Futures: UCLA LB-RB Myles Jack
By Matt Waldman
"Myles Jack once took a knee in a victory formation . . . it was a 38-yard gain."
This is the lead comment to describe a collection of Myles Jack highlights on YouTube. The nod to the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in The World ad campaign isn't too far from the truth.
Tom Lemming's No. 8 running back among high school prospects, Jack scored seven rushing touchdowns as freshman; only Bruins alum DeShaun Foster scored more as a first-year player. The 6-foot-1, 232-pound Jack has the burst, vision, and long-speed of a legitimate NFL running back prospect.
The problem –- if you really consider it a problem –- is that Jack was also Scout.com's No. 4 outside linebacker prospect among incoming freshmen. His 76 tackles in 2013 were second only to Seahawks great Kenny Easley's Bruins frosh record.
Tack on a team-high 11 pass defenses, two interceptions (one for a touchdown), a blocked punt, and two quarters on the Athletic Director's Academic Honor Roll and Jack even earns the seal of approval from mothers everywhere. Pac-12 coaches were so impressed with Jack's work that they voted the UCLA star its conference freshman of the year on offense and defense –- the first player to ever win both conference awards.
Jack may not be draft eligible in 2015, but he's too good not to profile. There's a rich history of major college performers who took on multiple roles for their teams and went onto fine NFL careers.
Hines Ward arrived at Georgia as a running back -- and a good one at a program with a rich tradition of NFL runners. However, Ward finished his career at quarterback, and in the years in between he was also a wide receiver. The Steelers decided receiver was Ward's best fit in the pros, but they didn't hesitate to exploit his skills as a runner, passer, and blocker. Ward will be remembered as one the best utility men in the history of pro football.
Fellow Bulldog Robert Edwards was a cornerback until the Georgia depth chart at running back was depleted to the point that they gave Edwards looks out of desperation. The eventual NFL Offensive Rookie of The Year for the New England Patriots had potential similar to Matt Forte (he might have proven it if a beach game at the Pro Bowl didn't rob Edwards of his top-end athleticism).
Neither of these players were two-way players. The few that have been one-platoon options in recent decades had far more limited roles than the likes of legends Charlie Trippi, Sammy Baugh and Chuck Bednarik.
Chargers safety Eric Weddle was a defensive back, a runner, an option passer, and even the holder on extra points at Utah. Air Force head coach Fisher DeBerry once told Weddle that he was so versatile that Utah should have awarded the Ute two scholarships. Stanford's Owen Marecic (linebacker and fullback), Michigan State's Kellen Davis (tight end and defensive end), and Michigan's Charles Woodson also figured prominently for their teams as one-platoon options.
Jack's freshman performance was no different in the sense that he had a primary position (linebacker) and a part-time role (running back). Jack only carried the ball 38 times in six games, but the 267 yards and seven touchdowns was enough for Pac-12 coaches to award him the best first-year offensive player in the conference. However, it was the way Jack earned the stats that won over the coaches.
Linebacker might be Jack's primary role, but I'm not sure if it's the position where he has the most potential. Even if I were to say the super sophomore had more talent as a running back, it's more difficult to find an outside linebacker with Jack's collection of talents as a coverage guy, an edge rusher, a tackler in space, and a run stopper.
For a football purist, Jack was one of the most joyful players to watch of the 2013 season. Here's a taste of the Bruins' freshman year and why deciding where he fits best on a football field is the best kind of problem that a coach could have.
A Physically and Emotionally Mature Running Back
I still expect senior running backs to display immature decision-making that leans too heavily on speed and too little on the factors of down, distance, blocking scheme, and angles. As a freshman, Jack displays the kind of on-field maturity common with wily NFL ball carriers.
This is a third-and-1 against Arizona at the UCLA 31. The Bruins operate from a pistol with 32 personnel –- 3 backs, 2 tight ends –- against a 10-man box. What's remarkable about this play is Jack's willingness to remain disciplined within the blocking scheme and trust the crease and his angle rather than fall back on his physical gifts.
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The play is designed to work the middle of the defense, but penetration forces Jack to slide to the left. At this point, a runner with Jack's athleticism is often tempted to bounce the play outside the free edge defender who is squeezing down the line. However, the freshman shows no hesitation, hits the crease with excellent burst, runs through the reach of the defender, and gets the first down.
The rest is gravy: Jack makes a nifty stop and change of direction to bounce outside his block to the left flat; switches the ball to his sideline arm so he can ward off the linebacker with a stiff-arm to turn the corner; and he reaches the sideline, gaining another 15 yards.
Everything Jack does on this play is polished, fluid, and refined. Despite the fact UCLA used Jack in the backfield as a desperation measure, the "part-time" college back has the integrated skills of a top-notch pro prospect.
Late in the half, Jack displays more burst from a similar formation, but check out the press and cutback behind his lead fullback. This is nuance on top of rare athleticism.
Note how Jack heads to the left side of the line, but he maintains his initial path to the inside shoulder of the wingback (No. 35) until he's at the very edge of the crease. This press to the inside shoulder not only baits the defender on No. 35 to take an inside path against the block, it also sets up No. 40's block in the hole near the numbers of the flat.
Then there's the attack of a crease where a player of Jack's speed would once again be tempted to bounce the play outside. With most of the defense confined to the middle of the field, Jack has the speed to bounce this play to the edge, but he trusts the play design.
Jack maintains an inside track, understanding that the edge blocks are designed to open a crease inside, and he attacks the crease. His burst, low pad level, and leg drive to work through contact all factor into this 8-yard gain. The "slow to the hole, fast through it" patience of a mature runner is on full display here.
This willingness to attack a smaller crease with pad level and burst aids Jack well at the goal line. Some of the more impressive athletes at running back often run too high and get too cute with footwork to find that large crease. Jack takes it oo the defense.
The runner's only hesitation is well before he hits the hole, but once he commits, he's all-in. Because Jack is a full-time linebacker, this third-and-2 run with 11:00 left in the Arizona game against the Wildcats' 11-man box is also an impressive display of athletic conditioning and stamina.
Jack's cut inside the edge defender's containment at the line of scrimmage is a fine illustration of patience and athleticism. However, it's the cut, the two stiff-arms to ward off contact, and then the speed to accelerate past the pursuit that should catch one's eye. Even if there's some debate that breaking through the 11-man box will yield a long run, the fact that Jack outruns the pursuit after playing three quarters as a linebacker should shut down any arguments about his speed.
If UCLA and Jack decide that running back is his full-time position, his potential is as bright as the top runners in the 2015 class despite the fact that he's not draft-eligible this year. Although pass protection is a legitimate question about his current set of skills, I don't think a linebacker is going to shy away from blocking, do you?
Linebacker: The Other Side of a Bright and Shiny Coin
When it comes to offensive players trying to block Jack, he is adept at taking on blockers and making plays on the ball carrier. Here's a play off the edge where Jack comes from the flat, works under the pulling guard, and wraps the legs of the runner.
The fact that Jack makes this play from such a distance from the line of scrimmage as the starting point is an impressive display of vision and agility. Note that the linebacker dips under the guard, but he still initiates contact to create an angle to the ball carrier.
Here's a shed of the tight end to get down the line and wrap running back Ameer Abdullah for a minimal gain on an opening down against Nebraska.
It's a good push to stand up the edge blocker and then timing of his release to get the runner's legs.
Jack's understanding of angles extends to the open field. The linebacker stops quarterback B.J. Denker for a loss on a run to the outside because he maintains a flat angle while giving chase.
If Jack cuts inside too early, he gives the quarterback room to turn the corner. Instead, Jack uses the sideline as his ally before finishing the play.
There are also flashes of skill as an edge rusher. Watch Jack work around the Utah right tackle and also display the awareness and coordination to get his hand on the ball, alter the pass, and force an interception despite still fighting through the block.
The replay reveals Jack's flexibility to bend his knees and hips to get the corner. Here's another play off the edge where Jack alters the throw –- this time against Nebraska.
If Jack is already displaying this kind of work off the edge, there's even greater potential for growth as a pass rusher– especially if he can multi-task the tackle and the quarterback to alter the throw.
Although a lot of Jack's tackles are wraps of his opponents' lower legs (a product of an athlete with speed and skill with angles), when the linebacker has an opportunity to deliver a hit high, he makes an impact.
Even from a trail position, when Jack hits above the waist there's a palpable impact. If he can continue to grow into his frame, there won't be questions about Jack's ability to play linebacker the way there are some legitimate concerns about senior Shaq Thompson, a 6-foot-1, 228-pound senior who, according to Ryan Riddle, tackles more like a safety.
Where Jack is already among the best at his position in college football is pass coverage. His awareness, recovery speed, and ability to play the ball and the man are all on display in these highlights.
On this play, Jack spies on the quarterback, but when his assigned receiver runs the wheel route, the linebacker has enough speed to recover and knock the ball loose from the receiver's grip from a trail position. As an initial diagnosis, Jack's play of the quarterback is bad and against a stud tight end in the NFL he might not have recovered.
However, this is one of several plays where the game and its angles to play the ball aren't too big for the freshman.
His potential with zone coverage is also strong. Watch Jack diagnose the double slants –- first the slot man and then drop to under-cut the outside slant for a near-interception.
Here's another play on the ball as a zone defender. Once again, when a defender can zero in on the ball, it's a sign of excellent defensive vision and precision.
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Jack takes a good, deep drop to keep the play in front of him in this shallow zone. When the quarterback extends the play, Jack doesn't overreact. He is rewarded with a fine angle over top the intended receiver. The result is a hit on the ball to force a fourth down.
When a freshman displays this range of conceptual and athletic skills at two different positions at a big-time program, his game deserves praise. As long as he stays healthy, maintains a mature approach to newfound celebrity, and continues to work at his craft, Jack is everything that Futures is about.
Matt Waldman authors the Rookie Scouting Portfolio. available for download now. The guide covers 164 prospects at the offensive skill positions (QB, RB, WR, and TE). If you're a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 -- 2014 RSPs at no additional charge and available for download within a week after the NFL Draft. Best of all, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio (2006-2013) for just $9.95 apiece. Take a video tour of the RSP.