Montana Linebacker Dante Olson Showing Major NFL Draft Potential

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There aren’t too many names that emerge from the FCS level in NFL Draft circles, especially this early in the season. However, people have to remember that the FCS has provided the NFL with a lot of talent. Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and current San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo played at East Illinois while current Cardinals running back David Johnson played at Northern Iowa, just to name a few. The FCS is a level that features NFL talent, and we appear to have some with Dante Olson.

Dante Olson is the middle linebacker currently at Montana. Right now, the team is 4-1 with their single loss being to Oregon. Olson currently leads the team in tackles (51) and tackles for loss (4.5). He’s got a sack and an interception as well this season. Olson is every bit of 6’2″ and 240 pounds, a hulking giant at his level of football. His accolades are lengthly and outstanding, so let’s cut to the chase. What makes this guy such a special NFL Draft candidate?

Dante Olson’s career brief

Dante Olson has spent his career being the best at what he does. He’s a hard worker, and it doesn’t matter what task he has before him, Olson does it well. He part of a four-time Conference Champion team in high school (Cascade Christian High), being a captain for three of those seasons as well as being a two-time state defensive MVP. Olson also lettered in basketball and tennis while in high school.

Olson entered the Montana football program in 2015, accepting a redshirt. He was placed on the defensive scout team and was so impressive that he won Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year. He took the field in 2016 on special teams, was named Academic All-Big Sky and was given the Hauck Family Special Teams Player of the Year award, an annual award given by the University of Montana.

In 2017, he was recognized as All-Big Sky Special Teams, was named Academic All-Big Sky again as well as his second Hauck Family award. He would earn the starting nod in 2018 and go on to win pretty much every award that a middle linebacker can get on the FCS level – and still made the President’s List this past spring.

Now, in 2019, he has so far shut out the outside noise and focused on football. He performs very well, oftentimes looking like the best player on the field. His athleticism is currently off of the charts, while he appears primed to end up at the NFL combine next spring – as well as graduate with top honors.

Now, to my favorite part – the tape.

Football intelligence

The first thing that pops to me about Olson’s game is the fact that he is a smart, heady player who generally recognizes what the offense is doing on the field. Because of this, he’s not only a good run defender, but he plays zone coverage very well. The NFL wants their inside linebackers to be able to play in large zones in pass coverage. Olson does this very well at the FCS level.

This play from this past week against UC-Davis specifically allows us to see what he does. He recognizes the concept of the play only a second into it. He knows that Montana is in cover two, and that UC-Davis is attacking the middle of the field, the weakest point of that coverage. The quarterback is looking deep the entire play, so he dismisses the threat of the running back underneath, and drops deep into his zone. While the quarterback thought that he could fit the ball over Olson, our man proved his athleticism by going up to collect the interception.

Because he is such a smart, heady player, NFL teams will be impressed with what he demonstrates on the whiteboard. His tape is littered with impressive reads, from plugging running lanes with his quick reaction and diagnosis, as well as adjusting his zone to take throwing lanes away down the field.

Athletic ability

We got a taste of Dante Olson’s athletic ability in that play, but you need to know that Olson can move when he wants to. His stride length is very long, and he moves quickly, allowing him to cover a lot of ground when he wants to. This makes him a very rangy player, someone who is interested in getting into every aspect of the offense on every play.

First, look at how quickly Olson moves on this play. He diagnoses the play, moves into position and destroys the play before it begins. Not only do we get another look at how smart he is, but at how quick he is. He makes a good tackle here too, showing good form and habit as well.

Is the NFL already on him?

Oh, you had better believe it. Dante Olson has the attention of the NFL, as referenced by this photo posted to Twitter by Grizzly Sports Report host Shaun Rainey:

Right now, I’m looking at Olson as potentially a third round pick. Because of the level that he played at, I really don’t know just how athletic he is or how that will transition to the NFL. I don’t doubt him in the slightest. I think he can adjust rather quickly. The third round gives me an ample opportunity to let him develop for a year and adjust if needed, and if he’s ready now he can be put in position to play. That grade may rise as the year goes on, due to a weak linebacker draft class this year.

Olson is a special player, and a special person, and NFL teams are going to dig this kid. I look forward to seeing him play on Sundays.

Follow John on Twitter @johndavogel and get into the NFL Draft conversation! 

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