You Should Know Jack: UCLA LB's stock soars at NFL combine
INDIANAPOLIS — John Thornton was making conversation on a sofa on the second floor of the JW Marriott when a bald, 40-something gentleman took a seat 10 feet away. “Hey, coach,” said Thornton to Jaguars head man Gus Bradley, who smiled and returned the greeting. Bradley, as it happens, has lately been on the mind of Thornton, a 10-year NFL veteran who is now the director of client management for Octagon Football. Thornton’s highest-profile client at this year’s combine is UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, with whom Bradley and the Jaguars personnel types are very familiar.
As an early architect of Seattle’s Legion of Boom secondary, Bradley made creative use of the shape-shifting and linebacker-sized safety Kam Chancellor. An hour earlier, over at Lucas Oil Stadium, the shape-shifting Jack, a safety-linebacker hybrid, who also happens to be a terrific running back, had shared with reporters that, while he enjoyed playing off the ball “as a Mike, Will, Sam [linebacker], I think I could play strong safety as kind of a Kam Chancellor type.”
So it wouldn’t be remotely surprising to see the Jaguars pluck Jack with the fifth pick—if he’s still around, that is. Dallas could well snatch him at No. 4. Neither of those scenarios would be plausible if it weren’t for the fact that Jack had a very good day at the combine on Friday without so much as breaking a sweat.
After tearing cartilage in his right knee last September, Jack withdrew from UCLA to focus on his rehab, a chance to better prepare for the combine. While Jack is still skipping most of the drills here, holding his fire until UCLA’s March 13 Pro Day, he did submit to the probings and proddings, the yankings and torquings of a small army of team doctors, who were, he said, “pretty up front as far as moving my knee, twisting it.” Thornton had warned him, said Jack, “that they would be really aggressive with it” and “kind of make it hurt to see if it was hurt. But it was fine.”
And so Jack’s stock soared on a day when he didn’t take a single pass drop or sniff a three-cone drill. On a day devoted to running backs and offensive linemen, no one fared better than the hybrid defender from Bellevue, Wash. A few minutes after Gus Bradley had relocated to a nearby settee, a coach from an NFC East team walked past Thornton while practically shouting, “Your boy is killin’ it!” In addition to passing his physical on Friday with flying colors, Jack had allayed concerns about his size. Clearly, the guy could cover: he took significant snaps as a slot corner at UCLA. Did he have the heft to play the run? Doubts persisted. When his height and weight were announced—Jack goes 6' 1", 245—a cheer went up among coaches and personnel types.
Jack’s vast appeal is explained by ex-NFL assistant coach Pat Kirwan, now host of a Sirius radio show. “He could play a lot of positions, but what he is to me is Will ’backer in a 4–3. When I was with Pete Carroll and Monte Kiffin, one of our priorities was finding a Will ’backer who could play with aggression, play sideline to sideline.
“That’s still important, but since then, the Belichick-type offenses have been causing nightmares. He sends out two tight ends and a running back. It’s first down, so you send out your base defense. Tom Brady sees that and hits an ‘explode’ button, now his tight ends turn into wideouts. When you have Myles Jack, you’re not panicking over that. You have your hybrid player, your Lavonte David.”
You also have an emergency running back, should your No. 1 and No. 2 ballcarriers go down. “You probably don’t want to use him that way,” adds Kirwan, “but you can get through a game with him. Or, you could Deion Sanders the guy, make him a wide receiver every so often.”
Jack seems slightly conflicted about these possible dual roles. On the one hand, he prefers linebacker to running back. It’s a cold fact of NFL life that guys playing the latter position have significantly shorter careers. “That’s why I came into college playing linebacker,” he explained, following his Friday presser. “It’s tough to be a running back. It’s not a long career. You get beat up, you got guys hitting you at all different angles.”
On the other hand, he understands there’s a special mystique to two-way stars like Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson and Charles Woodson. So does Under Armour, which made Jack the first—and so far only—prospect from this year’s draft class to sign a major apparel and footwear deal. Explaining Jack’s appeal to the company, VP of marketing Ryan Kuehl mentioned both his “electrifying” style of play and the work ethic he’s displayed during his comeback.
During a meeting with members of the company’s design team Thursday evening, Jack recalled, “They said, ‘What do you want in a shoe?’”
As it happened, he’d given the matter some thought: “How about something with the [playing] card, ‘jack’? He also greenlit the idea of a shoe featuring the names of his mother, La Sonjia; and his brother, Jahlen.
“Boom! Literally mid-conversation,” he recalled, “they turned around and started working on it.” Within 90 minutes, he was presented with two technicolored, personalized shoes, one featuring the names of his mother and brother; the other bearing the legend, “Jack of All Trades.”
“I was amazed,” says Jack, who could play any number of positions and be amazing at all of them.