From the moment linebacker Myles Jack stepped on to campus at UCLA, it should have been abundantly clear to all who watched that his name was destined to be called during the 2016 NFL draft. Few athletes move with the combination of power and grace he displayed as a true freshman, and since becoming the first player in history to win the Pac-12’s Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year honors he’s only enhanced the perception things just come easier for him.
He’s a natural.
So despite the fact that a knee injury, specially a torn meniscus, ended his junior season after just three games, there should have been little doubt his NFL timeline would not change. Especially considering his expected recovery time of four-to-six months should give him a good chance to be ready to participate at the NFL combine in mid-February and definitely in time to perform in individual work outs for NFL teams in advance of the draft, which begins April 28.
The only surprise about Tuesday’s announcement that Jack had withdrawn from UCLA and would leave the Los Angeles area to focus on rehabbing for his pre-draft workouts was the timing. The widely-held assumption was that he would remain with the team through the rest of the season, rehab on campus and declare from the draft either in December or January.
Even UCLA coach Jim Mora admitted he was surprised by the timing, but when he relayed Jack’s rationale, it’s hard to argue with it.
“He doesn’t see any point in staying in school. He’s going to go and get some personal training and rehab,” Mora said. “He’ll get very in depth, detailed, aggressive, focused rehab and training. He doesn’t have to worry about going to school, his grades – although he’s done well in school.
“So he’s taking his chips and shoving them into the middle and we hope that he draws a good hand.”
Mora has known Jack since he was 12 years old and said he maintains a close, personal relationship with him, his mother and younger brother. However, Mora, who spent 25 years as a coach in the NFL, didn’t exactly come out in full support of Jack’s decision.
“I think it’s risky to do this. Having been on that side, there’s going to be a lot of speculation as to what he is and where he fits,” Mora said. “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 heartbeat.”
“You just hope, I hope, that he’s put enough out there that they can get a true evaluation because if they can’t get a true evaluation of you, they’re not going to take you. They’re just not. They don’t take on speculation, not in the first round, at least. Maybe in the later rounds, ‘Maybe we’ll take a flier on this guy.’ But there is no such thing as an NFL GM that says, ‘Hey, we’ll take a flier on a first-rounder. I’ve never heard that.”
Having coached Jack and with his history in the NFL, Mora is unequivocally the most informed opinion on Jack’s situation, but, with that understood, it doesn’t seem like any risk involved here is as substantial as Mora made it out to be.
After two full years as a starter, there’s not exactly a shortage of game film and NFL teams have, in recent years, shown a willingness to see past injuries for the right players.
Former Georgia running back Todd Gurley is the most obvious example. Gurley sustained a more significant knee injury (a torn ACL) in November of last season, also his junior year, but -- a year after no running backs were selected in the first round -- still went No. 10 overall in the draft to the St. Louis Rams. The early returns with Gurley are positive, too. In his first significant game action of his NFL career on Sunday, Gurley ran for 146 yards on 19 carries.
Jack is in that mold.