Cal Football got some huge news last with with the commitment of the highest-rated defensive recruit in the Justin Wilcox era when JUCO OLB Kuony Deng committed to Cal over other great programs such as Auburn, Texas A&M, and Virginia Tech.
Deng is a four-star prospect who ranks as the #1 JUCO OLB in the nation, and the #10 JUCO player overall. Coming from Independence Community College in Kansas, Deng will actually be featured in Season 4 of Netflix’s Last Chance U.
Coming from a JUCO school, he will have three years to use up his two remaining years of football eligibility. Cal faces the option of red-shirting him in his first year, but he probably will not need it. I would expect him to play right away.
So, he obviously has a very interesting profile, but who is Deng as a player and what can he bring to our Golden Bears?
The first thing you will hear about Deng is his physical profile and freakish athletic ability. He possesses a combination of size (6’6”, 235 pounds) and speed (4.6 40) that is hard to beat. Measurables are what you can’t teach, and Deng has the best of the best.
However, Deng isn’t just a physical specimen. While he is definitely raw and has tons of untapped potential that the Cal coaches will have a blast trying to make the most of, he is also a solid player who can contribute right away. He ranks second on Independence CC with 4.8 tackles/game, and also has both one sack and one fumble recovery.
Deng’s game revolves around his physical profile. Similar to how a good tight end is too fast for linebackers but too big for cornerbacks, Deng will create a mismatch pretty much whenever he steps on the field. He shows ability to play both with his hand down on the line of scrimmage while rushing the passer, but also as a run-blocker and has solid coverage abilities.
When rushing the passer, he relies on his size and strength to overpower blockers. He is able to rely on this at the JUCO level, but will have to develop pass-rushing skills at the collegiate level. He doesn’t show too many pass-rushing moves, but this is entirely coach-able. I am confident that the Cal coaches can mold him into a capable pass-rusher to use when needed. He also has the length to knock knock down passes.
A great strength I see for him is in edge containment. Whether he is playing on the line of scrimmage or in the second level, he always takes good angles on scrambling quarterbacks. In the tape I watched of him, there were many instances of him disengaging from his blocker and making sure the quarterback isn’t able to scramble to get positive yardage. Here is one of the many plays where he does this.
This edge containment ability also includes defending the screen, as shown in the clip below.
While he is definitely raw in terms of rushing the passer, I see possibly great value for Deng in run defense, as this is probably his greatest skill at the moment. I already mentioned his ability to spontaneously contain the quarterback, but when positioned in the second level, he plugs holes well and has speed to keep up with opposing tailbacks. He is a player Cal could use as an inside linebacker if needed, but his speed is best suited for the edge where he can contain the edges. Simply due to his raw talent, he will be able to position himself in many tackling situations, and the Cal coaches will know exactly what to do to make the most of them.
In the clip below, he uses his speed to tackle a runner for a loss even though the run was designed to go to the opposite side of the field as Deng.
Lastly, Deng also showed that he can play in coverage. He doesn’t have the best coverage skills overall, and he isn’t the most agile player in zone coverage, but he makes up for these shortcomings with straight-line speed and length. I often saw him get initially beat in coverage, but he is able to recover quickly and break-up passes with his long arms.
Overall, Deng has all the physical abilities you could ever ask for in a player. He is raw, but shows abilities that indicate that he can truly contribute in whatever area Cal needs him to, whether that is in coverage, rushing the passer, or in run defense. He can contribute right away in stopping the run, but will need a bit of development in the other areas. However, he possesses the necessary tool-set to properly develop in these areas, and the Cal coaching staff should definitely be able to take advantage of him in all aspects of the game.
Cal’s coaches have done a great job with players such as Devante Downs, Jordan Kunaszyk, and Evan Weaver, but Deng is by far the most physically talented of the bunch. You can just look at what Tim DeRuyter did with Von Miller at Texas A&M to give you an idea of what Cal’s scheme can do for players as talented as Deng. Expect for him to become a big part of Cal’s defensive plans moving forward with potential for possible stardom similar to the other aforementioned linebackers.
What do you think Cal fans? Are you happy with the commit? How do you see his career in Berkeley playing out?