The Philadelphia Eagles signed undrafted rookie free agent linebacker Dante Olson following the 2020 NFL Draft. In order to learn more about him, I reached out to a Montana Grizzlies writer. Frank Gogola of the Missoulian and 406 MT Sports was kind enough to answer my questions.
1) Can you recap his college career?
Olson’s career can be divided into two vastly different parts. He redshirted in 2015 and spent the next two seasons on special teams. When head coach Bobby Hauck replaced Bob Stitt after the 2017 season, Olson’s playing time on defense and his stock as a player skyrocketed. Hauck said he knew after the first day of his first spring camp that Olson was the best player on the team. Olson proved that on the field in a program known for producing talented linebackers. His 397 career tackles, 330 of which came in his final two years, set a school record. He capped his stellar two-year stint as a starter by winning the Buck Buchanan Award, given to the most outstanding FCS defensive player, after finishing third as a junior. He was a consensus FCS All-American as a senior and made 13 FCS All-American teams over his final two seasons.
2) What are his strengths?
Olson is an instinctive tackling machine. He has an ability to diagnose plays by locating and then tackling the ball carrier, avoiding collisions or blockers en route to the ball. Hauck and DC Kent Baer (a former Notre Dame/Arizona St./Stanford/etc. DC) designed a 4-2-5 defense that played into the ability of Olson, a second linebacker and a hybrid safety-linebacker to find and tackle the ball carrier. Olson broke the school’s single-season tackles record in his first season as a starter, collecting 151 in 11 games. He topped that mark as a senior with 179 in 14 games, a single-season Big Sky Conference record. He led the FCS in tackles both years thanks to his high motor and hard-hitting abilities. Olson even had 24 tackles in one game as a junior, paced the West team with seven tackles in the East-West Shrine Bowl and led all players on both teams with 14 tackles when Montana played at FBS Oregon his senior year. At the Big Sky level, he pulverized players with his hits, chased them down with his straight-line speed and his ability to take good angles, and he could beat blockers with his hands or by slipping past them.
3) What are his weaknesses?
As good as those strengths were, he was going up against FCS competition weekly. FCS players have gone on to good pro careers, but even FCS teams aren’t stacked as deep with the high-end talent seen at the FBS level, and the NFL is well above that. So, it’ll all be about how he can translate his skills to the NFL level. One former scout told me he sees Olson as a first- and second-down middle linebacker who’s more of a run stopper and would have to come off the field on third downs as teams pass more. He had six pass breakups in his final two years. Olson also loves to spend time in the film room, but that can lead to some paralysis by analysis where there’s some overthinking on his part, although he mostly appeared to trust his reads and routinely made plays if they were in front of him. He won’t have as much time in the NFL as he did in the FCS to rebound and still make a play if he gets caught flat-footed, especially when he’ll have to make a change of direction in an even more timely, efficient matter.
4) Are you surprised he went undrafted?
Yes and no. Based on everything I read about him and a conversation I had with former scout, Olson was projected to be drafted anywhere between the fourth and seventh rounds, although I recall one place listing him as an undrafted free agent. I think he had a better chance to be drafted if his Pro Day wasn’t canceled because of the coronavirus. He did go to the NFL Combine, where he impressed with a 42-inch vertical leap, got to be medically tested and interview with teams, but he also ran a 4.88-second 40-yard dash. If he was able to lower that time at his Pro Day, I think it could’ve made him more attractive in the draft. Because Pro Days and team visits were canceled, it seemed like smaller-school kids were affected the most. There were no Big Sky players drafted for the first time since 2000, and the six FCS players drafted were the fewest since 1993, when the NFL draft was cut to below 12 rounds.
5) How do you see his NFL career playing out?
I’m interested to see how his NFL career plays out. I would think he’ll initially get opportunities on special teams to prove whether he belongs. And that could potentially lead to more playing time on defense as an inside linebacker. He has quite a few former Grizzlies on the Philly staff with Tim Hauck, Marty Mornhinweg and Ken Flajole, so that can’t hurt when it comes time to make cuts. As a former NFL scout told me, a team is going to have a hard time cutting him because he’s a hard worker, is a smart player and is passionate about the game. He’s a workout machine at 6-foot-3, 237 pounds and had been continuing to train in hopes of getting that Pro Day. He’s also a film junkie, so I would believe he’s already taken a deep dive into whatever type of materials the team has passed out to players during these virtual meeting they’re having. Add to all that, I’d almost certainly guarantee he’s never going to get into any trouble off the field, so I would bet that’s not why he gets cut from a team if he does.
6) Anything to know about him off the field?
Olson is a quiet, humble, reserved kid who’s grounded in his approach. He doesn’t like to talk about himself and will instead pass credit along to his teammates and coaches. He was a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, aka the “Academic Heisman,” and graduated with a 3.91 GPA in business management. He was involved in quite a few off-the-field activities, like serving as a pen pal with kids from Gerber Elementary School in an underprivileged area in rural Northern California. It was one way he was able to give back after being bullied in middle school because he was overweight, which led to him developing an eating disorder, being diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety, and contemplating suicide. He found a reason to live by rededicating himself to his faith in eighth grade, and he’s returned to his religious high school, Cascade Christian, to share his story of what he went through. He was a zero-star recruit coming out of high school. Also, his dad was a Hall of Fame head coach at NAIA Southern Oregon, near their hometown of Medford, Oregon.
BLG’s take: First of all, I just want to thank Frank for his tremendous insight here. Go thank him on Twitter or write a nice message in the comments for me to pass along if you enjoyed this post. Getting back to Olson, he faces an uphill battle in Philly. The Eagles paid him the lowest guarantee out of their 13 UDFA signings. Still, it’s not exactly like the Eagles are loaded with linebacker talent. Olson has a path to making the practice squad and providing the Eagles with more depth.