Playing behind future early NFL draft picks Vernon Hargreaves (2015), Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor (2016), Dawson had to wait his turn at Florida, spending time first at safety and then at nickel before emerging as a First Team All-SEC pick at cornerback in 2017.
He started out his senior campaign in fine form, leaping high into the air to snare a deflected pass and returning it 48 yards to tie Michigan at 10-10 early in the second quarter in one of the more highly anticipated inter-conference season-openers in recent college football history. It was the third time over his career that Dawson returned an interception for a touchdown (Eastern Michigan, 2014 and Arkansas, 2016).
Unfortunately for Dawson and his Gators, the glory was short-lived. Michigan wound up prevailing 33-17 and the offensive futility which showed up in this game was an issue all year long with Florida finishing the season a dismal 4-7 and fifth in the SEC East, leading to then-head coach Jim McElwain getting replaced by Dan Mullen.
Starting every game for the first time in his career, Dawson recorded a career-high 34 tackles, including two tackles for loss. He tied CJ Henderson for the team lead with four interceptions on the year and finished one behind another teammate, Marco Wilson, in passes broken up with nine. He had two would-be interceptions slip out of his hands against LSU, one of which their star wideout D.J. Chark wrestled away from him for a gain of 47 yards.
Despite starting just seven of 12 games (and missing the SEC Championship due to a sprained ankle), Dawson led the Gators in passes broken up as a junior, recording seven, including the interception against Arkansas. Dawson also forced a fumble in 2016 and registered 24 tackles, including 3.5 for loss from his nickel back role.
Dawson saw time on defense and special teams over his first two years with the Gators, playing in 25 games and even starting at safety as a true freshman when injuries to teammates mounted. Dawson recorded four tackles in that start (Tennessee) and led the team with six tackles against Vanderbilt a few weeks later but recorded just 24 tackles overall during this two-year span, as well as a forced fumble in 2015 and the interception (and touchdown) against Eastern Michigan in his first ever collegiate game.
Dawson's lack of ideal height and length will drop him down the board for some clubs. He possesses the quickness, route anticipation and sticky hands, however, to handle nickel duties the next level. If he can build upon his flashy final season at Florida with an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl and Combine, Dawson could join his former teammates as a top 64 selection in the spring.
Named to the Florida Class 1A First-Team All-State defense... Helped Dixie County to a 10-1 record during his senior season... Nominated to play in the 2014 Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl... Finished his high school career with 122 total tackles, 99 solo, and seven interceptions... Chose Florida over Alabama, Florida State, Iowa and Wisconsin.
Possesses a compact frame with the light feet, fluid hips and quick acceleration to handle nickel duties in the NFL. Shows good coordination and balance in press man coverage, marrying a physical initial punch with quick feet to shadow receivers on short and intermediate routes. Sticks in the hip pocket of receivers, showing very good route anticipation and an instinctive feel for coverage, as well as the sharp cuts and explosive downhill burst to undercut receivers. Walks the line between aggressive play and holding, sneaking his hands into opponents to ride them throughout the route but rarely drawing flags from officials. Impressive hand-eye coordination (among defensive backs) to take advantage of tipped passes, showing rare focus and sticky fingers to take advantage of opportunities (see Michigan, Florida State - 2017). Generally reliable open-field tackler who flashes explosive hitting ability when he lowers his shoulder. Characterized as a team-first guy whose passion for teammates made him well-liked and respected in the locker room and with the coaching staff. - Rob Rang 12/21/2017
Possesses an odd build for a modern day cornerback with a short, stocky frame normally associated with a safety or even a running back. Plays bigger than his size but simply lacks the height and arm length to handle the bigger receivers on the outside, too often losing out on jump balls. Quicker than fast, struggling to keep up with receivers on long routes. Flashes explosiveness as a tackler but doesn't use it often enough, resorting to grabbing cloth and dragging down ball-carriers - or worse, getting taken for a ride until teammates help - too often. More than willing to let teammates do the dirty work, only occasionally jumping into the pile or scrapping to rip the ball free when ball-carriers are being held up. - Rob Rang 12/21/2017
COMPARES TO: Jairus Byrd, Panthers. Byrd's instincts and sticky hands made him a star cornerback at Oregon with 17 career interceptions, prompting Buffalo to make him the No. 42 overall pick in 2009. His average speed (4.60) and short, stocky build (5-10, 207) ultimately earned him a switch to safety, where he continued his playmaking ways with stops in New Orleans and currently Carolina.
IN OUR VIEW: Dawson lacks ideal size but he is an opportunistic playmaker whose instincts, quickness and sticky hands make him an intriguing nickel corner or perhaps even a free safety conversion candidate at the next level.