David Long, Jr. has been a Mountaineer fan favorite since he stepped on the field for the first time against the Missouri Tigers as a redshirt freshman. Following an outstanding career that culminated in receiving the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award this past season, he has moved on from Morgantown and was recently made the 216th overall pick in the 6th round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans. As he embarks on a career in a new city and new environment, Long will have to find a role within an organization that is on the rise in the league and maintains a young, exciting core.
Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel seemed to be very pleased that Long was available with his team’s sixth-round pick. Vrabel, formerly a key cog in the Patriots machine and disciple of Bill Belichick, trusts Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees to implement his defensive vision. That vision is predicated upon a base 3-4 defense. Many Mountaineer fans think of David Long, Jr. as a heat-seeking missile of an outside linebacker who was constantly making plays in the opposing backfield. That is a role that may change upon entering the NFL. The outside linebacker position in the Titans defense is defined by pass rushing ability and is generally held by bigger, more powerful athletes than Long. He fits much better within Vrabel’s idea of an inside linebacker with coverage ability and solid run support. Long has been criticized for his lack of positional size but the Tennessee coaching staff did not see this as an issue with Vrabel saying, “He loves football. He has proved to be a good special teams player. The size of linebackers has really diminished over the past 10 years.” There are certainly opportunities to climb up the Titans depth chart at inside linebacker and David Long, Jr. appears to be the perfect player to do it.
More than likely Long will have to carve out a role on special teams for a chance to be a contributing member of the Tennessee Titans roster. However, the depth chart is rife with opportunity and Long will be competing with the following linebackers for playing time:
Woodyard has served as a defensive anchor for the Titans since he was signed by the team in 2014. An undrafted free agent out of Kentucky in 2008, he was initially a member of the Denver Broncos before heading to Nashville. Since then, he has been an integral part of the culture and defense in Tennessee, being named a team captain and was the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award recipient in 2017.
Evans was a first round pick in 2018 after a stellar career for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Considered one of the best inside linebacker prospects in recent years, he played a key role on the team last year. He brings a very high ceiling with outstanding speed, tackling, and playmaking ability.
Brown was taken by the Titans in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft and surprisingly became a contributing member of the defense as a rookie. Running a 4.70 40 at the Draft Combine, Brown has been praised by Mike Vrabel for his speed and pass coverage ability. He has served as the inside linebacker in Tennessee’s nickel sub packages since 2017. Standing 6’0″ and weighing 226 lbs., Vrabel favorably compared David Long to Brown.
Bates is the player that David Long will most likely be competing with for playing time as a rookie. A specials teams ace with both the Rams and Raiders, Bates was signed this offseason to sure up the Titans coverage teams and provide depth for the defense. He may seem to be the favorite for a roster spot but recent may affect his stay in Nashville.
Nigel Harris and Riley Bullough
Harris and Bullough are both former undrafted free agents who have been brought in by the Titans to provide depth at inside linebacker. Harris played in two games for Tennessee last year while Bullough was signed this week after being by waived by Tampa Bay.
Sapp was recently signed as a 2019 undrafted free agent after foregoing his senior year with the Tennessee Volunteers. A rotational linebacker, Sapp appeared in nine games with one start this past season. He made three tackles in UT’s game against WVU in Charlotte and started eight games in 2017.
David Long, Jr. has overcome odds for as long as he has been playing football at a high level. Both WVU and Titans fans should not expect that trend to stop any time soon. He has proven throughout his time as a Mountaineer that there is no role he is not willing to take on and he will provide the maximum effort possible to contribute to his team. It seems very likely that there is a niche to be found for David Long, Jr. on this up and coming team.