With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
#8: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
We continue this year's series with Oregon defensive end/linebacker Dion Jordan, an athletic marvel and mystery who has the entire NFL wondering just how good he can be. Recruited by the Ducks as a tight end, he made the switch to defensive end in 2010 and played all over the place in Nick Aliotti's fast, opportunistic, and multi-faceted defense. Not only did he put up 29.0 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks in his Oregon Career, but Jordan also showed an ability to cover receivers that had to be seen to be believed. Built like a power forward, Jordan knew that he'd have to fill out his frame to truly impress at the next level as a pure pass-rusher.
To that end, Jordan went to West Hollywood, Calif., to put on functional weight with trainer Travelle Gaines, and to work on leverage and beating blocks with violent hand movements with FOX Sports reporter and MMA expert Jay Glazer.
"With Dion, leverage works against him, because of the way he's built, but that doesn't mean that you can't correct it and teach him," Glazer told me in January. "I mean, Jared Allen's taller than him, but that guy gets low. When we first got him, he didn't -- he would stand straight up. We've done a ton of Greco-Roman pummeling, just so he can understand how the human body works. I'll lock up with these guys, and go over and under, and these guys should be able to toss me all over. We've worked to get him to drop his base, lover his levels, and get his hips under me. So, even though he's about 6-foot-7, he was able to get his hips as low as mine after a couple of days."
The 6-foot-6 Jordan came out of Gaines' laboratory at 250 pounds, up from his playing weight of 226. Then, he went to the scouting combine in late February and ran a 4.6 official 40-yard sash with a 1.57-second 10-yard split -- absolutely freakish numbers for someone at his height, especially with the extra weight. Now, NFL teams knew that even with that extra musculature, Jordan was just as field-fast as he was before. More and more, one got the sense that Jordan could be a once-in-a generation player from a purely physical perspective. That's why he'll go very early in this draft -- because he's got NFL teams dreaming all sorts of funky dreams regarding his football ceiling.
Pros: Creates a unique set of schematic opportunities in an NFL defense as a "moveable chess piece" -- Jordan can play end and "endbacker" as you'd expect, but he can also play at linebacker depth, and cover slot receivers in some very interesting ways. Amazing run-and-chase player for his size; will catch up to running backs going at full speed. Has a very unique ability to read, drop, and cover receivers and tight ends from inline or the slot. Shows legitimate coverage ability in the slot -- jams receivers at the line, and transitions decently from hip turn to downfield movement. Backs out in zone blitzes and zone drops to cover tight ends on the seam, and has the recovery speed to come back up and stop short-area plays. Actually does a credible job on man and zone coverage, which is really bizarre at his size -- looks like a really good mutant nickel cornerback at times.
As a pass-rusher, comes off the edge with a smooth turn and an improving "dip-and-rip" move. Accelerates smoothly to and through blockers and closes quickly around the corner. Has an embryonic rip move he uses to get leverage across, though this needs improvement. Impressive wingspan helps him when closing. Played primarily in a two-point stance, but could be far better in leverage with his hand on the ground. Exhausts blockers over time with his first-step speed. Sifts through blockers well; has outstanding lateral agility for his size.
Cons: As Glazer intimated, leverage is a pretty serious issue on Jordan's game tape -- he gets blocked out far too easily if he isn't rushing from a wide slant. Still learning to use his upper-body strength. Gets too high off the snap. Doesn't have a bull-rush yet -- gets rocked back on power-blocks and needs to reset. Spin move needs a lot of work -- Jordan still struggles to keep his balance when trying to turn around blockers. Gets pushed out of the pocket against tackles when he can't match the momentum battle. Raw player who still struggles to keep his body under control at times.
Conclusion: Jordan's unique skill set makes an NFL comparison very difficult, because I don't think he has a modern-day positional equivalent in the pros.Perhaps the most accurate comparison would be to former San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks end/linebacker Julian Peterson. Selected in the first round (16th overall) out of Michigan State in 2000, Peterson went on to play all over the field for San Francisco over the next six seasons -- everywhere from outside linebacker, to end, to safety at times. That's how flexible he was with his skill set. Peterson signed a large free-agent deal with the Seahawks in 2006 and amassed 19.5 sacks for them over the next two seasons. In their defense, he would come down to an end/LEO role, frequently with his hand on the ground. I also see some similarities to Hall-of-Fame linebacker Ted Hendricks, one of my all-time favorite players. Hendricks was the ultimate position-versatile guy in his era, and he used his freakish wingspan to destroy quarterbacks and block a lot of kicks.
Jordan has the potential to do all these things, and more. What we haven't seen is what he'll do with the extra weight and leverage work -- not to mention what will happen when he gets with an NFL strength program and gets a measure of scheme-specificity with his new team. There's an element of projection to Jordan's ultimate upside, but the potential is so tantalizing, and there's enough on tape to believe that he could be the best pure athlete in this draft class. The defensive coordinator who gets this kid will see his palette increased exponentially, and I just hope that coach knows what to do with this total one-off.