College: North Dakota State
College Stats: 156 career solo tackles (third in NDSU history), two-time First Team All-MVFC selection, 2017 First Team All-American
North Dakota State has dominated the FCS this decade. The Bison have won six of the last seven national championships and with that kind of track record, people are going to take notice. Four NDSU players have been selected in the NFL Draft in the last four years, and Nick DeLuca will look to make it five for five in 2018.
DeLuca became the leader of the Bison defense as a junior. He started all 15 games en route to the school’s fifth straight title, racking up 135 tackles in the process. DeLuca was incredible in the postseason, turning it on when it mattered the most, and that led to him being named to the Butkus Award watch list as a senior in 2016.
Unfortunately, a shoulder injury derailed his senior campaign. He had a great game in North Dakota State’s upset win over Iowa, but DeLuca only played in three games before being shut down for the year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the one year that the Bison failed to win it all.
DeLuca finished up his collegiate career with another solid campaign in 2017, but he missed games against Eastern Washington and Robert Morris due to injury.
You won’t find many linebackers with the natural instincts that DeLuca has. He has a nose for the ball and is great at diagnosing plays quickly off the snap. That has helped him blow things up before the opposing offense is able to set things up how they want.
Leadership is a big positive too. No one denies how much of a role DeLuca played in that regard, and he would be a good locker room presence.
Injuries are a big concern. DeLuca has already missed a significant amount of time with a shoulder injury and then suffered a torn meniscus last year. That’s a bit of a worry for NFL teams.
While it’s not the be-all, end-all that many make it out to be, DeLuca did not have a great combine performance. Linebackers have to be able to play in coverage, and his 4.85 40-yard dash did not do him any favors. There are also concerns about his strength after he only did 18 reps of 225 pounds.
DeLuca’s draft prospects don’t look great, but he will almost certainly be picked up as a Priority Free-Agent. His best shot to make an NFL roster will probably be on special teams.