The season is over for all but 4 NFL teams and that means one thing: draft season upon us in force. I couldn't be happier about it. Bring on the heaping helping of all-star game updates, terrible mock drafts, free agency rumors, workout reports, served with a side of scouting gossip and lies. To kick off this team-building section of the NFL calendar Lester posted a poll on Monday asking WCG readers what they thought the Bears biggest offseason need was. It currently has over 200 comments and 4400 poll responses. It's great to know you care.
The inside linebacker (ILB) position won in a veritable landslide with 44% of the vote. While I may or may not agree with that assessment, the fans have spoken. So be it. Without further ado, a more in-depth look at one of the players most talked about as a possible solution to the Bears need for playmakers at linebacker.
Myles Jack, Linebacker, UCLA
Make no mistake: the hype train for Myles Jack has left the station and it is picking up steam. Fans in many NFL cities are already shouting his name and WCG is not immune to the siren song of an ILB savior. The avalanche of desire for him will only grow larger through the scouting process and will likely crescendo after the Scouting Combine if he is recovered enough to run. If he is healthy he will test extremely well. Jack is an amazing athlete and that leads coaches and fans alike to salivate about his potential on an NFL football field. There's only one problem with that notion, he's not fully formed as a linebacker yet.
When Myles declared for the NFL Draft many were surprised by his college coach's lukewarm endorsement. Jim Mora Jr. said of Jack: "Myles talent is without question. I hope he's put enough out there where they can get a true evaluation." Mora later tried to explain his stance a bit and said "I've been in 25 Draft rooms. I've never seen a guy taken off (two games of junior tape)." That sentiment rings more than a little hollow as many juniors with limited film are selected every year, especially when they are athletically gifted as Jack. So why did Mora really take the time to publicly air his non-positive thoughts about Jack's choice? We will never know for sure but if I had to hazard a guess I'd say it was because Mora thought Jack wasn't yet fully matured as a college player. After watching Jack's junior game film I'd have to agree.
Myles Jack's game is made for highlight films. He's got speed, flash and celebration in abundance. Those are good things. The rub comes when you start watching the whole film and not just the highlights. There are a lot of long stretches where he simply has zero impact on the game. Plays where he gets owned by offensive lineman, juked by quicker slot receivers, penalties that come in pairs and the times when he lowers his helmet and strikes with the top of his head, leaving him dazed. When you add a serious lack of certainty about what his true position is, drafting him high in the 1st round starts looking like an exceptional gamble.
If you are frothing mad at this point and think that I hate Myles Jack, back away from the keyboard slowly and take a sip of a nice cool beverage. I don't hate him; at all. I do think that he is over-hyped based on his real defensive impact at UCLA, but there is plenty to like about what he brings to the table:
- Very athletic player with startling straight line speed when he really opens it up
- Good size and the ability to deliver big hits when he uses good form
- If he reads a play quickly and is decisive, he can deliver plus plays for the defense with ease
- Has an excellent jam at the line of scrimmage and can mash a receiver's release
- Is a terror coming forward (downhill) against short passes in front of him
- Plays very good man coverage on players who are not exceptionally quick or are lazy in their cuts
- Unafraid to mix it up with offensive lineman
So with all that going for him why am I not jumping on the hype train? If you dig deeper into his game film, Mr. Jack's liabilities start to nag at you, rather loudly:
- His real impact on film (tackles for loss, plus run stops, sacks, hurries, interceptions and passes defended) is very limited
- Often slow to read plays and that negates his (substantial) athletic advantage
- Highly ineffective when engaging offensive lineman on interior run plays; gets swallowed or turned out of the play
- Calling him a linebacker is misnomer: he lined up for more as a nickel corner or an edge rusher than he did as an ILB in the games I watched (Virginia, UNLV and BYU)
- Is easily beaten by receivers who have sharp acceleration (quickness) and/or sharp cuts
- Gets lost in zone coverage
- A bit of a penalty magnet, and gets away with more than are called
- Likes to pile on after players are on the ground
- Hits with his head (concussion risk)
- Loafs often, and sometimes hard enough that his team pays a serious price in yards
So where does that (very) mixed bag of impressions leave the final standing of Myles Jack. If he is fully recovered from his injury (all reports indicate he will be fully healed by training camp) he possesses a very high ceiling in the NFL. Teams need players with his physical skills and will gamble to get them. But if anyone thinks that his physical skills alone will power Myles Jack to Luke Kuechly-like heights early in his pro career, they are in for a bit of a shock. He'll need to land in a good spot with coaches who will focus on developing him. That is less common in the pro game than you might think. On top of that he'll need to be put in positions to succeed and that likely means a situational role until he can fully mature. If Jack is drafted high in the 1st round (all signs currently point to that eventuality) I fear that his potential to disappoint fans who view him as a fully-formed savior will be very high when his growing pains play out in living color on Sundays.