordinator Tony Gibson had this to say (via Alex Hickey/WV MetroNews):

“That’s a hard job to play off David, because he does so many things. I give him the freedom to do that, because he can make a play so it’s less hard on the Mike... I haven’t been around a lot of guys like him who have a nose for the ball like he has... David, doing the things he can do, I wish I could tell you that it was me coaching. But it’s not, trust me. The best coaching advice I can give him is, ‘Go make a play.’”

Added head coach Dana Holgorsen:

“He’s a straight running badass. He’s the toughest one I’ve ever had at WVU. There’s not one dude on our whole team that would mess with him. He’s tough and backs it up with his play.”

Despite his status as one of the best players on a good defense, Long’s smaller stature and pre-combine ankle injury caused him to drop to the Titans in the sixth round.

The Stats

The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, David Long Jr. was one of the most productive players in the country last season, leading West Virginia in total tackles (111), tackles for loss (19), and even sacks (8).

Although he’s noted on the West Virginia athletics website as having started at Will linebacker throughout his final two seasons, Long actually moved back and forth in their base 3-3-5 defense, and he was especially effective as a gap-shooting run defender.

Just take a look at his career stats, particularly the tackles for loss he piled up in 2017 and 2018; Long’s 2017 season is 5th on West Virginia’s all-time single-season tackles-for-loss list, while his 2018 season is tied for 1st.

David Long Career Stats

Year School Conf Class Pos G Solo Tackles Ast Total Tackles TFL Sk PD FR FF
Year School Conf Class Pos G Solo Tackles Ast Total Tackles TFL Sk PD FR FF
2016 WVU Big 12 R-Fr WLB 13 37 28 65 4.5 2 0 0 1
2017 WVU Big 12 R-So WLB 9 56 20 76 16.5 4 6 1 0
2018 WVU Big 12 R-Jr WLB 12 76 35 111 19 8 4 1 1
Total WVU Big 12 -- WLB 34 169 83 252 40 14 10 2 2

Long’s 8 sacks last season was more than Titans’ 5th-round pick D’Andre Walker had, a defensive end.

According to Pro Football Focus’s 2019 Draft Guide, Long earned an 83.5 pass-rush grade across his 129 pass-rush snaps in 2018, ranking 10th among all off-ball linebackers with 50 or more pass-rush snaps. He also led all Big 12 draft-eligible linebackers in quarterback pressures.

As is typical with Jon Robinson draft picks, Long collected numerous awards and accolades for his play at West Virginia, including:

  • 2018 All-America Second-Team (AP, Walter Camp Football Foundation, Athlon Sports, Phil Steele and The Athletic)
  • 2018 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year (Coaches, AP)
  • 2018 All-Big 12 First Team (AP, Coaches, Phil Steele)
  • 2018 Butkus Award semifinalist
  • 2017 All-American Second Team (ProFootballFocus)
  • 2017 All-Big 12 First Team (ESPN.com)
  • 2017 All-Big 12 Second Team (Athlon Sports)
  • 2017 All-Big 12 Honorable Mention (Coaches)
  • 2017 WVU Defensive Player of the Year

And in a 2017 game against Oklahoma State, Long set West Virginia’s single-game record with seven tackles for loss, still the second-most ever in a game in NCAA history.

The Measurables

As you can see from his mockdraftable.com Spider Graph, David Long is quite undersized for a run-stuffing linebacker at just 5-11 and 227 pounds.

A sprained ankle suffered during the Senior Bowl game prevented Long from running any drills at the combine or West Virginia’s Pro Day, which may have been a factor in his fall to the sixth round of the draft.

Although undersized, Long didn’t suffer too many injuries during his college career. He had the sprained ankle this January and a 2017 preseason knee injury that caused him to miss the first four games of that season, the only missed action of his college career.

He shows off explosive quickness on tape, so despite not giving us any athletic testing numbers to work with, we can get an idea of the kind of athlete that David Long is by watching his film. So let’s get to it.

The Film

It’s impossible to watch a West Virginia game and not notice David Long exploding into the backfield like a lightning bolt on nearly every play.

He’s a ferocious player who trusts his eyes and his instincts. A noted film junkie, it’s clear that Long is able to process and react to what the offense is doing quicker than anyone else on the field. The phrase “heat-seeking missile” gets thrown around a lot, but I don’t think there is a more apt term for David Long’s play style.

He consistently shoots into the backfield and meets the running back. In these three clips, you can see Long lining up on both the strong side and the weak side of the formation:

Three examples of Long knifing into the backfield to create negative plays.

Watch how quickly Long, coming from the weak side, identifies and fills the run lane before attacking the running backs legs and wrapping up the ankles:

Coming from the weak side, Long fills the lane and makes the tackle.

This is the type of play routinely made by Long at West Virginia. Read the offense, shoot the gap, and make the stop. It’s how he accumulated 35.5 tackles for loss in his last 21 games.

Here’s another example:

This time, Long fills the lane from the play side.

Long is relentless in pursuit of the ball. You can see his sideline-to-sideline speed evident when he locks onto ballcarriers and chases them down.

Here’s two examples, going to either side of the field:

Two clips of Long showcasing his sideline-to-sideline abilities.

Long shoots these gaps so quickly that yes, there are times where that instant assessment actually hinders his ability to make a stop.

Occasionally, because his pursuit is so aggressive, he’ll run himself completely out of the play, usually when he fills the wrong lane thinking he knows where the runner is headed. That’s what happens in the next two clips, where Long is crashing too hard to notice the ballcarriers change directions...

Two examples of Long misreading and filling the wrong lane.

On this play, Long wants to make the correct read, but the play action fake freezes him and draws him forward, moving him out of position to defend the slant route run right behind him...

The play-action fake fools David Long and results in a big play for the offense.

There are other times where Long does make the correct read, but because he is so aggressively flowing to the ball, he’ll sometimes fly right past the runner, like so:

Long tries to make this tackle in the backfield but is out of control.

However, when he is disciplined in his tackling technique, Long actually plays with extremely good leverage, somewhat offsetting the disadvantages of his smaller stature.

Take this play against Titans’ UDFA Alex Barnes for example. Barnes is a powerful runner who ran straight through many defenders in college. Here, Barnes is able to knock David Long back... at first. While Long can’t quite prevent the first down, it is impressive that Long reestablishes position and actually gains the leverage necessary to stop Barnes’ powerful push with virtually no help from his teammates...

Long stops Alex Barnes by getting low and driving with his legs.

In the above play, Long is able to recover because he gets low and uses great technique... It actually looks very similar to the types of drills you often see Mike Vrabel running with various players:

Vrabel working with D’Andre Walker. Video credit: Turron Davenport.

Obviously this clip with Vrabel is a little different, as Vrabel is trying to teach defenders how to control offensive linemen at the point of attack rather than tackle a ballcarrier. Still, the idea is the same: establish position that takes advantage of leverage to counter the weight of the opponent. With straight arms and a strong base, defenders who get lower than their opponent and explode upwards often win the battle for leverage.

Here’s another example of David Long tackling with great leverage to stop a runner near the goal line, this time lined up as the middle linebacker. He gets low and explodes into the player, using his legs to drive him back once he has position...

Here’s David Long trying to protect WVU’s 25-point lead by keeping Texas Tech’s running back out of the end zone.

David Long uses that leverage to shed blocks, even more similar to that clip above of Vrabel working with D’Andre Walker.

Watch in this next play how Long meets the guard at the point of attack:

Long uses good leverage to shed the block and make the tackle.

He gets lower than the linemen with his hands inside and explodes upward to shed the block and get in on the tackle.

Next is another play where Long is able to disengage from a much bigger, stronger player because he is playing with better leverage, getting lower than the blocker with his hands inside. He’s able to “snatch” his way past this offensive lineman and make the tackle:

This is a large man that Long is able to discard fairly easily.

In this next play, Long again shows his ability to evade blockers, this time by dipping his shoulder to avoid the contact while diving for the running back’s legs:

Oklahoma had arguably the best offensive line in all of college football in 2018.

The Mountaineers occasionally used Long on the edge. Here he is matched up against Dalton Risner (drafted by the Broncos in the 2nd round). Long works inside, again dipping his shoulder away from the offensive lineman, and manages to slip past the block to wrap up Barnes for a very short gain on 3rd down:

Dalton Risner was one of the highest-rated offensive linemen in this class. David Long beats him easily.

Next we see Long again on the edge, again playing with excellent leverage to defeat another block, this time using this push-pull snatch move. Long is able to get by the blocker to hit the running back in the backfield on 3rd down:

Long gets the best of the Vols tight end here on 3rd-and-4 to make a tackle-for-loss.

As you can see from the above plays, although he is undersized, David Long is a stout and physical run defender.

This is how West Virginia preferred to use Long: crashing down in run defense, using his quick processing and natural instincts to make plays around the line of scrimmage.

That downhill ability also translated well to pass rushing from the inside backer position.

Take this next play for example, where Long runs straight past the left guard. There is some miscommunication in the pass protection, but Long’s quickness and aggressiveness to shoot into the backfield and attack the quarterback’s arm as he winds up to throw highlight Long’s strengths as a blitzer...

Long is able to get to the quarterback and bat down the throw.

On this next play, the Mountaineers are blitzing their nickel cornerback, and Long has man-to-man responsibility for the running back. As soon as Long sees the back pass protecting, he fires into the backfield off the back hip of the left tackle, which gives him a free shot to the quarterback...

The path Long takes to the quarterback, waiting for the left tackle to fully engage, allows him to get home for a sack.

This next play is a designed jailbreak blitz for the Mountaineers. Long swims past the left guard and then fights through the helping center to meet the quarterback as he tries to step up in the pocket:

Long has a killer swim move that he uses here to split a double-team.

On this next play, the Mountaineers again bring their nickel corner on a blitz, which forces the running back to stay in and pass protect. Long follows behind his blitzing teammates and again runs right off the backside of the blockers, sneaking untouched all the way to the cornerback:

Looks an awful lot like a Jayon Brown sack with the 2018 Titans defense.

In this next play, Long is meant to be containing the outside on a zone read concept. When he sees the quarterback keep the ball, he fires after him, evading the offensive lineman to get to Sam Ehlinger...

David Long was truly a sack master his final year at West Virginia.

Finally, let’s look at David Long in coverage. This is probably the area that’s going to keep him off the field early in his career, as I would describe Long’s performance in coverage as inconsistent at best.

Let’s take a look at a good rep of Long in a match-zone coverage on a slot receiver. Ideally, the Titans won’t be using linebackers to cover slot receivers, but you can see Long reading the route and getting to the right depth as the receiver tries to cross behind him. Long does a nice job staying in the receiver’s hip pocket as he crosses the field:

One of Long’s better coverage reps.

This next clip is the best play I saw Long make in coverage in any game I watched. It’s zone coverage and Long has curl/flat responsibility. Long does an excellent job reading the route combination and allows his man to break to the outside help as he picks up the running back sneaking into the vacated zone.

Long lays a hit on the running back as the ball is arriving and his teammate is able to come up with the interception, a turnover that Long creates by reading the play:

Long crashes on the running back to create a turnover.

And here’s one last example of Long excelling in coverage. The H-Back is involved in the play-action by faking the motion of a trap block before he peels back and leaks up the seam...

Good job by Long picking up the H-Back up the seam.

This is another one of those plays, like the sacks above, where Long has responsibility for the back but also has the freedom to crash down if that back stays into block. Long nearly falls for the fake here but does a nice job to recover and get physical in coverage without committing a penalty, helping to force Kyler Murray to throw the ball away.

Now, here is some not so great coverage...

Long will occasionally get lost with his eyes too fixated on the backfield and will get his hips turned the wrong way as he tries to drop back. While he looks good in the above plays, I think Long is generally uncomfortable dropping into space in that Tampa 2-type coverage responsibility.

In both of the clips below, Long is slow to gain depth and gets stuck inside as the man he’s responsible for runs open behind him:

Long is ineffective in these two clips covering over the middle.

David Long did play in the Senior Bowl, where he suffered an ankle injury that (as mentioned above) kept him out of combine and Pro Day drills. Before that injury, however, Long was out there doing David Long things...

David Long makes a (technically illegal) play that reflects his skillset well.

I’m trying to figure out what Long’s true responsibility was on this play. My guess is he had a robber zone to cover over the middle of the field. Senior Bowl rules restrict a team to four pass rushers on every play, so technically what Long does here is illegal (by the rules of this All Star game), but it’s another example of his quick recognition and reaction skills.

With no receivers occupying Long’s coverage zone, he takes advantage of the wide lane that opens between right guard and right tackle and gets to the quarterback.

Fit with the Titans

Long’s skillset as an aggressive downhill player makes him a perfect fit to line up as a gunner on special teams while he acclimates to the life of an NFL athlete.

Head coach Mike Vrabel said about David Long after the Titans drafted him:

“The guy is an instinctive football player. He loves football, he’s proven to be a good special teams player.”

That tells me the Titans plan on deploying Long on special teams to start out his NFL career. He’ll provide linebacker depth, but that position is going to be largely locked down by the combination of Wesley Woodyard, Jayon Brown, and Rashaan Evans. Barring injury, I don’t foresee many snaps on defense for David Long in 2019.

But beyond this season, Long has a chance to develop into the 3rd linebacker behind Evans and Brown with Wesley Woodyard entering the final year of his contract.

When he does ultimately get on the field, Long should fit in well with the Titans’ versatile defensive scheme that asks a lot out of its linebackers. He should be able to fill the necessary run-stuffing and blitzing roles, and could become a great quarterback spy against mobile players like Deshaun Watson.

In David Long, Jr, the Titans added a tough, dependable teammate, a true Jon Robinson-mold player.