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Myles Jack and the qualities of a superstar

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Myles Jack's unique skill set was effective in college but just might allow him to grow into a truly dominant player in the NFL.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

In theory everyone understands the nature of team sports. The collective effort of one group has to overcome the collective group of another, we all get this and try to praise "team players" here and there. However, our individualism takes over when people talk about individual efforts and "superstar" players.

In a complicated team sport, superstar recognition typically goes to whomever is set up on a particular team to shine, even if individual may or may not be particularly special in and of themselves. The long list of successful running backs who've played behind Alex Gibbs-taught offensive lines are a poignant example of the fact that the most recognizable individual may or may not be the one driving the train forward.

The true mark of a superstar isn't "who excels when hoisted up on the shoulders of others?" but, "who facilitates a collective effort that can launch great efforts?" Superstar recognition should go to the players who were great at working with different teammates to achieve a sensational collective effort.

The guy who's great at running post-routes on single coverage that is demanded on his behalf thanks to other players on offense is less of a superstar than the guy who can run a wide variety of different routes in different situations to allow an offense to plug and play different complementary parts around him.

Myles Jack was a very good player at UCLA but his skill set has him in the running to be drafted in the top 5 of the 2016 NFL draft. Why? Because the way his skill set could fit into an NFL team's framework could set up the collective effort of a defense for great things.

Myles Jack at UCLA

Jack spent his first two seasons in Los Angeles playing as a space-backer, and he was a rather unique variety for the position. That spot has become much more prevalent in recent seasons with Oklahoma's Eric Striker and Ohio State's Darron Lee as two examples of highly effective players that helped anchor playoff teams.

Normally a space-backer is a guy that's great on the edge and in space and "good enough" in coverage to allow a team to justify sticking him out wide. Oklahoma loved using Striker as a blitzer but at only 6'0" 220 he wasn't a guy they wanted playing exclusively in the box where he could be easily targeted by big blockers. Playing him out at space-backer required backing him with a coverage safety that could play man-to-man behind him when he blitzed. That trade-off was worth it since Striker was positioned to get 22.5 sacks in three seasons while freed up to play in space and on the edge where his quickness could be brought to bear.

Darron Lee was part of a similar story at Ohio State, they played coverage safety Vonn Bell behind him and rolled coverage over against trips formations to allow him to hang out on the edge or in underneath coverage where his physicality, blitzing, and tackling was a big plus to their defense.

At 6'1" 245 you'd think Myles Jack would be another Striker or Lee, a guy that was so great underneath and blitzing the edge that UCLA would be willing to cover him up with their secondary in order to benefit from his play on the perimeter. In fact, Myles Jack was at his best in coverage and would regularly take on assignments that freed up the UCLA secondary to focus elsewhere.

Myles Jack special-cloud

On this play Myles Jack is playing out wide like a true nickel and pattern-matching the two outside receivers to the field. If that no. 2 receiver goes deep on a vertical route, Myles Jack has to play him man-to-man. As it happens, that no. 2 receiver is Curry Sexton, a guy that caught 79 balls for 1059 yards and five touchdowns that year.

Because Myles Jack takes on the task of handling Sexton, UCLA is able to bracket the no. 3 receiver (Tyler Lockett) with the middle linebacker and field safety and to bracket the no. 1 receiver on the other side of the formation (Deante Burton) with the corner and boundary safety.

You never saw Oklahoma ask Eric Striker to carry the water for their secondary, nor Ohio State put such a big burden on Darron Lee, but for Myles Jack it was customary to take on difficult inside receivers in coverage. Covering Curry Sexton went well for Jack, his lateral quickness and sense of coverage leverage combined with his ability to overpower the guys he's lined up across made him quite the weapon.

Normally a slot receiver would be excited for a big day when he's getting covered by a 230+ pound linebacker but not so with Jack. UCLA's space-backer had fantastic change of direction that would allow him to hang with shifty slots and also to make tackles in pursuit, hence his 87 tackles playing this spot as a sophomore.

As good as he was in coverage, Jack was surprisingly not terribly effective as a pass-rusher. In two full seasons (plus three more games last year) Jack only had one sack. He's a sudden and explosive player but he's not the kind of guy that can bend around an offensive tackle and win the corner.

The other area where Jack's athleticism shows up is in the violent and sudden way he moves downhill, which you can glimpse either in how he takes on blocks from larger players, in his 40" vertical leap he demonstrated at UCLA's pro day, or in his 10'4" broad jump he performed on the same day.

Jack's positioning out wide would usually blitz him from the edge but he may be more effective as a pass-rusher if he was just sent downhill through the A-gaps.

Myles' Jack ability to be physical on the edge, make tackles all over the field, and handle difficult coverage assignments in the slot are really impressive for a guy who played the position at 230 pounds but they aren't actually that remarkable for the position itself. Plenty of college teams are able to find strong safeties who can achieve similar results in that slot. So while Myles Jack was a very good player at UCLA, he wasn't quite a superstar.

Myles Jack in the NFL

In his last season at UCLA Jack was transitioning to play the weakside linebacker position in the box, which is normally where 240 pound dudes with amazing lateral quickness and change of direction tend to end up. What could make him a superstar in the NFL where he wasn't in college is in the plus coverage ability he brings to that position and the NFL's great need for that skill set.

While it's rare in college to regularly face a H-back or TE that can wreck you in the passing game within the box, it's rather common in the NFL. Inside linebackers are regularly attacked by college teams where they can but the level of accuracy from the QBs and the size and quality of the targets is on a whole 'nother level in the pro game.

If Myles Jack can grow as a traditional linebacker while bringing his A+ coverage game with him inside he could have a Luke Kuechly type effect for a team while patrolling underneath. As I hinted above, he may also have some untapped upside as a blitzer from that spot.

Where he'll need to grow to make this dream a reality (and his lofty pre-draft rankings accurate) is in traditional inside linebacking. You can see the potential on clips such as this one in which he's reading a power run and triggering downhill into his new gap. He gets reached the offensive tackle but Jack is so violent at the point of attack that even though his fit isn't great he prevents a crease. He was also in place so quickly that the tackle came off his double early to stop him which resulted in the defensive tackle getting free to make the tackle for loss.

There are two ways to play great interior run defense, one way is with a DL that has to be doubled and thus frees up a linebacker to run free. The other way is with a linebacker who arrives so quickly and powerfully that the OL can't afford to double team the DL and he's set up to make a play. The latter is often even more disruptive because when a DL makes a play it's generally at or behind the line of scrimmage whereas good LBs usually make their tackles at or just beyond the point of attack.

If you're counting at home then, there's potential for Myles Jack to have a major impact for a team both in his ability to play above average coverage in the middle of the field as well as his potential in run defense. If he proves a strong blitzer as well he'll be the total package and perhaps one of the best linebackers in the league.

A guy like that is very easy to build around. A franchise can target a wide variety of different types of players at DB or the other LB spots if they know they're going to get great coverage from Jack. They can also choose from a broader pool of DL if they don't have to draft and sign with the caveat that their linebacker will always have to be covered up. When you make it easy for your teammates to put forth a dominant collective effort you're a superstar.