So...how is the knee?
The answer to this question will define whether Myles Jack is a top 5 pick in the 2016 NFL draft, or if he falls down, literally and figuratively. The answer to that question also depends on whether you have one of those top picks or whether you are further down on the list and want to create enough doubt to maybe get Jack to slip down to your spot.
Let the curbside doctoring and politicking begin.
Myles Jack is unquestionably among the top handful of college athletes ever at the linebacker position, so much so that it wasn't clear until his junior season when he became a full-time starting middle linebacker if he wasn't still partly a running back, or defensive back, or even kick returner. Even the conference was confused. Jack was the Pac-12 freshman offensive and defensive player of the year in 2014 based on games like this.
Then as a sophomore, he made runs like this (poor Budda).
Throw in a bunch of actual defensive stuff like a lot of tackles, some interceptions, shut down pass coverage against wide receivers, and general havoc all around the field, and you see what made Bruin fans go crazy and makes NFL scouts drool.
That once-in-a-generation ability combined with his high intensity on the field and his intelligent and highly likable demeanor off the field had him pegged as a potential number one pick in this year's NFL draft. The usual panic for a quarterback aside, Jack had a realistic shot at being the first name called by Commissioner Roger Goddell.
Then the knee thing happened.
The knee thing was more properly called a bucket-handle lateral meniscus tear in his right knee, and it both ended Jack's college career and kicked off a series of questions about how his surgically repaired knee is healing and what it's longevity will be. After being limited at both the NFL Combine and U.C.L.A.'s Pro Day, those questions continue and they are reaching firestorm proportions as draft day nears.
In the USA Today...
But a report circulated last week suggesting that Jack, an explosive player who can cover and pursue from sideline to sideline with aplomb, could fall out of the top 10 because of concerns by at least one team that his knee won't hold up over the long haul.
From Sports Illustrated...
During UCLA's pro day the following month, he took part in some, but not all, drills, declaring himself at 80% health-wise. An anticipated personal pro day then never happened, as Jack was instead saving workouts for individual teams. All the while there has been a non-stop buzz surrounding the status of his knee, made louder by his attendance at the combine's medical rechecks earlier this month.
From an NFL Network reporter on twitter...
Dug a little -- Per sources, issue for UCLA LB Myles Jack is a chondral defect in his right knee. Problem it'll be for him is up for debate.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) April 24, 2016
And huge concern from The Philadelphia Daily News.....
NFL source calls Myles Jack "a time bomb" whose knee could give him several good years, or not. Bone and cartilage starting to break away.— Les Bowen (@LesBowen) April 18, 2016
And this was all countered by Myles' agent...
Myles himself while playing a pickup basketball game last week...
"I'm first thinking, maybe they knew something I didn't," Jack said on Friday, a week after his final medical recheck, "but my knee was fine running, cutting, jumping, dunking. It was like, if I told you your finger is falling off, and you look down and say, ‘Um, I can see that it's fine right here.' I didn't really know what was going on."
The reports hardly fazed Jack. In every one of his visits with NFL teams, the status of his knee was always the first question. No teams, he said, expressed much concern beyond that.
"Nobody had any issues," Jack said. "The doctors (at his medical recheck two weeks before the draft) said it was fine. I felt like it was great."
And perhaps most importantly, one of those guys with one of those top 5 (#5 specifically) picks.
Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell, meanwhile, has gone on record to publicly express satisfaction with Jack's condition. The Jaguars, with the fifth pick in the draft, put Jack through a workout at UCLA on April 16.
"He looked good," Caldwell said during a pre-draft news conference Friday. "We put him through linebacker drills, change of direction, drops, bag drills."
There is a lot of posturing and posing and misdirection and gamesmanship by NFL execs this week, and the sure way to know when they are trying to fool everyone with what they are saying is that their lips are moving. We will find out the perceived truth about Myles knee on Thursday night when we either hear his name in the top 10 or when we find ourselves waiting. We will find out the real truth about Myles' knee when rookie camps begin next month.
From the NFL Combine
Height - 6'1
Weight - 245
Rating 7.5 (projected future All-Pro)
Myles' athleticism is second to none in this and pretty much any draft class. His speed, acceleration, ability to change direction fluidly, and maintain his speed throughout. This allows him to pursue run plays from sideline to sideline and cover tight ends, slots, and wide receivers. That unique versatility lets him stay on the field regardless of down and distance, making a defensive coordinator's life easier and making an opposing offensive coordinator's job harder. He is aggressive, almost to a fault,
Lost in the physical godliness is his mental side. Myles is an intelligent (Well, yeah. Bruin.) player as well.
Myles played his first two seasons at outside linebacker before moving to middle linebacker in a 3-4 where he played just three games before injury, so his experience in the middle is considerably less than many other prospects. He is also not the prototypical run stopper MLB like Ray Lewis. Myles' also had some trouble playing under control. Instead of taking proper angles and tackling with his shoulders (ala the tacking machine that is Eric Kendricks) Myles often relied on his speed to get to the ball and then reached high to pull down the ball carrier. This resulted in more than a few face mask and personal foul penalties. He will need to work on refining pursuit and tackling techniques, particularly as he steps up in class of athletic talent.
His biggest weakness, which Myles readily admits, is his pass rush.
I think that's a part of my game I really need to work on. If there's a weakness in my game, it's that I need to improve my pass rush and be more consistent. I want to have better technique and better moves, but I'm definitely capable of it, and I'll put in the work.
Jim Mora made the comparison on more than one occasion to 49ers great linebacker NaVorro Bowman while SI compares Jack to Carolina's Thomas Davis.
NFL teams, especially those picking early in the draft, are a desperate lot. In the end, the promise and potential will overcome fears about the injury and downside. The Dallas Cowboys at #4 can use a versatile linebacker like Jack. Jacksonville at #5 desperately needs speed on defense and has had good experience with UCLA Bruins Maurice Jones-Drew and Marcedes Lewis. San Francisco at #7 needs to replace NaVorro Bowman and Jack fills that niche perfectly.
A final draft analysis video from SI:
Last season, stud Bruin linebacker Eric Kendricks was a steal at a mid second round 45. Two years ago, stud Bruin linebacker Anthony Barr went off the board at pick number 9.
Now another stud Bruin linebacker is ready to play on Sundays. Where remains to be seen. Tune in to the draft early this year, Bruins. The knee questions may remain, but don't expect Myles himself to sit for long waiting to hear his name called.