Heading into the 2016 NFL Draft, there is likely no more coveted player (besides a “franchise” quarterback) than former UCLA linebacker Myles Jack.
Just late last year, the young man who had torn his meniscus a few months before in September; was still considered to be one of the top prospects in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Normally an injury such as that will cause some concern for NFL teams, but Jack made a calculated move and withdrew from school to solely focus on rehabilitating his knee; in preparation for the mental and physical “poking and prodding” that would occur by scouts and doctors.
Still in a majority of draft conversations, Jack slid ‘under the radar’ a bit compared to Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith; who was tagged to be the first linebacker off the board at the end of this month.
Jan 1, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith (9) covers his face as he reacts in pain on the ground after suffering an injury in the first quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the 2016 Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Ironically, Smith’s own gruesome knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl a little over three months ago has potentially caused him to miss out on football for an entire year — with his draft stock set to plummet after a medical re-check a few days ago confirmed that he likely will be a “redshirt rookie” in the NFL if he’s selected.
That has lead to the question about whether if the New Orleans Saints should take a chance on a player that could end up being a “franchise player” for years to come, but completely lost to them for 2016?
Well, if you’re the New England Patriots or Tennessee Titans; with anywhere from 9 to 11 picks in the upcoming draft, then it’s quite doable — but for the Saints with only six selections, an extreme diligence and reservation must be used.
Even after Smith’s injury, Jack was still an obtainable player for the Saints; who sit with the twelfth overall pick in the first round, yet fast forward to a month ago and now he could potentially go in the first five picks.
It’s akin to what happened with former Florida Gator Dante Fowler Jr,. who was mocked to the Saints early on last year in the 2015 NFL Draft and ended up being selected with the 3rd overall pick in the draft.
Jack’s lightning shot up the draft board from simply a first round prospect to top five pick; occurred not only due to his reported positive rehabilitation status, but his skill set as well that is being required of the NFL now.
Dec 27, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals strong safety Deone Bucannon (20) sacks and strips the ball from Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) during the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
No longer are players on the defensive side of the ball being asked to play just their position, but one if not two more positions as well.
Linebackers are being tasked as filling in at safety, safeties are being asked to be a linebacker or a corner, defensive ends are being slid to defensive tackle in certain packages to allow outside linebackers to put their hand in the dirt, and so on.
It’s a huge jumble of ‘spinning plates’ and ‘Monte Carlo shell games’ to keep elite quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees off-balance and confused.
It’s why Jack has reached that coveted status, because he can play multiple roles such as not only basic linebacker, but cover like a defensive back and rush the passer off the edge when asked to.
Heck, he was even used as a running back during his time in high school at Bellevue and in college at UCLA; although I’m sure that is the very least on the minds of NFL teams — but his versatility is the “outside of the box” as they say.
Jack has done piece-meal workouts while still rehabbing his knee said to be at 80% close to a month ago: bench press only at the NFL Scouting Combine (19 reps), broad jump and vertical jump only at UCLA’s Pro Day (40 inch vert., 10’4 broad).
Sep 19, 2015; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins linebacker Myles Jack (30) warms up before the game against the Brigham Young Cougars at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
He was rumored to actually run the 40-yard dash a few weeks after UCLA’s Pro Day, but declined to do so; yet most reports have the 6-foot-1, 245 pounder at around a 4.56-4.58 range.
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The Saints conducted a private workout with Jack recently, though many like myself figure that it’s a “pipe dream” that the Saints will even come close to sniffing him at #12 overall.
But a recent report says that some teams may be concerned as to the status of Jack’s knee in the rehabilitation process.
CBS Sports analyst Dane Brugler stated that the medical re-checks for Jack “did not go well” and that there are some “longterm questions” for some teams.
Brugler went on to say that according to some NFL teams thinking of drafting him, that they were “out” — while NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that while there are “differing opinions” on Jack’s healing time for his knee, other teams weren’t bothered by it much.
While this could cause him to fall a few spots possibly, I still don’t think it”ll be a fall straight into the arms of the Saints at #12.
However, it is fair to say that the likelihood that the Saints could somehow end up snagging Jack isn’t a “long shot” anymore — at least as not of a long-shot as it was just a few short weeks ago.
Most draft projections have Jack going at the fifth overall pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who worked out Jack just yesterday in front of general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley.
Jan 28, 2016; Mobile, AL, USA; South squad head coach Gus Bradley of the Jacksonville Jaguars talks with players as they stretch during Senior Bowl practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports
This workout may have been to get a better view of Jack after the medical re-checks either to confirm what the Jaguars feel about possibly drafting him or give them some more pause.
Assuming Jack falls a few spots, then it’s not inconceivable that the Saints could still grab him; but I know what you’re already thinking:
DON’T TRADE UP!!!!
For a typical linebacker I can understand the doubt or anxiety that could cause, especially with the cautionary tale of Vernon Gholston of Ohio State — who was the sixth overall pick in the draft in 2008 by the New York Jets and fizzled out within three years.
Nov 1, 2014; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins linebacker Myles Jack (left) sacks Arizona Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon (12) during the first quarter at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Yet watching Jack on film, you’ll see that the film truly doesn’t lie — and he isn’t merely a “workout warrior” like Gholston hung his hat of “claim to fame” on.
The possible conundrum created by the Los Angles Rams trading up to first overall pick may have helped the Saints some too; as teams that wanted to draft a quarterback such as Jared Goff or Carson Wentz may be scrambling to grab whoever the Rams don’t — causing an even slighter tumble for Jack, as trades are made.
Yet again, I don’t think that will cause Jack to fall out of the top eight picks in the draft; which is a plausible trade bait situation the Saints could bite on and one that NFL analyst Charlie Casserly is predicting.
It’s true that the Saints may have to give up a second round or even a third round pick to put together as a package; in order to move up and acquire Jack; but with his ability that could change the defense for years to come, it would certainly be worth it…..