Back in December, it was projected that UCLA’s Myles Jack would be a top-five pick in this year’s draft.
Some analysts were even calling the athletic Bruins linebacker – who also played running back in his college career – perhaps the best player in the draft. The 6-foot-1, 245-pounder was described as having “upper-echelon explosiveness with the desire, speed and aggression to find his way into play after play.”
With the No. 7 pick in Thursday’s first round of the NFL draft, it figured that the 49ers would be out of the running for the UCLA standout.
But as the draft nears, Jack’s stock has fallen because of questions about his knee. As Michael David Smith of NBC’s Pro Football Talk noted this past weekend, that injury – to his cartilage – has receieved mixed reviews from medical experts. Some believe Jack has healed just fine. Others see a knee that could continue to give him problems. Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News recently reported that a source called Jack “a time bomb” whose “knee could give him several good years, or not. Bone and cartilage starting to break away.”
If NFL teams at the top of Thursday’s first round have concerns, then Jack could indeed fall out of the top five and land in the laps of the 49ers at No. 7. If that’s the case, would Niners GM Trent Baalke select him?
Certainly, the 49ers could use his talents. Jack has both the speed to cover tight ends and running backs and the strength and hitting ability to make a difference against opposing running attacks. The Sacramento Bee’s Matt Barrows reported that Baalke attended Jack’s pro day at UCLA and also hosted a recent visit to the 49ers’ facility in Santa Clara.
Baalke has sidestepped questions about Jack’s health. He hasn’t said he would or would not draft the Bruin if he’s available Thursday evening.
“No matter who you take, there’s some form of risk,” Baalke told Bay Area reporters in a recent pre-draft gathering. “Some riskier than others. Some with potential better outcomes than others.”
Jack’s injury isn’t expected to sideline him for his rookie season. According to reports, he looks completely fit and had a strong workout with Jacksonville, which has the No. 5 pick in Thursday’s first round. Certainly, Baalke could select Jack and he could fit in nicely alongside NaVorro Bowman to give the 49ers a pair of outstanding inside linebackers in 2016.
All first-round picks come with question marks, of course. Some players who seem like sure-fire stars are out of the league in two or three years. So, if there’s a question mark about Jack, he could free-fall into the middle or late portion of the first round.
But, then again, as Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post wrote recently, all the talk about Jack’s knee could be bad information, tossed out to scare other teams away from him.
Hubbuch noted that one report last week said the Cowboys, drafting fourth, “had taken Jack off their first-round board because of concerns about the future of his knee.”
Added Hubbuch: “Then again, it’s fairly common for clubs picking low in the draft to start whisper campaigns about top-rated prospects with the hope that will help cause those prospects to fall to them.”
If that happens Thursday, and Jack falls to the 49ers, it will be interesting to see if Baalke reels him in – or lets him continue to fall.