Myles Jack isn't a perfect NFL prospect -- but he's pretty close
With the 2016 draft season underway, Sam Monson opens up his Analysis Notebook once again to share an in-depth evaluation of one top prospect each week. This week, we’ll explore the strengths, weaknesses and bottom-line scouting report for UCLA standout Myles Jack.
[Editor’s note: Looking for more on the NFL draft? Check out our 2016 NFL draft guide, loaded with scouting reports, signature stats and much more.]
Myles Jack is one of the most intriguing and versatile prospects in the entire draft class. There are evaluators out there who think he is the single best prospect in the entire draft, regardless of position.
I wouldn’t go that far, but there is a hell of a lot to like about him. As tends to happen this time of year, people easily fall in love with potential, which Jack has a lot of.
Jack possess off-the-charts athleticism, fits every measurable profile you can draw up, has experience playing multiple different positions for the UCLA Bruins and has done it all well. If a team can get him to reach his ceiling there may be no limit to how good he can be in the NFL, especially given how the league looks today where coverage is key.
Three games into his junior year at UCLA, Jack tore the meniscus in his right knee during practice, so his final season was cut short. However, if we take a look at his 2014 season we see a player that lined up all over. At some point in that season he played every single linebacker position possible, covered the slot, split out wide as a cornerback, lined up deep as a free safety and moonlighted as a running back for 41 snaps on the other side of the ball.
This part of draft season sees people lose themselves in the minutiae of what players can and can’t do, rather than focusing on how often they do them and how consistently. There is pretty much nothing that Myles Jack can’t do on a football field, but that’s not to say he is a perfect prospect. What does the tape and PFF grading say?
What he does well
Jack is the standout coverage linebacker in this class. He led the nation in PFF coverage grade in 2014 among linebackers, and his ability in this area is so good that the San Diego Chargers reportedly see him not as a linebacker at all, but as a potential replacement for Eric Weddle at safety if selected.
We don’t even need to go back to the 2014 tape to see an example of this coverage ability on tape. In his final game of the season before he got hurt, against BYU, there is a great example. Jack is lined up covering the slot in man coverage. Okay, so it’s against BYU, but think about that for a second — this is a linebacker, in man coverage in the slot against a wide out like it’s no big deal. Jack is able to live with the receiver off the line and stays with him through the route before breaking up the pass as it arrives.
I’m not saying Jack is going to be employed in the same fashion in the NFL – you probably won’t want him covering Odell Beckham Jr. in the slot any time soon – but being able to do this in college bodes well for his ability to cover in the NFL. Linebackers in the NFL may not be asked to man up against wide outs, but they will be forced to cover tight ends and backs in man coverage. At times they will need to cover slot receivers, often in zones because the defense does not want to be forced into their personnel sub packages.
So let’s take man coverage out of the equation for a second and think about zones. The majority of all coverage assignments for linebackers at the NFL level are zones. The difficulty of the zone drop can vary, as can the method and technique of playing it, but understanding where you need to be and what is threatening that zone from a route and receiver standpoint is probably the single biggest skill for a coverage linebacker at the next level, as much as people lose themselves in the ability to cover in man-to-man.
Take a look at this two-play sequence against Kansas State from 2014. These plays occurred on back-to-back passing plays, separated by a run for no gain. On both plays the Bruins are running a cover-2 shell that has linebackers matching up within their zones underneath – essentially playing man coverage within zones. Jack slides out to bump the slot receiver and disrupt his release before passing him off deep and covering the flat to that side. That receiver runs a little fake before trying to come inside but Jack matches him perfectly and walls him off physically. The receiver in question is Tyler Lockett, who is not only one of the shiftier receivers around, but was an instant success for Seattle as a rookie. Jack makes contact here, which will get some purists up in arms, but it is textbook coverage for a linebacker and exactly what a coach would teach.
The very next play is the same kind of defensive shell, but this time Jack is assigned to carry the slot receiver when he runs vertically, staying in phase with him well underneath the post route and picking off a poorly-thrown pass.
These are the kinds of things he will be asked to do at the NFL level and he shows the ability to do them seamlessly, with movement skills most linebackers can only dream of.
While this doesn’t mean he will be perfect, and NFL receiving threats are a whole different level, this is a better starting point and set of tools to work with than any other college linebacker in the draft, and gives some indication why the Chargers are thinking defensive back rather than linebacker, however optimistic that is.
While he does flash the ability to deal with blockers and attack linemen, it’s not his strength in the run game. What he does best is fly to the football and take down the ball carrier unblocked, which fits perfectly with the weakside linebacker in a 4-3 profile.
Here he is making a classic play against Virginia. The blocking forms a solid hole for the running back, but Jack knifes in and meets him in there, killing the play before it can get going. Jack is a solid and reliable tackler on these plays, and has missed just six tackles over 91 attempts in the past two seasons of play. If you can keep him free of blockers, he will maximize the impact he has on those plays, attacking the hole rather than just waiting for a runner to emerge from it and limiting the positive gain.
What he struggles with
As I said earlier, there really isn’t much to actively dislike about Jack, but that’s not to say he is a perfect prospect either. He has an ill-disciplined streak which is always a frustrating thing to see in a player. He has been involved in practice fights and scuffles at UCLA and has committed foolish penalties in each of the past two seasons, notching 11 total flags and a negative grade in that area both years. Those figures led all linebackers in both seasons to the point he got injured. This obviously isn’t going to drop him too far down anybody’s draft board, but it’s a black mark there is no reason he should have.
His size is not exactly a drawback, but it poses some interesting questions at the next level. Matching up with running backs and receivers should be fine, but TEs at the NFL level are 6-foot-5 freaks of nature. Jack won’t have problems running with them, but at only 6-1 he is going to need to use his arm length and superior athleticism to match them at the catch point.
While he does flash the ability to get off blocks there are also a lot of plays where he just loses to bigger, stronger players. Let’s go back to the BYU game this season for an example. The Bruins faced a 3rd-and-1 play and Jack attacks the RT on the play, but just gets controlled and turned away from the point of attack, giving the runner a comfortable lane to dive forward and pick up the first down.
This isn’t an outright negative – he doesn’t lose every play – but rather an area of his game that is more of a wash than a clear positive or plus in his evaluation. He is inconsistent when it comes to taking on blockers in the run game, sometimes winning and sometimes losing. This is important the note when projecting him to any position other than 4-3 weakside linebacker, because any other linebacker position will need to contest blockers far more than that weakside backer.
The bottom line
Linebacker seems like a position where more than any other people fall in love with the idea of a player rather than the player himself. Myles Jack has boundless athleticism and movement skills for the position and limitless potential in coverage, which in a passing league is huge.
Jack has the ability to cover like few — if any — NFL linebackers, but he does still make mental mistakes and struggle at times against bigger blockers – hell, bigger players, period. Jack’s best attribute is his coverage, but he has also shown the ability to attack the ball carrier and come up quickly against the run game and screens. He needs to become better at consistently defeating blockers, and avoid guessing in his desire to be quick up to the football, because at the NFL level those mistakes cost big plays.
If all else fails — I think he could make a hell of an NFL running back, too.
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