GREEN BAY – At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February, the linebacker everyone was talking about – coaches, general managers, other prospects, the media – was Manti Te’o. From his highly decorated college career at Notre Dame to his infamous fictional girlfriend to his disappointing BCS Championship Game performance, it was all Te’o all the time.
Oregon’s Dion Jordan, meanwhile, led a much quieter existence. Sure, he was already viewed as one of the top outside linebacker prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft, but there wasn’t the same buzz about him. Then the 6-foot-6 Jordan ran his 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.60 seconds, broad jumped 10 feet 2 inches and had a 32 1/2-inch vertical leap, underlining his rare combination of athleticism and size.
Although he didn’t do the bench press because of a torn labrum in his shoulder -- he would have surgery to repair the tear right after the combine – Jordan still solidified himself and his draft position as a likely top-10 pick, without the Te’o circus.
Of course, given Jordan’s path to being an NFL first-round pick, the lack of fanfare wasn’t unusual. After all, Jordan began his college career in Eugene as a tight end.
“Man, I imagined myself running down the field, catching the ball from (quarterbacks) Darron Thomas or (Marcus) Mariota. But things don’t work out that way. You’ve got to adjust,” Jordan said. “I adjusted and I took the opportunity and ran with it.”
That he did. Although his numbers weren’t jaw-dropping – he only had 12.5 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss in his final two seasons – that was largely because of the way the Ducks used him. Because of his size, they lined up him at defensive end at times in their 3-4, with his hand on the ground. Because of his athleticism, they lined him up on slot receivers. But he was at his best rushing the passer, which he did best.
“I feel like me lining up all over the field on defense shows my athleticism, shows that I understand the game and that I did a lot for the university,” Jordan said. “But my whole thing is getting after the quarterback, so pass rush would be my No. 1 (quality).”
Said former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, now the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles: "Dion's just a special guy in my heart. I had an opportunity to be with him for five years. He came into Oregon as a receiver, moved to tight end, we switched him over to defense the beginning of his sophomore year. He just had a huge impact, not only on the field but off the field.”
Although ESPN NFL Draft analyst said Jordan “wasn't as dominant this year as I thought he could be considering how great he finished the season two years ago,” the reason why players like Jordan will be in high demand when the draft kicks off Thursday night – and figure to be in demand for the foreseeable future – is because of the value of pass rushers in the league today, particularly in the 3-4 defense. According to Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, 14 of the league’s 32 teams run the 3-4 scheme, so the demand is always going to be high.
“There’s only so many players who go around, who fit that position,” Colbert said.
“Anybody that knows our scheme that we've incorporated, we like those rush-type people on the end. We call them 'Leo's.'” new Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. “We'll take a hard look at the outside linebacker types in the draft. We can see them work out with the linebackers and defensive line and we'll pay particularly close attention to that.”
BEST OF THE BEST
1. Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon (6-foot-6 1/4, 248 pounds, 4.61 seconds in the 40-yard dash): Moved from tight end to defensive end after his redshirt sophomore year and registered 33 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in 2010. … Started 12 games in 2011 and had 42 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. … Had 44 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks last season. … Projects as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense. … Has incredible length and is very athletic but needs to add strength.
BEST OF THE REST
2. Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU (6-4 1/4, 241, 4.58): Had 35 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman in 2010, then had 46 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and eight sacks as a sophomore. … Had 38 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last season as a junior before declaring for the draft. … Very athletic player who is just scratching the surface of his talent.
3. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia (6-2 3/8, 245, 4.65): Played eight games as a true freshman at Southern California before a neck injury. … USC doctors would not clear him to play and he transferred to Georgia, redshirting in 2010. … Was a first-team all-American in 2011 at Georgia and was Butkus Award finalist with 70 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. … Led nation in TFLs and sacks last season as a junior with 85 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks. … Athletic playmaker whose neck issues must be monitored.
4. Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia (6-2 1/2, 242, 4.69): Played in 12 games as a true freshman in 2010, seeing action as a split end and a strong safety. … Had 52 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks as a sophomore in 2011 while starting only eight games, all at linebacker. … Was suspended for first four games of his junior season last year for violating the school drug policy but had 111 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and three sacks with an interception and one forced fumble last year in 10 games. … Arrested in January for drunk driving, adding to character concerns.
5. Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame (6-1 1/4, 241, 4.82): Four-year starter who had 62 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and one sack as a freshman, 133 tackles, nine tackles for loss and one sack as a sophomore, 128 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and five sacks as a junior and 103 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and seven interceptions as a senior last year, when he won the Nagurski (top defensive player), Lombardi (best lineman or linebacker), Bednarik (defensive player of the year) and Butkus (top linebacker) awards while finishing second in the Heisman Trophy balloting. … Played poorly in BCS title game and was unimpressive at the NFL Scouting Combine but remains a likely first-round pick.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU; Sio Moore, OLB, Connecticut; Jonathan Bostic, ILB, Florida; Steve Beauharnais, ILB, Rutgers; Arthur Brown, OLB, Kansas State; Kevin Reddick, ILB, North Carolina; Cornelius Washington, OLB, Georgia; Kiko Alonso, ILB, Oregon.
“I have a slight narrowing in my spine between the C4 and C5 (vertabaes). Like pretty much everybody – probably some of y’all have spinal stenosis and don’t know it – I have it. But most of the doctors checked me out and feel that I’m fine. I don’t have any contusion or anything like that in it. I only had one incident – a stinger at USC in ’09, my freshman year. I never had any symptoms after that. I played 2 years of SEC football, red-shirted, practiced every day, never had any symptoms. So I feel that I’m healthy. (At the time) I really didn’t know what it was. I was a freshman. They were just telling me I can’t play football no more. Eight games out of high school it was devastating. It was kind of heartbreaking for me, being 2,000 miles from home. I went to USC to play football, and for them to tell me I couldn’t, I was a bit lost. … Anybody who steps on that field has a chance of getting hurt. If you think about it like that, nobody would ever play football. For me, I’m just taking advantage of the opportunity. I love this game. I’m passionate about it. I know that I’ve got to be careful about my technique and how I play this game. Therefore, I do the extra stuff to protect my neck, to protect my shoulders. I don’t know how (teams) feel about taking me, but I think I’m fine. I’m excited.” – Jones, on concerns about his neck that led him to transfer from USC to Georgia.
Position analysis: With quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ new deal yet to be finalized, signing outside linebacker Clay Matthews to a five-year, $66 million extension last week has been the highlight of the offseason for the Packers, but it’s not the only move the team has made at linebacker. Inside linebacker A.J. Hawk agreed to a pay cut that will reduce his pay by $7.25 million over the next three years, inside linebacker Brad Jones re-upped for three years, $11.75 million; inside linebacker Robert Francois re-signed as a restricted free agent; and unrestricted free agent outside linebacker Erik Walden (Indianapolis) and untendered restricted free agent outside linebacker Frank Zombo (Kansas City) both departed. As a result, there are more questions than answers at the position – and some of them are injury-related. Inside, will Desmond Bishop, who missed all of last season with a ruptured hamstring tendon, return to form? He was the team’s leading tackler in 2011 and had arguably been the second-best defensive player on the team. Will D.J. Smith, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament Oct. 14 at Houston, be ready to start the season? And while the team has inside linebackers coming out of its ears, where will the Packers find more outside linebacker help? As of now, there are only three on the roster (Matthews, 2012 first-round pick Nick Perry and pleasantly surprising undrafted rookie free agent) who’ve played a snap for the team at this point.
Draft strategy: Perry is apparently on schedule to be back to full-go for organized team activity practices and minicamp, which is clearly good news after a knee injury and wrist surgery spoiled his rookie season. Still, outside linebacker remains a need with only Matthews, Perry and Moses. (Jones and Jamari Lattimore are both inside linebackers after starting out at outside linebacker.) While it seems unlikely that the Packers would go back-to-back drafts with outside linebackers in the first round, they did go back-to-back with offensive tackles in 2010 (Bryan Bulaga) and 2011 (Derek Sherrod), so nothing can be ruled out. Meanwhile, the Packers have more inside linebackers than they know what to do with. Hawk, Jones, Bishop and Smith have all been starters at some point, and given Jones’ contract, it appears the Packers either are unconvinced that Bishop and Smith will be ready, or they value Jones more than most thought they did. If it’s the former, and there’s greater concern about Bishop and Smith than the Packers have let on, general manager Ted Thompson could use one of his eight picks there, too.
NEXT: Defensive backs.
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.