SI 50, No. 2: UCLA LB Myles Jack
With the 2016 NFL draft just days away, it’s time for all 32 teams to get their draft boards in order and rank players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. To that end, Doug Farrar has assembled his own Big Board, with his top 50 players.
The SI 50 uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class and explain why they’re slotted as such. We continue with a linebacker that would probably be the best player in this draft class were it not for one knee injury.
2. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
Height: 6' 1" Weight: 245
Bio: Versatility is prized more than ever in the NFL, and Myles Jack is the most versatile player in the 2016 draft. Not only can he play credibly everywhere from inside linebacker to safety and cover receivers at both slot and cornerback depth, he also logged time at running back at UCLA. He was a four-star recruit out of Bellevue High in Washington, and he earned the Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards in 2013, amassing 51 solo tackles, two interceptions, 11 passes defensed and a forced fumble on top of 267 yards and seven touchdowns on 38 carries as a running back. Though he spent less time as a two-way threat the next year, Jack solidified his status as one of the best defenders in the nation. In 2014, he put up 57 solo tackles, picked off a pass and added seven passes defensed as the roving point man in a pro-style defense.
Jack’s future seemed unlimited until September 2015, when he suffered a torn meniscus and shut it down for his junior season after gutting it out for three games. Thus, he was watching as a man apart as his last collegiate season went down the drain, and possibly his draft prospects along with it. He signed on with the Fischer Sports Institute in Arizona to rehab his repaired knee, passed the medical re-check at the scouting combine, and underwent another medical re-check in Indianapolis in April. There are divergent reports about the status of Jack’s knee, but that’s the nature of the beast when it comes to pre-draft medical reports.
“I’m past the point of worrying about it,” he said the day before the second re-check. “I haven’t had any setbacks. No swelling or anything, so mentally, I’m not even focused on that. I’m just trying to get that endurance back that I had in college. I’ve been doing a lot of change of direction work—being able to go hard in spurts, take a little rest and go hard again. A lot of cone drills, and even suicides, running back and forth on the field. I got cleared to be a pedestrian, and now, it’s time to be an NFL football player.”
Jack has always been a football player, and he’s rarely pedestrian. The only question about his future is the status of that knee. Everything on tape shows the prototype of the modern linebacker, who must do everything from stuffing the run to flying out to the boundary in coverage.
Strengths: Jack is the best coverage linebacker in this class, and maybe one of the few best ever to come out of the college ranks. Has legitimate ability to cover running backs on screens, slot receivers up the seam and over the middle, and speed receivers up the boundary. Times his pass breakups impeccably to break up plays—can flirt with interference calls at times, but manages to stay on the right side of things most times. Well-schooled player who is rarely ill-prepared. Full-field run-and-hit player who can handle the mistakes of others and broken plays in addition to his own assignments. Top-notch diagnostic skills—Jack keeps his head on a swivel and to the target even when his body is moving.
Closes very quickly to the ballcarrier and wrap-tackles with good force for his size. Stacks and sheds at the point of attack and isn’t afraid to mix it up. Missed just six of the 91 tackles he attempted in 2014 and ’15. Actually got stronger in short and intermediate coverage after his knee injury: He allowed a 22.2 opponent passer rating on 11 targets in ’15 after giving up an 82.3 rating on 69 targets in ’14. Not a power player to and through the gap, but makes up for it with excellent timing. Understanding of power situations allows him to force leverage at times and play with more power than he appears to have. Still working on pass-rush moves (one sack in his college career), but had three quarterback hits and nine quarterback hurries in ’14 and could turn this part of his game into an asset.
As a slot and free defender, possesses rare ability to keep up with bigger tight ends and smaller, faster receivers. Understands man and zone concepts and is always aware of his place in the defense. Can turn with slot men running two-way goes and other quick, angular concepts. At times, was tasked with covering top receivers wherever they went, a rare thing for a linebacker of any stripe. Accepts challenges willingly and with determination. Brings an alpha personality to the field and was a leader from the time he arrived on campus.
Weaknesses: Jack does generate power with technique and timing, but he’s not the ideal run-stopping linebacker. The team that takes him will likely understand that and place him more in space to limit the time he spends wrestling with blockers. Can amass penalties in bunches. Gets over-amped occasionally, forcing himself to take extra steps on angles in pursuit. Occasionally can be fooled by misdirection because he plays too fast, but his diagnostic skills mitigate this for the most part. Knee recovery will obviously require serious vetting, as it already has, and could drop him down boards and affect his NFL tenure.
Conclusion: In an era when the linebacker is supposed to be an endangered species as a franchise-defining player in the NFL, the top two players in this class might have been linebackers (Jack and Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith) were it not for two knee injuries. Jack’s injury isn’t as serious as Smith’s, but it’s still going to give teams pause, especially since so much of his game is based on raw speed and rare change-of-direction skills. If he’s completely healthy, Jack is a rare player at any level. If his knee impacts and takes away any of the things that make him great, that’s obviously a very different story. He’s not a guy you can magically turn into a thumper of an inside linebacker. But based on the reports so far, it seems that Jack has a good shot at a full recovery.
Ideally, his career would match that of Panthers veteran Thomas Davis, who played safety in college and overcame multiple knee injuries to become one of the best in the business. Jack has the potential to match Davis’s impact and then some ... at least, he did before the injury. And that’s the only thing stopping him from terrorizing every offense he faces.
Pro Comparison: Thomas Davis, Panthers (first round, 2005, Georgia)