As the Oregon Ducks wait for their expected Fiesta Bowl invite, speculation over Chip Kelly’s future with the college is rife, with many expecting him to take the plunge into the NFL. However, Dan Tiller looks at another man who will soon be plying his trade in the big leagues – OLB/DE Dion Jordan.
A high school Tight End, Dion Jordan made the switch to Defensive End after his redshirt year in 2009. After becoming a first team All-Pac 12 selection in 2011, hype around Dion began to grow going into 2012. Now considered by some to be the best pass rusher in his class, it is time to look into what exactly makes him so special – or indeed, what it is that is causing unwarranted hype.
Jordan is fortunate enough to benefit from an amazing natural size. At 6’7”, and with very long arms, he is considerably bigger than most pass rushers around, and although his 240 lb frame may appear light, it is certainly not without build. There is absolutely no concern about his size at the next level, indeed being one of his prime aspects.
Dion is an incredible natural athlete. His straight line speed (with an unofficial 4.65 40 time) is on the same level as the best combine scores (other than Bruce Irvin) from 2012 defensive linemen, but his athleticism is really shown with his incredible burst off the line. For a 6’7” man to move with such speed and agility is truly a sight to behold.
Unfortunately, the production seen from Dion Jordan is frustratingly inconsistent. His first year of playing as a backup, 2010, scored him 33 tackles, 5.5 for a loss and 2 sacks. His first year as a starter starter in 2011 saw him improve dramatically, while only racking up 9 more tackles to 42, 13 were behind the line with 7.5 sacks. 2012 has seen a slight regression, while improving to 44 tackles, only 10.5 were for a loss and he only managed 5 sacks.
Comparing these numbers to other first rounders from last year does not make Dion seem like the sack machine you would hope. While Jordan has managed 12.5 sacks in his last two years, Bruce Irvin managed 22.5, Quinton Coples 17.5, Shea McClellin 16.5, Chandler Jones 8.5 (though he missed most of his final season), Whitney Mercilus 17 (despite only seeing regular action in his final year) and perhaps the fairest comparison, fellow Pac-12 member Nick Perry with 13.5 despite missing half of his penultimate year. Thus Jordan is less productive than every single first round pass rusher from 2012 other than the injury stricken Jones.
Let’s also compare his productivity to other Pac-12 players from that draft and previous – Trevor Guyton, who never made it out of the Vikings practice squad, managed 10 sacks in his last two years. From 2011, Pac-10 members and NFL players Cameron Jordan and Brooks Reed got a respective 11.5 and 8.5 sacks, and they’re not exactly busts.
Considering this, along with the knowledge that basing opinions from any player on nothing but college stats is daft, we must look closer at aspects of his actual play to form an opinion.
As already mentioned, Dion Jordan is graced with incredible natural athletic ability which is his biggest strength. His size and speed off the line catches unprepared tackles out, giving him a basically free run through. His movement is very fluid and his hip control is impressive, though inconsistent. His extreme high motor allows him to use his speed to his advantage for the whole game.
He uses his hands quickly and violently to try to get to the quarterback, and his long arms helping him manoeuvre. His arm length and general body length also helps him wrap up tackles – only a couple of times have I seen a man get away from him.
He’s also versatile in the number of positions he’s able to play in. Oregon have created a hybrid role for him, allowing him to move around the line in an attempt to find a favourable matchup. His athleticism meaning he doesn’t particularly struggle to adapt to different positions. He also plays press coverage at times, and has shown coverage skills that mean 3-4 NFL teams will have no qualms about his ability at OLB.
Dion is a prime example of a “raw” college player, which perhaps is to be expected considering he only recently made the transition from tight end. While he has shown glimpses of technical ability from the line – the occasional effective swim move or even rare spins, for the most part his technical ability is very disappointing. The vast majority of his attempts are trying to avoid blockers rather than take them on, which works fine against some of the flat footed tackles he comes up against in college, but against NFL calibre tackles, and even tight ends, he can expect to struggle, until he comes up against the likes of D’Anthony Baptiste. This could link in with his relative light weight, as he seems to lack the functional strength to push blockers out of the way, despite his quick hand movement.
His ability against NFL calibre tackles has shown a few times – in the 2011 season he came up against Matt Kalil (4th overall pick for Minnesota), Mitchell Schwartz (2nd round pick for Cleveland) and Jonathan Martin (2nd round pick for Miami). In those three games, Dion Jordan managed a combined 0.5 sacks – not particularly illustrious.
There are also serious questions of his ability against the run, as he’s so far not been able to hold his ground against 300lb offensive linemen. While he has an awful lot to learn in regards to block shedding technique, he has even more to learn in the run game.
To use a phrase I’m never particularly fond of, the main component of Dion Jordan is his “upside”. He has all the raw tools to make a premium pass rusher with his size, speed and motor, but lacks the technique, and not for want of trying. Should a good coach take Dion under his wing and nurture the natural ability he has, then there is a great chance Jordan can make a real impact in the NFL. However, there is a lot of work that needs doing because I cannot see Jordan’s current game working against the best tackles the country has to offer. As it is, I can see him becoming a useful situational player against the pass, with his versatility also being something NFL coordinators will love to see. I just can’t imagine him ever living up to the hype that has been created by how exciting it is to watch his burst – excitement that doesn’t stand up to a closer viewing.
There is a high likelihood that a team will fall in love with Dion Jordan, and see a golden opportunity to create something special. As such it seems likely that Dion Jordan will be a pick in the 20-30 range for a team in need of a pass rusher and with excitable defensive coaches. That said, it is far from beyond the realms of possibility that teams will see his lack of technique to be too much of a detriment to bother drafting him, and he could see himself slip into the mid/late second round. As it is, there are several outside pass rushers who appear to be ahead of him on the pecking order – Jarvis Jones, Barkevious Mingo and Björn Werner, to name just a few.