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Is Garret Dooley Wisconsin’s next NFL-caliber outside linebacker?

The fifth-year senior will be asked to take a big step up in 2017 as a leader.

Big Ten Championship - Penn State v Wisconsin Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Since the Wisconsin Badgers switched to the 3-4 defense in 2013, the outside linebacker position has been arguably its highest-profile. Scheme alumni Joe Schobert, Vince Biegel, and TJ Watt have all been selected in the past two NFL drafts. Watt was selected 30th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers this year; Schobert and Biegel were both selected in the fourth round by the Cleveland Browns (99th in 2016) and Green Bay Packers (108th in 2017) respectively.

While it would be a bit ambitious to anticipate Garret Dooley being selected anywhere in that range, I don’t think it’s out of the question that he could be a late-round selection or could carve out a career for himself in the NFL.

Dooley came to Wisconsin in 2013 as part of Gary Andersen’s first recruiting class. After starting at inside linebacker, he played defensive end for a season before finding his home at outside linebacker.

Dooley had his best season to date in 2016, recording 40 tackles and 3.5 sacks as the third outside linebacker behind Biegel and Watt. He started two games at Michigan and vs. Ohio State. I took a look at these two games to get the best grasp I could on Dooley’s game and to see where he excels and where he could improve heading into 2017 as the full-time starter.

Let’s take a look at his Michigan game. Dooley, then a fourth-year junior, made his first career collegiate start. The Badgers played at The Big House, where the Wolverines were ranked No. 4 in the nation at the time. Not an ideal situation. Maybe a little nervous, huh? You tell me.

Dooley could’ve had a sack here, obviously. But, good thing for himself—as well as the Badgers—things would look up from here.

The next standout rep he had was later in the third quarter. While it should be noted that it came against a tight end, the technique was used correctly and pass rushers always need multiple moves in their repertoire. Dooley gets Jake Butt on a nice push-pull move here. He doesn’t get a sack, but wins the rep. Dooley is at the top of the screen.

Here’s another encouraging sign from Dooley later in the Michigan game. Michigan utilizes an end-around, and Dooley stays at home and helps blow up the play. He shucks the first blocker, then makes Wilton Speight look like a quarterback trying to block a 247-pound linebacker. This allows the Badger defense to rally to the ball.

The last rep I’m going to show y’all from the Michigan game is Dooley’s sack late in the fourth quarter. This is his best rep from the game and shows Dooley has a little bit of bend in his hips. He’ll never be mistaken as an edge-bender, but he flashes the ankle flexion and hip mobility to utilize it at times. Dooley is at the top of the screen.

After the Michigan game, while Biegel was still out due to foot surgery, Dooley benefited greatly from the extra reps during the bye week. Also—THIS CANNOT BE UNDERSTATED—Dooley switched numbers from 55 to 5. Look good, feel good, people.

It was overwhelmingly obvious that Dooley was much more comfortable playing against Ohio State from the start.

Dooley’s first big play forced an incompletion by J.T. Barrett. He does a nice job of recognizing the motion coming across the formation and takes that option away before pressuring Barrett and forcing the errant throw.

Dooley is 6’3, 250 pounds. While he isn’t a poor athlete, he’s definitely not an outstanding one. You can see in the clip above that he struggles to change direction somewhat before getting to Barrett. Due to this, his physicality will be his calling card moving forward in his football career. I’m very pro-#BullyBall, and Dooley exhibits that on this speed option play. Dooley is on the bottom of the screen. Punishing the quarterback on option plays is pivotal, as you hope to wear him down by the end of the game.

As we saw in the Michigan game, Dooley isn’t afraid to take on blockers in order to free up his teammates. He did it here against against the Buckeyes, allowing Jack Cichy to make a tackle for loss. Dooley is stout against the run, which is what he’ll have to hang his hat on moving forward. This is a very heady play. He forces the left tackle to engage just long enough that he can’t get to Cichy, and engages the lead blocker allowing Cichy to clean things up.

P.S. Cichy was an absolute animal in this ball game. It’s nearly a highlight tape in its own right.

There were two reasons that Dooley didn’t get a lot of opportunities for true pass rush attempts in this game. First, Wisconsin asked its outside linebackers to play the apex and cover the slot receiver often. This keeps him off of the line of scrimmage and out of pass rush situations. Second, Ohio State uses a lot of quick passing concepts, limiting true pass rush opportunities. This was his best one. He bullies the right tackle, knocking him off of his feet. Dooley is a power rusher, and taking the attack to the opposing tackles is his best bet. He forces Barrett to step up in the pocket due to his pressure.

The last play I’ll show demonstrates Dooley’s ability to stand up at the point of attack in the run game. Dooley is a plus edge-setter and run defender from the jump. He’ll be rock-solid in that aspect of his game from Day 1. He makes a tough play here against Barrett and makes an otherwise substantial gain into a close call for the first down. He initiates with the right tackle, extends his arms to allow himself to find Barrett, and sheds the blocker. Textbook.

While I don’t think that Dooley will have the flash of those who preceded him, he’s going to be a very accurate embodiment of the Badgers’ team and defense. “Smart. Tough. Dependable.” is the team’s motto, and that’s Dooley’s game to a tee. While the Badgers’ other options at outside linebacker present more of a threat in the pass-rush department, Dooley will be one of the leaders among the 2017–18 version of this defense and could end up as a draftable prospect by next April.