LOUISVILLE, Ky. - As we inch closer to the start of the 2022 college football season, Louisville Report will break down each individual position on the Cardinals' roster. Next in our positional breakdown series, we take at look at the outside linebackers.
Position Roster Movement:
Returning (4): Yasir Abdullah, Marvin Dallas, Benjamin Perry, Kameron Wilson
Departing (3): Jack Fagot (Graduation), Nick Okeke (Transfer - Southern Illinois), Zay Peterson (Transfer - Middle Tennessee State)
Incoming (2): Nicario Harper (Transfer - Jacksonville State), Popeye Williams (HS)
Projected Depth Chart:
Outside Linebacker (DOG)
- Yasir Abdullah (6-1, 235, Sr.)
- Kameron Wilson (6-2, 228, R-Fr.)
- Popeye Williams (6-3, 230, Fr.)
Outside Linebacker (CARD)
- Marvin Dallas (6-1, 190, Sr.)
- Nicario Harper (6-1, 205, Jr.)
- Ben Perry (6-2, 212, R-Fr.)
Generating consistant pressure in the backfield has been something that has plagued Louisville for a while now. But like we mentioned in our last position breakdown, this has been mainly due to a lack of production coming out of the defensive line. Where Louisville has gotten a large portion of their sacks and tackles for loss has been from their linebacking corps, and more specifically, at outside linebacker.
In 2020, the Cardinals were 73rd in FBS in sacks per game at 2.00, and were 79th in tackles for loss at 5.7. Last season, they finished 45th in sacks at 2.54 and 47th in tackles for loss at 6.2. Out of Louisville's 88.5 total tackles for loss and 37.0 total sacks, their outside linebackers were responsible for 28.0 and 12.5, respectively. These numbers could be even more skewed if Louisville didn't spend the first half of the season being obsessed with the three-man rush.
Most of this production came from Yasir Abdullah, who opted to come back to Louisville for his final year of collegiate eligibility. All Abdullah did last year was put up one of the best seasons from a Louisville pass rusher in school history. Not only were his 17.5 tackles for loss good for seventh-most at Louisville in a single season, but his 10.0 sacks were the most by a Louisville defender since 2015.
Abdullah has a stranglehold on the DOG position, which is the outside linebacker spot that has more of an emphasis on the pass rush. That being said, Abdullah is a multi-faceted tool for this defense, demonstrating an incredible ability to shed blocks and shoot gaps to pursue the quarterback and/or running back. He also has looked serviceable in pass coverage, though that's not typically what he'll be asked to do.
Behind Abdullah at DOG, there are a couple pieces that have real potential. Kam Wilson was sidelined for most of the season after suffering an undisclosed injury, and after playing mostly on special teams last year, he will likely take a big jump in his role. But don't be shocked to see Popeye Williams make some early noise as well. He will arrive on campus as Louisville's top prospect from the Class of 2022, and the edge rusher is loaded with talent.
Over at CARD, which is a hybrid defensive end/safety position, there is a little bit more of a position battle with Jack Fagot graduating from the program. Early on, it's likely that Marvin Dallas gets first team reps here. He was a standout on special teams, regularly displaying his hard-hitting nature, and played well enough to even break into the two-deep towards the end of the season. He seems to have a knack for finding the football no matter his assignment, snagging an interception against Duke while also recovering two fumbles.
That being said, Dallas does have some solid competition at the CARD spot. Considering the nature of the position, it's no surprise that the other two players here are converted safeties.
Coming over from FCS Jacksonville State, Nicario Harper has just as much of a chance to become a starter as Dallas does. During the 2020-21 season with the Gamecocks, he logged a team-high 92 tackles, three interceptions and 2.5 tackles for loss, being named a First-Team AP FCS All-American in the process. An injury limited him last season. Time will tell how his skill set transitions to the ACC, but considering Jacksonville State took down Florida State at the Doak last year, there is some experience here.
Don't count out Ben Perry to make an impact, either. He didn't had many opportunities to see the field last year after coming to the Cardinals as their top prospect in the Class of 2021, but after making the switch to CARD outside linebacker (a position he did see reps in at the high school level), 2022 could be a year that his raw talent comes together for a breakout campaign.
Overall, outside linebacker might not be the deepest spot on the field for Louisville, but it's one that has some of the most potential. Of course, Yasir Abdullah will command almost all of the attention here, especially if he is able to build off last season and play his way into an early round NFL Draft pick.
But if things all come together, Louisville could be deadly on the edges and see their sack and tackle for loss numbers skyrocket. Marvin Dallas provides a lot of upside after his strong finish to 2021, Nicario Harper provides both veteran experience and production, Ben Perry and Popeye Williams are two extremely talented young players, and Kam Wilson should be 100 percent cleared from injury.
If the defensive line is able to take another big step - and they are equipped to do so - the front seven for Louisville in 2022 should be one to be feared by opposing offenses.
Other Position Breakdowns:
- Running Back
- Wide Receiver
- Tight End
- Offensive Line
- Defensive Line
- Inside Linebacker
- Special Teams
(Photo of Yasir Abdullah: Sam Upshaw Jr. - Courier Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC)
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