Dion Jordan looks the part of elite playmaker to be
Draft expert Mike Mayock likens him to San Francisco dynamo Aldon Smith. Others have compared him to players like Chandler Jones or Mathias Kiwanuka. His former defensive coordinator says he reminds him of Elvis Dumervil, maybe Mario Williams.
Saying that the bar is high for Oregon’s Dion Jordan is like saying The Wire was a decent show or that Superman is generally a decent guy.
The 2013 NFL Draft stands relatively superstarless, especially compared to the Andrew Luck-Robert Griffin III hype that 2012 brought us. Jordan may be the exception — a singular talent primed to become a dominant force from the second he steps foot on the field.
“Obviously, everybody can get better, but I don’t see any weaknesses,” Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti says of his former standout player. “Without a doubt, if Dion Jordan learns the scheme — and what they want it to do — he can play all three downs, whatever way shape or form you want to use him.”
Driving some of the intrigue surround Jordan is that four of the teams currently set to pick in the top seven next week (Kansas City, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Arizona) run base 3-4 defenses, “without a doubt” the best NFL fit for Jordan, according to Aliotti. A fifth, Jacksonville, is expected to run a 4-3 similar to the one new head coach Gus Bradley helped mastermind in Seattle; that scheme demands the presence of an ultra-athletic “Leo” linebacker.
“For me, it doesn’t make any difference,” Jordan says. “I understand the game of football, whether 5-technique (defensive end) or standing up outside at linebacker. I feel like I have a great understanding whether it’s a 3-4 or 4-3 defense.
“I hang my hat on my pass rush abilities and my ability to play sideline-to-sideline and have the potential to be three-down player. My game tape speaks for itself.”
His bread and butter is in the 3-4. That’s where Jordan did most of his damage during his four years at Oregon — last season, he racked up 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks to bring his career totals to 29.0 and 14.5, respectively. Jordan’s rather freakish build (6-foot-6, 245 pounds at the combine) also is more conducive to being at outside linebacker than at defensive end. “A lot of those guys play the 5-tech or 7-tech, they’re build is a lot different,” Jordan says.
Yet, Jordan brings such a diverse skill set to the table that even 4-3 teams like his potential, be it as a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end or a strongside linebacker.
“I think that any time you can get a big, strong, fast, good athlete like Dion and you’re trying to build a defense,” Aliotti says, “he’d be a good fit for anybody.”
Let’s hold up for a minute. Stick it in reverse a few years. back to when Jordan came to Oregon as the 10th-ranked freshman tight end in the country. He weighed 30 fewer pounds then and spent the 2008 season as a redshirt on the Ducks’ scout team.
It was not until 2010, after Jordan sat for a year and then found himself relegated to special teams, that Oregon decided to switch him to the other side of the football. Jordan, who actually thought he might wind up playing wide receiver in college, took to the change as quickly as any Ducks coach could have hoped.
He made 33 tackles and 2.0 sacks in his first full season on defense. He was named to the Pac-10 coaches’ all-conference first team in his second.
“I understood that that was the best opportunity for me to get on the football field, so I took it,” Jordan said at the NFL combine. “Coach (Chip) Kelly and my position coach, Coach (Jerry) Azzinaro, they had a plan for me and I stuck with it. And things worked out for the best for me.”
While the fairly recent move means that Jordan remains a bit raw as a prospect, his experience as an offensive player — not to mention 4.6 speed and height/weight measurements that are similar to Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley or longtime great Tony Gonzalez — can play as a positive in scouts’ eyes.
The improvements Jordan made recognizing and reacting to plays were obvious as his career progressed. It stands to reason that he’ll continue to trend upward, too, closing the gap on his natural ability.
“He’s got frightening athletic skills, and he’s a year away,” Mayock said at the combine. “He would be a situational pass-rusher Year One, and if he puts 20 pounds on, I think he’s going to be a perennial All-Pro.”
Says Aliotti: “The sky’s the limit, just because of his make-up. A lot of good athletes don’t have the right attitude, but he’s got it all.”
Will that total package be enough to convince Kansas City to pull the trigger on Jordan at No. 1 overall? Or, if not the Chiefs, Jacksonville at No. 2?
Jordan says he’s “not really paying attention to that much, because I can’t control anything.” Still, Jordan believes he’s ready to step in and play early, as any team considering him in the top 10 would want from him. And Aliotti says that Jordan will do whatever he can to get where he needs to be.
“When he comes to practice, he comes to practice — there are probably going to be some NFL players that get upset with him because he practices so hard. … His motor’s unbelievable.”
All the praise, all the potential will not mean anything, however, unless Jordan can be that impact player many believe he can be. In his mind any potential success boils down to one thing.
“Size and speed, everybody looks at that at every position on the field, but (for me) it is really important to get at the quarterbacks at the next level,” Jordan says. “Try to get create havoc as far as pass rush and sacks.”
Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that Jordan’s eventual landing spot in the draft could depend on how desperately teams covet the handful of upper-echelon offensive linemen available. After all, Jordan will be trying to beat those very same players en route to the quarterback for years to come.
As the situation has become more muddled at offensive tackle, as well as defensive tackle, quarterback and several other positions, Jordan has more or less taken a stranglehold at the DE/OLB spot. That’s in spite of having to sit out Oregon’s pro day as he recovered from early March surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder — “Surgery went well, just on the road to getting back,” says Jordan, who pegs his expected recovery time at “three to four months,” which could put him back on the field in full health right around training camp.
Assuming he does not suffer any setbacks, that timetable will leave Jordan just enough reps to get up to speed before his rookie season.
Then he can get to work attempting to prove that he is the unquestioned standout that this draft may be lacking.
“He gets it done on the field, off the field … plays hard, practices hard, studies hard,” Aliotti says. “He’ll handle his life like a pro — I think he’s got it together. He can rush the QB, play in space, hold up against the run …
“Other than all that,” the Oregon defensive coordinator concludes, with a heavy note of sarcasm, “he’s probably not a good prospect.”