Dion Jordan has been one of the highest rated prospects for this April’s draft for a long time now. First lauded as a first-round selection, he’s now considered a surefire top 10 selection after tearing up the NFL Scouting Combine.
The Oregon defensive end and outside linebacker measured in at six-foot-six and 248 pounds, nearly 20 pounds heavier than the 226 pounds he played at during his senior season. He also ran a 4.6 40-yard dash and looked fluid in coverage drills despite his towering frame. That athleticism is one of the key components of his scouting report. But questions still linger for some about his ability to consistently rush the passer.
Jordan wasn’t an every down pass rusher in college. Often he was lined up across slot receivers or tight ends and mirroring them in coverage. Even when he did get after signal-callers, he seemed to do it from the nine technique, an alignment across the outside shoulder of an in-line tight end. In an interview on NFL Network following his workout at the Combine, the pass-rusher told viewers that he sometimes preferred to rush the passer more.
“Certain games, that’s the way I felt. Honestly, the fact that I was able to play in space, it benefited my team a lot. At Oregon, just last year, we led the nation in turnovers and it had a lot to do with me playing in space, stopping vertical penetration,” Jordan said.
Still, questions surround his ability to get after the passer. When I evaluated Jordan during the summer and again briefly during the season, I was concerned with his ability to bend the edge of the tackle box and finish with a sack. Since then, I’ve re-evaluated him, going back and watching his 2011 games when he was healthy (torn labrum in ’12), and I feel the same way for the most part because the reality is that he frequently took too wide of a path to the quarterback when speed rushing. However, where my outlook did slightly change and become more comfortable with him is his hand quickness, which admittedly I underestimated initially.
Against the Washington Huskies in 2011, Jordan displayed this hand quickness that could help him become a better rusher in the pros, provided he further learns how to use his hands. He was aligned in the aforementioned nine technique on the strong side of the offensive formation.
When Jordan came off the edge, he was matched up one-on-one with the right tackle. This was an advantage for Jordan because of his length and athleticism, which noticeably gave the tackle fits. As he rushed outside, he squared his upper body and extended his long arms to engage with the blocker. By doing so, he kept the blocker at a distance and created an opportunity for himself to gain leverage.
After squaring up, Jordan quickly separated from the blocker and dipped his shoulder, bending at his knees as he turned the corner.
His sinking of the shoulder was impressive on this play, but overall in his career, it’s been inconsistent. That may have something to do with his hand usage or lack thereof, which indicates he hasn’t received enough coaching. There’s also his inexperience, as he was initially a wide receiver when he came to Oregon. Still, I’m concerned about his ability to be a consistent pass rusher at the next level because he’s very outside conscious (i.e. speed rusher), yet doesn’t win on the edge enough due to the noted inadequacy. If he does develop into a quality rusher, it’ll be more because of his improved hand usage, which I underestimated at first glance.
Another question that some have wondered is what position Jordan will play in the NFL. The best fit may be at 3-4 outside linebacker because he’ll be a bigger threat in blitz packages, where he can be a zone defender in coverage or stunt to “daylight” in concepts such as an end-tackle stunt, and it gives him more space to set up moves when going after the quarterback. Both of those responsibilities would play to his athleticism and overall movement skills. Playing at outside linebacker also raises the question of how much weight Jordan can or should he carry, as Senior Bowl director Phil Savage wondered.
“I think he’s got to answer some questions in terms of really making the transition. Is he an outside ’backer or does he go and gain more weight and become a defensive end in the 4-3? I think that’s the question that teams are going to be asking themselves.”
Regardless, it appears that 3-4 and 4-3 teams are interested in Jordan. When he was asked about his combine interviews on NFL Network, the young pass-rusher revealed that the team preferences were “even” and that many asked him where he’d like to play.