Myles Jack’s decision to leave UCLA in October was met with skepticism and raised eyebrows. The linebacker’s season ended after just three games because of a torn anterior meniscus, prompting the 20-year-old to leave school and focus on playing football professionally.
With the 2016 NFL Draft less than two weeks away, the highly touted prospect doesn't have second thoughts.
“I have no regrets. When I made that decision, I went in headfirst and stuck with it,” Jack told International Business Times at a promotional event for Speed Stick. “Everything’s going fine, so the plan worked perfectly. So I can’t be mad.”
Even if Jack remained healthy and played the entire 2015 season with the Bruins, it’s hard to imagine he’d find himself in a better position in mid-April. Almost every mock draft has him going in the top 10. Most mocks don’t have him slipping beyond the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 5, and some experts believe the Dallas Cowboys will grab him at No. 4 overall. Jack, who can play three linebacker positions, will be a solid fit for the Jaguars or the Cowboys.
Jack might even be the first non-quarterback taken on April 28. After the Los Angeles Rams made a trade with the Tennessee Titans to acquire the top overall pick, Jack jumped up to No. 2 in a few mock drafts. With the Rams positioned to take the signal caller that the Cleveland Browns have quietly coveted, the Browns might select Jack, who some believe is the best overall player entering the draft.
But not everyone could see this coming six months ago. Shortly after Jack left school, UCLA Head Coach Jim Mora expressed his concern over his star player’s decision.
"I think it's risky to do this,” Mora told reporters. “Having been on that side, there's going to be a lot of speculation as to what he is and where he fits. And as I told Myles on Sunday, NFL teams are very, very conservative; and if there's any question whatsoever, they'll pass on you in a heartbeat. They're going to take the sure thing, and I explained that to him.”
Mora wasn’t entirely wrong. Even though Jack is looking like a top-five pick, there are still teams that will shy away from drafting him. Jack didn’t participate in most drills at February’s Scouting Combine, and while he was happy with the way his medical check went this week, not every team was encouraged by the rate Jack is healing.
#UCLA LB Myles Jack's medical recheck is over. "Differing opinions." Some teams thought the healing wasn't fast enough. Others are OK it.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 15, 2016
But plenty of teams won’t be deterred by Jack’s injury, seeing a player that can make an impact in Week 1, which kicks off Sept. 8. He was impressive at UCLA’s pro day on March 15, even though he was fully cleared just a week before. Jack won’t put a percentage on how he’s currently feeling, but he fully expects to be ready for rookie mini-camp in May.
“It’s one of those things you understand,” Jack said, regarding teams being cautious about his knee injury. “Potentially they have me going very, very high in this draft and that’s a big investment that a franchise is going to make into you, and they don’t want to do it with somebody that’s not fully capable of earning their keep. So I completely understand.”
Just last year, running back Todd Gurley faced similar concerns after his final college season was cut short by a torn ACL. The Rams weren’t deterred and drafted him No. 10 overall, and Gurley went on to be named the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Jack’s physical tools and versatility have scouts openly suggesting he could be a Pro Bowler. He recorded 15 tackles for a loss in his two full seasons of college football, and he has the speed to play in pass coverage, recording four interceptions in 19 career games. Jack’s athleticism — he has a 40-inch vertical — even allowed him to play a major role on the Bruins offense, where he had 11 rushing touchdowns.
The Rams will almost certainly take either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz with the No. 1 overall pick, but the next few selections could shake out in a number of different ways. Offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive end Joey Bosa are all potential top-five picks, along with Jack. Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd could be a top-10 pick, but Jack is the consensus No. 1 linebacker in the 2016 draft.
As the NFL becomes more and more of a passing league, Jack’s specific skill set grows increasingly more valuable. Having received comparisons to the likes of Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, Jack’s ceiling might be higher than anyone in this year’s class.
“Teams across the league appreciate what I bring to the table. All you need is one team to choose you, but I think it’s more than one team that values what I bring to the table. So I’m just ready to get picked up and play ball again.”