Versatility is a coveted trait in the modern NFL. With his 2023 NFL Draft scouting report, that’s what Auburn DT Colby Wooden provides. After a career-best campaign in 2022, could Wooden be climbing up boards, and could early-round capital be in his future? Let’s take a look at his full profile and see if we can make that distinction.
Colby Wooden NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Defensive Tackle
- School: Auburn
- Current Year: Redshirt Junior
- Height/Weight: 6’4″, 284 pounds
- Length: 33 3/4″
- Hand: 10 1/4″
With some defensive linemen, you always know where to look. You fire up the tape, and there they are, lined up outside the guard’s shoulder at 3-technique. Or maybe they’re across face with the tackle, at strong end, or 5-technique. Perhaps they’re dead center in the trenches, eyes up at the fulcrum of the offensive line, at 0-technique.
With some defensive linemen, you know what to expect. With others, you don’t. With Wooden, you have to do a bit of searching on each rep. He can line up truly anywhere between each 5-tech spot, and he did exactly that with the Auburn Tigers.
It wasn’t necessarily the role Wooden expected when he entered the collegiate circuit as a four-star DE recruit in the 2019 class. But it’s a role he was able to grow into with his frame, and he ultimately produced exciting results.
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After playing sparingly as a true freshman, Wooden redshirted and found a spot in the rotation with the Tigers in 2020. As a redshirt freshman, he accrued 41 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and a pass deflection. He maintained a steady impact in 2021, picking up 61 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two deflections, and a fumble recovery.
Wooden established himself as a vital glue piece for the Tigers in his early years, but 2022 saw him emerge as a legitimate playmaker on the defensive line. Once again moving around the front, Wooden amassed 45 tackles, earned career-highs in both tackles for loss (11.5) and sacks (six), and also added three pass deflections, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
In the 2022 NFL Draft cycle — before he decided to return to school for one more year — Wooden was already fielding Day 2 hype in some circles. Now that he’s compounded his momentum, how high could he rise up the board in the 2023 NFL Draft?
Colby Wooden Scouting Report
Wooden may have an unconventional mold, but the conventions of the NFL are slowly slipping away as teams look to find any conceivable edge. Thinking outside the box is the key to winning. Just how much flexibility does Wooden provide in allowing defensive coordinators to do just that?
At 6’4″ and around 280 pounds, Wooden has a “tweener” frame on the defensive line. Having such a frame comes with both benefits and drawbacks, but Wooden’s physical makeup undoubtedly provides him with a great deal of versatility. He’s aligned everywhere from 0-technique to 5-technique. While he flourishes at 3-tech and 2i, he can line up on the edge or at 4i. He’s a flex piece who’s never truly out of place.
All this being said, simply having the measurements isn’t enough. But Wooden pairs his frame with solid functional athleticism. The Auburn DT has good burst out of his stance and can generate solid momentum off the line. He has enough explosiveness to shoot through gaps off the snap and disrupt blocking angles, and shows solid closing burst in pursuit once he’s clean.
At the NFL Combine, Wooden corroborated his on-field athleticism with great testing numbers. He ran a 4.79 40-yard dash with a 1.63 10-yard split near the 99th percentile among defensive tackles. He also logged an exceptional 9’7″ broad jump and agility scores over the 80th percentile. Even at a lower testing weight of 274 pounds, he was able to earn a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 9.26 at DT.
With his size and athleticism, Wooden can be dangerous on stunts. With his combination of strength and mobility, he presents a mismatch for displaced blockers. He has the lateral agility to quickly shade off initial alignments and manipulate attack angles.
Going further, the Auburn DT’s lateral agility enables him to disrupt both inside and outside. He can cover impressive amounts of ground when stunting laterally with space to work with. On the outside, Wooden has the agility to spin out of anchors and rip around the corner.
With his explosiveness, Wooden channels his athleticism and leverages power at the point of attack. He can also use amped-up energy to leverage and unleash force inside the torso against blockers. Although he’s a bit light for the interior, Wooden stores impressive raw power inside his frame.
He’s shown he can blast offensive linemen back on initial contact and sustain rushes with leg drive. The Auburn DT can also maximize his power output by generating upper-body torque with hip rotations.
Expanding beyond his athletic profile, Wooden’s flexibility is another asset. The Auburn DT can absorb moderate amounts of power with his torso flexibility. He also has the ankle flexion to splice around blocks while prying past anchors. Moreover, Wooden can effectively sink his pads and attack the torso as a pass rusher. He brings extremely natural leverage acquisition, effortlessly aligning beneath his opponent’s pads and loading up his base.
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Leverage is a common theme on Wooden’s tape. The Auburn DT actively uses momentum from lateral movements to supplement hand usage, displace linemen, and create space inside. Taking it a step further, Wooden maximizes his natural leverage with active hand usage.
He knocks linemen off-balance with brutal extensions, then swims inside with lateral quickness. Wooden’s hands are violent and combative, with visible knock-back power, and he can rip down opposing anchors with zeal.
Expanding on Wooden’s hand usage, the Auburn DT can latch onto his blocker’s frame and rip inside with impressive rotational strength. Additionally, he can work across face inside and use his hand strength to execute swims. Wooden’s pass-rush arsenal is stocked with moves already.
At various points, he’s used a pull-rip, swim, arm-over, and bull rush, and has shown he can stack extensions in succession. His swipe-rip combo, in particular, was a source of success in 2022.
Wooden’s hand usage also serves him well in run defense. With his size, leverage, and leg drive, he can naturally move with blocks and maintain gaps. However, his hand placement compounds his appeal in that phase. He can hook his arms under pads, then use his torso flexibility to splice his way past moving blocks. With his strong base, Wooden can set the edge, and he’s able to quickly reset his hands to combat anchors when his initial placement slips.
Once free from blocks, Wooden actively squares up runners to block gaps, and he uses his lateral burst to pounce on runners in the backfield. Wooden’s also shown to read option plays effectively, maintain discipline as a read defender, and wrangle up ball carriers in pursuit.
Wooden’s pursuit and motor, as it turns out, are reliable strengths of his. The Auburn DT brings good energy in all phases, carrying a competitive mindset along with his hot motor. He actively uses his length to disrupt passing lanes when compressing the pocket, and he consistently generates pressure on second efforts. Adding onto the appeal, Wooden has the awareness as a rusher to pick up RBs who sneak out into the flats when the situation demands it.
Wooden’s Areas for Improvement
Wooden’s hybrid profile can sometimes be a double-edged sword. Most notably, the Auburn DT lacks prototypical size on the interior. His length isn’t quite elite, and it causes trouble at times. He can be outreached by longer blockers, which makes it difficult to break free and disengage. He also has below-average mass, which can make him relatively easy to move off his spot in run defense, especially by double-teams.
With his lighter frame, the Tigers defender naturally doesn’t absorb double-teams well and can be overwhelmed in two-on-one situations. Additionally, Wooden doesn’t quite have elite power capacity, and he’s inconsistent in paving blockers back after extending. He’s sometimes forced to reach beyond his center of gravity and lurch on rushes, resulting in lost balance and leverage.
With his lack of elite length and mass, Wooden’s hands don’t always carry maximum force, and he has a visible cap on his power capacity. But length isn’t the only thing Wooden lacks in elite quantities.
Wooden doesn’t always channel his maximum burst capacity off the snap, and he could afford to get off the snap a bit quicker as a pass rusher. Additionally, Wooden’s not always strong enough to break anchors in run defense, and he lacks elite hip flexibility as well. When rushing outside, he can be locked out at the apex and folded outside by tackles.
Wooden’s non-elite physical traits are notable when projecting his ceiling, but he does have a stellar athletic profile overall. Still, there are ways that he can further maximize his pallet of traits on the operational side. When defending the run on the interior, Wooden sometimes gives up too much surface area, and occasionally overruns angles, leaving backside lanes open for runners.
Moving onward, Wooden at times moves a bit upright in space when he has to change directions, and he’s not overly sudden as an athlete. Furthermore, his rushes sometimes stall out when he doesn’t effectively capitalize on his burst by loading through his hips and channeling power with his hands. His pads sometimes drift upright after contact as well, which only accelerates the stalling process on rushes.
Among other things, Wooden needs to more consistently wrap up at the tackle point in pursuit situations and stack counters after initial contact. And as a pass rusher, his hand placement could be cleaner. But to his credit, he improved in both of these areas in 2022.
Current Draft Projection for Auburn DT Colby Wooden
Wooden grades just outside the top 100 for me as a priority Day 3 prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft. And depending on how teams favor his scheme flexibility and hybrid-front appeal, he could ultimately come off the board in the mid-to-late Day 2 range. Wooden’s strong performance in 2022 and his impressive NFL Combine showing helped his case.
Wooden is long, flexible, athletic, and has a good baseline of power and strength with his frame. His unobstructed alignment versatility and lateral freedom make him an immediate value option in a defensive line rotation, but he’s also shown he can rush the passer from multiple alignments, disrupt, and make plays when attacking downhill.
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Arguably the biggest concern with Wooden is that he is a bit of a tweener. He’s not quite an elite athlete on the edge, and he lacks elite mass on the interior. But as a mismatch piece who can rotate up and down the front and win in different ways, he presents plenty of appeal. Athletically, Wooden compares very favorably to former third-round pick Rasheem Green, who logged 10 sacks across the 2021 and 2022 campaigns.
There’s a role waiting for Wooden at the next level as a mix-and-match defensive lineman with the burst, power profile, agility, bend, and hand quickness to produce in both phases. He can hold his own from 2i to 5-technique and can even stunt from central alignments as well. While Wooden’s ceiling isn’t elite, he’s very much worth a spot in a rotation with his hybrid capabilities and has the upside to be a solid starter.