By Kyle Kensing
Risk versus reward. What's the right balance? What can teams tolerate when it comes to such a potentially franchise-changing weekend as the NFL draft?
UCLA's Myles Jack, coming back from a right knee injury, doesn't see himself as a risk at all. He's all reward.
NFL.com's Ian Rapoport wrote Tuesday that Jack "is vulnerable to a draft-day fall," the result of possible recurring issues from the meniscus tear he sustained in September. But Jack has pressed on amid those rumors, confident that his name will be called sooner rather than later on Thursday night.
When Myles Jack first got wind of reports that his injured knee was "a timebomb", he'd just dunked in a pickup game: https://t.co/ZEYJyNRsTT- Ryan Kartje (@Ryan_Kartje) April 25, 2016
Perhaps it's a front-office smoke screen. Maybe the anonymous concerns expressed by general managers have validity. Either way, the organizations that shy away from drafting Jack just might be making a huge mistake.
"He's a truly special linebacker," UCLA head coach Jim Mora said of Jack.
Mora's evaluation of that position carries particular weight. Jack's poised to be the third Bruin linebacker selected in the first two days of the draft in the past three years: Anthony Barr went in Round 1 in 2014, and Eric Kendricks was selected in the second round last year.
The surgery now at the center of Jack's draft fate ostensibly ended his college career -- but what a career it was. He left UCLA with 178 tackles, three interceptions and 18 pass break-ups, headlining a litany of other statistics compiled in his two seasons-and-change in Bruins blue-and-gold.
However, the numbers only reveal a portion of Jack's pro potential.
Discussion for a while centered not on Jack's future NFL draft positioning, but rather if he'd be selected as a linebacker or running back -- an angle reflective of his unique athletic ability.
One can look back at Arizona Stadium in November 2013 on the night Jack scored his first touchdown, a 66-yard scamper in a Bruins' win over Arizona. That was the same then-freshman who almost immediately became one of the Pac-12's best run-pursuing linebackers and performed on special teams.
The athleticism needed for the NFL puts those players in the top fraction-of-a-percentage of the population. With his three-way production at UCLA, Jack established himself as a fraction-of-the-fraction.
But Jack didn't rely on his raw athleticism, uncanny as it was.
"If you asked the guys in the locker room who the hardest workers are on the team, they'd say [current Green Bay Packers quarterback] Brett [Hundley] and Myles," Mora said in 2014.
Hard work made Jack a starter from his first day at UCLA, and it made him the Bruins' best running back at a time he was also one of the team's most important defenders.
Effective as he was as a back, scoring 10 touchdowns in 2013 and 2014 combined and averaging better than seven yards per carry in 2013, Jack said in the spring of 2014 his offensive production wasn't to interfere with his performance on the other side.
"Coach Mora recruited me to play defense," he said.
Likewise, he will be drafted as a linebacker, no matter who ends up taking him.
So, professional Jack won't get to show off his versatility as a two-way player, but he's no less of a dual-threat when relegated to defense. In 2014, UCLA's then-defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, implemented a scheme using nickel packages almost exclusively as an answer to the Pac-12's many spread offenses. Jack's ability to cover wide receivers as effectively as he chased down ball-carriers simplified the Bruins' personnel groupings.
Ulbrich's now an assistant with the Atlanta Falcons. Coincidentally, ESPN.com's Todd McShay projects Jack as the Falcons' pick at No. 17. Should he fall that far, Jack has the potential to make several franchises rue their decision -- and he could do so right away.
"Myles is ready to go," Mora said on Tuesday.
Kyle Kensing is a contributor to Sports on Earth. He is a sports journalist in Southern California and has covered college football and basketball for a variety of outlets in the last decade. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kensing45.