2017 NFL draft prospect Dalvin Tomlinson could have gone to Harvard based on his academics. Ultimately, he choose Alabama and football. Now looking like a lock to be a top 90 pick at the end of this month, Tomlinson made the right decision, but that doesn’t mean school isn’t important to him. In this exclusive interview, the 310-pound Georgia native offers some wise words of advice for his peers regarding their career outlook. Don’t worry, we also talked a whole lot of football. Loaded with defensive talent all around him, I asked Dalvin if he feels like he’s being slept on a little bit, what the culture is like around Nick Saban and that perennial winning locker room, and much, much more. Some video analysis of Tomlinson’s skill-set is also included. Enjoy.
Thanks for joining us today Dalvin. During your time at Alabama, you were surrounded by so much NFL talent just on the DL alone. Jarran Reed & A’Shawn Robinson get drafted last season, Jonathan Allen was a star this season. Do you feel like you flew under the radar a little bit?
Tomlinson: I always felt like I did my part for the team. Going forward, I just want to be able to prove my talent to an NFL organization and show them the things that I can do.
While I was studying your game, I really noticed you getting your hands up and disturbing the passing lanes. Do you attribute that to any of your former coaches?
Tomlinson: Coach Bo Davis, one of my former DL coaches used to stress us getting our hands up a lot when he was here. He wanted us to affect the QB as much as possible. If we couldn’t get to the QB for a sack, he wanted us to get our hands up in the passing lanes and get the QB off his throwing game. I would say that he helped me get better by adding that attribute to my game.
Tomlinson took coach Davis’ words to heart. While watching his tape, Tomlinson routinely does this with success.
You picked Alabama over Harvard, a football decision no one will ever blame you for. I want you to talk to us about the importance of your academics.
Tomlinson: Academics have always played a big role in my life. Growing up in my household, academics always came before sports. Here at Alabama, I got my finance degree, and my financial planning degree as well. I always wanted to make sure that I got a degree which I could use for life after football.
I got an offer from Harvard while in high school and that was a dream come true for me. If you’re big on academics like I am, you want to go to Harvard. That’s Harvard, man [laughs]. It was very difficult to pass up that offer, but with me being good at football, I decided to pursue that as a career and that’s why I chose Alabama.
A wise decision. What would you say to a teammate who thinks academics aren’t important? Somebody who thinks school doesn’t matter because they’re going to the NFL.
Tomlinson: I would tell them that academics are more important than football. Football is gonna’ end for all of us one day, sooner rather than later for some of us. Your body can only hold up for so long. After that happens, you still have a long life to live and you need to have a fall-back plan. You should want to get your degree before you leave college. If you’re blessed with the opportunity to go to the league, you should still go back during the off-season and go get your degree. You’re gonna’ have to be able to do something after football.
Wise words of advice. You won the National Championship in 2015, but lost in the final in 2016. How do those two experiences prepare you for what’s next?
Tomlinson: The emotions were pretty different obviously, one year we won, one year we lost. 2015, that was a crazy final. Both finals came down to the last couple of seconds actually. Those were some intense games. I feel like to be able to experience both winning and losing in a final, it makes me that much more hungry to continue to work hard and to get better at my craft as I prepare for the next level.
Playing in the finals two years in a row, is it Super Bowl or bust as a rookie?
Tomlinson: Not really because I feel like there’s always a transitional stage when going to the next level. You have to get used to the larger amount of games you’re gonna’ be playing in. A 16-game regular season schedule is different from the 12-game regular season we’re used to in college. Here at Alabama, we always play 14-15 games a year but it’s still gonna’ be more games than we’re used to. It’s just a transition that I’m looking forward to making. I would love to go to the Super Bowl as a rookie, that’s always the goal but I’m just ready to go out there, do my best and show the world what I can do. I’m confident that I’ll be able to effect the quarterback and the entire offense as much as possible.
You don’t really think about the increase in games but that’s a great point. What’s the culture like in that Alabama locker room? How disciplined do you have to be playing for a coach like Nick Saban?
Tomlinson: You have to be very disciplined when playing for coach Saban. He always preaches the small things, attention to detail, you have to see a little in order to see a lot. The culture in the locker room is pretty much like a big family. Everybody wants to push each other. We don’t try to hold each other back. We’re trying to make each other better each and every day. It’s one big brotherhood. We just continue to push each other on and off the field every time we get the opportunity.
It’s clear that playing for Saban always motivated Tomlinson. Here, he shows off effort and hustle to get back into this play and record the tackle in the secondary.
Do you think that you’re a 3-4 NT or a 4-3 DT at the next level?
Tomlinson: I like to play both. I don’t really have a preference between a 3-4 or a 4-3. Here at Alabama, I played across the whole defensive line, at any position. I feel comfortable playing in either/or because coach Saban always preached that we have to be versatile at different positions. That’s what I’ve been trying to do the last couple of years in order to make myself available at different positions.
Whether he ends up in a 4-3 or 3-4 alignment, Tomlinson brings some nice pass rush skills to any defensive unit.
A lot of the work that you do on tape is very selfless. You take on blocks, you free up gaps for your teammates, you stuff the run. What do you enjoy about those responsibilities?
Tomlinson: You have to be selfless to do that kind of work. You have to put the team first. As a defensive lineman, you’re doing most of the grunt work. You have to go out there, you may have to take up an extra block just so your linebacker can scrape over the top and get a tackle for loss. If your linebacker gets a tackle for loss, your whole defense just got a tackle for loss. If you do your job and the whole defense is contributing, that means the entire defense is playing well and our defensive line is doing it’s part up front. You can’t be selfish when it comes to that because that’s when you start to get gassed up front and you start to give up some big running plays. Big plays start to happen when the defense breaks down. You just have to be selfless for the greater good of the team basically.
When a team drafts Dalvin Tomlinson, they’ll be adding a really good run stopper to their defensive line group.
I know you’ve met with the Titans and Cowboys so far, among others. Do you feel like you had a good vibe with those two organizations?
Tomlinson: I felt like I had a good vibe with both of those teams. I learned the plays and everything they threw at me quickly. I had a good workout with both of those teams at my pro day, they enjoyed seeing that.
How many teams would you say have shown an interest in you?
Tomlinson: There’s quite a few. A lot of them didn’t expect for me to have as good of a pro day and combine as I did. A lot more teams have started to show interest since then.
You suffered two torn ACL’s early on in your time at Alabama. How do you answer any questions that a team may have about your knees?
Tomlinson: I just had to be honest about it. I had two torn ACL’s in the past but I haven’t had any problems with my knees since then. They feel brand new. I’ve played three seasons on them since my last injury. I haven’t had any trouble with them. They feel like brand new knees, just as good as they did before the injuries. They don’t give me any problems or anything like that. I work hard like any other person and I don’t have any limitations with them. They really don’t bother me at all.
That’s what we want to hear. You played with so many great teammates at Alabama, but if you had to pick only one to go to war with, who would you pick?
Tomlinson: That’s probably the toughest question I’ve ever been asked [laughs]. If I could only pick one person, I would probably have to say Ryan Anderson. We came in together at Alabama, since 2012, we’re both five year seniors. I’ve been pass rushing right next to him for the past five years. We just have a bond on the field, it’s like a connection. We already know what the other one is gonna’ do on each and every pass rush, or each and every down. We just play off of each other. I always knew he was gonna’ come out there and give it everything he had on each and every down.
That answer makes sense. You played a little goalie on your high school soccer team. Who do you think is the best player in the world right now?
Tomlinson: I’m a big [Lionel] Messi fan. I think he’s probably the best player in the world right now.
Now you’ve upset me. I’m a Cristiano Ronaldo guy…
Tomlinson: Oh yeah, I like him too. I like both of them. But I’d probably have to say that Messi is playing a little bit better [laughs].
I’ll allow it. I’ve taken up enough of your time Dalvin. In closing, what kind of guy is a team getting when they draft Dalvin Tomlinson?
Tomlinson: They’re going to get a guy who works hard on building his craft to become the best defensive linemen he can possibly be. I’m also gonna’ push the people around me to become better players because you need to have 11 good players on defense rather than just one. It’s a team effort and together we’re a unit. It takes every guy doing his part for us to go out there and dominate on every down to the best of our ability and hopefully bring a title back to the city.