The blossoming period commences at different times for every great college football player. Some take a year or a few to adjust and develop to the level of competition, while others are capable of coming in and immediately making a name for themselves by making an instant impact.
Myles Jack is a member of the latter group.
Back in 2013, Jack arrived on the UCLA campus as a heralded 4-star recruit from Bellevue, Washington. He wasted little time proving to the Pac-12 what a special talent he truly was.
In his stellar debut season, the versatile 6’1’’, 245-pound running back/linebacker became the first ever player in conference history to be named both the league’s Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year.
He followed that performance up with a solid sophomore campaign, for which he once again earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors.
The highly-skilled two-way weapon entered the 2015 season as a preseason All-American and one of the most talked-about players in all of college football. Many analysts felt he was destined to be a future first-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft.
Unfortunately, Jack suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice just a few days after making a game-clinching interception in the Bruins’ 24-23 win over BYU in Week 3.
After weighing his options, the standout junior came to the decision to leave UCLA and pursue his dream of playing in the NFL. He officially declared for the 2016 NFL draft with a gracious thank you message to the Bruin faithful posted on his official Twitter account.
The reaction from the UCLA fan base was one of largely positive support. However, Bruins head coach Jim Mora took a more cautious route in his comments. The former NFL coach was open and honest about how he felt Jack’s decision was “very risky.“
He’s taking his chips and is shoving them in the middle. We hope that he draws a good hand. As a guy who spent half his life in the NFL, I would move with great caution. When you play in three games, and that’s all the tape they have on you your junior year, I have been in 25 draft rooms and I have never seen anybody taken off of that.
I think it is very risky to do this. Having been on that side, there is going to be a lot of speculation on exactly what he is and where he fits.
As I told Myles on Sunday, NFL teams are very, very conservative. If there is any question whatsoever, they are going to pass on you in a heartbeat. They’re going to take the sure thing. I explained that to [Myles and his mother], but I felt like they had already made their decision.
It’s not surprising that Mora tried to dissuade Jack from entering the NFL. Obviously, the UCLA defense would be much better off in 2016 with its star linebacker returning to the lineup. The fact that Mora seemingly went out of his way to characterize the decision as so risky is a bit odd, though.
There’s one quote in particular that sticks out: “When you play in three games, and that’s all the tape they have on you your junior year, I have been in 25 draft rooms and I have never seen anybody taken off of that.”
Mora may be speaking from his perspective and his personal experience in draft rooms. But there are an abundance of recent examples that dispel the overall point he’s trying to make.
In the 2015 draft alone there were numerous players who barely played or didn’t even play at all in their final collegiate seasons, as well as players who were rehabbing from serious injuries who still went on to be picked highly and earn contracts worth millions of dollars in guaranteed money.
Todd Gurley was picked 10th overall by the St. Louis Rams even though he played in just six games his junior year at Georgia and was rehabbing from a torn ACL.
Marcus Peters was picked 18th overall by the Kansas City Chiefs even though he played in just eight games at Washington before being dismissed from the program.
Cedric Ogbuehi was picked 21st overall by the Cincinnati Bengals even though he was rehabbing from a torn ACL he had suffered in Texas A&M’s bowl game.
Dorial Green-Beckham was picked 40th overall by the Tennessee Titans even though he didn’t play in a single game as a junior after being dismissed from Missouri and denied the right to play after transferring to Oklahoma.
It’s certainly not a long shot for a player to be drafted highly even if his final season was abruptly cut short.
Just ask Sam Bradford.
After being limited to just three games during his junior season at Oklahoma due to a shoulder injury, Bradford went on to be selected No. 1 overall in the 2010 NFL draft. The six-year, $78-million contract he signed was the richest rookie contract in NFL history. In fairness to Mora, though, he was not in an NFL war room for the 2010 draft to witness Bradford going No. 1 overall, since he had been fired at the conclusion of the 2009 season after going 5-11 in his only season as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks.
Ultimately, yes, it’s clearly somewhat of a risk for Myles Jack to declare early for the NFL draft after experiencing a serious season-ending injury. But it’s not nearly the kind of against-all odds-type of risk that his now former head coach tried to paint it as.
The injured linebacker has over six months between now and the 2016 draft weekend to rehab his knee and gain back the type of dynamic speed and athleticism that made him a standout on the field.
Jack gave Mora and UCLA 29 games of great football, and he would have given the Bruins even more if it wasn’t for an unfortunate injury. The least Mora could have done is show more support for his star player’s decision to chase his dream by giving him a more positive, less critical sendoff.