Early in September, while watching Oregon playing against Fresno State, I noticed something peculiar.
A mountain of a man was lined up in the slot for the Ducks' defense, covering a receiver all by himself. It looked like a mismatch. No way a linebacker is going to be able to hang with a receiver, especially not a linebacker that looks like he should have his hand in the ground playing defensive end.
But then I realized that linebacker was wearing No. 96. Dion Jordan. As the ball was snapped, Jordan's fluid athleticism was on display, hanging with the receiver every step of the way , looking more like the world's biggest safety than a linebacker.
Intrigued, I made not of Jordan and have been re-watching his games ever since. Here's what I've observed about him as a prospect.
For a man his size, Jordan has remarkable closing speed. Check out this play against Fresno State to see what I'm talking about.
Robbie Rouse takes the hand off and has a seam. He also has two blockers in front of him, increasing his chances of gaining solid yardage on this play. Jordan is unaccounted for on the backside, which wouldn't be an issue if Jordan wasn't such a phenomenal athlete.
Rouse doesn't get the best blocking on the play, but he is still left with just one man to beat and a very nice running late. The problem is Jordan has closed on the ball in a few effortless strides, wrapping up Rouse just as he is getting back to the line of scrimmage.
It's tough to fully display with pictures, but Jordan is a vicious tackler once he gets a hold of the ball carrier. There have been times when Jordan has been hesitant or missed angles, causing him to whiff on tackles, but in terms of the impact of his hits, Jordan really punishes people. He needs to clean up his fundamentals so that he doesn't let ball carriers get away as often. I mention the power with which he hits only to note his upside in this area. Jordan has plenty of work to do.
Jordan's edge rush is almost unfair. He stands at 6-feet-7-inches tall yet is flexible enough to bend around the edge better than any other player in the entire country. Combine that with a solid burst off the football, and Jordan is a dangerous pass rusher.
On this play against USC, Jordan shows how dangerous he is off the edge. With an explosive first step and solid use of his hands, Jordan keeps the offensive tackle away from his body and gains an advantage.
After gaining an advantage off the snap, Jordan proceeds to embarrass the offensive tackle, bending around the edge with ease while maintaining his speed and putting a lick on Matt Barkley. Mission accomplished.
Here's another example of just how flexible Jordan is around the edge. Once again, he is too much for this offensive tackle to handle and uses his elite skill set to put a hit on the quarterback. Look at how clean the rest of the pocket is, too. Jordan simply plays the game at a different speed.
Jordan's athleticism makes it difficult for defenses to get a mismatch on him. He has the wheels to hang with slot receivers and the size to deal with tight ends. He's not necessarily and elite cover-man, but he's adequate in both zone and man-to-man looks with room to grow.
Here's Jordan lined up in the slot against a Fresno State wide receiver.
Jordan is able to jam the receiver at the line of scrimmage, which isn't a huge surprise given his size. It's what he does afterwards that is impressive, though.
Jordan manages to flip his hips and stay right on the receivers hip, not allowing him to get any separation whatsoever. That's a tremendous display of athleticism and agility.
Physicality in the run game
Jordan is far from a finished product as a prospect. One of the main areas of concern is his inconsistency in run defense. Often times he gets overpowered and struggles to fight through blocks. He needs to show more physicality in the running game, plain and simple.
Again, Jordan is lined up against a slot receiver, giving him a huge size advantage.
Jordan gets washed out of the play by a much smaller wide receiver. He allows the blocker to get inside of him and push him to the outside, opening up a nice lane for the ball carrier to get a few extra yards. The play wasn't a difference maker, but Jordan lacked the instincts to sniff out the run and the physicality to toss the blocker to the side and make a play.
Dion Jordan is one of the most impressive prospects in this draft. He possesses rare length and athleticism that NFL teams will absolutely fall in love with. He has so much room to grow as a pass rusher, which is the scariest part about him. People will say he doesn't have a wide array of pass rush moves, and while that's true to an extent, Jordan can get away with athleticism. That won't be the case consistently in the NFL, but with some coaching, he could become a dominant player.
As mentioned, he needs to improve his physicality in the running game, which will translate to a more physical and versatile pass rush. Jordan makes a ton of sense as a 3-4 outside linebacker, given his versatility. Regardless of what scheme he is drafted to play in, Jordan will be a weapon for his future defensive coordinator. He looks like a top 10 prospect.