Film Room: Myles Jack, A Steelers’ Linebacker Who Can Actually Cover

The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t done yet. In their most active free agency ever – and I mean ever – the team took another swing on the market by signing LB Myles Jack yesterday. It’s a fair amount of money, $16 million over two years, but Jack will be an immediate starter and athletic fixture in the middle of this defense.

So what does Jack, still just 26, bring to the Steelers? Let’s go through the pros and cons of his game and evaluate it closer below.

— Fluid, athletic player who moves well in space and covers ground all over the field— Impressive man-coverage player who is able to cover the deep middle and match receiver vertically downfield, helps take away tight ends in pass game— Shows violence in hands when coming downhill with speed— Able to change directions and recover— Plays perimeter/outside runs well, scrapes over blocks and has sideline-to-sideline chase and pursuit— Tackling productivity, 90+ tackles every season he has started at least 14 games— Spent time off-ball and on the edge, offers some positional versatility and comfortable at all levels of the field— Overall, been durable and available (played 14+ games in five of six seasons)— Wore green dot and regarded as smart player, traffic cop in middle of field

— Can get beat up in run game by linemen and even tight ends, displaced and moved when he catches and isn’t attacking— Tends to be slower to process off playaction and misdirection, “takes the cheese” too often and causes him to be late or out of position, needs to improve his eyes to maximize athleticism— Lacked high-end impact plays in 2021, lots of tackles but not much else— Low 2021 missed tackle % but still left chances on the table, didn’t always finish in the hole and falls off his tackles too easily— Able to overwhelm and overpower smaller backs in pass pro but gets stood up by bigger backs when asked to blitz up the middle— Not a downhill, thumping type of player— Isn’t a physical, punishing hitter

Let’s start with the good. The best thing about Jack’s game is his ability to cover. Ever since Ryan Shazier suffered his career-ending spinal injury, the Steelers have lacked a high-end cover linebacker. They’ve thrown a lot of guys on the wall but no one has stuck. Devin Bush is a great athlete but a sub-par coverage linebacker while Joe Schobert is an adequate zone dropper but can’t man up on any player worth their receiving weight.

I wouldn’t put Jack at Shazier’s level but he’s a plus athlete who shows technique in coverage. Being able to run and stay on the low-hip, mirror tight ends over the middle of the field, and match backs on option routes in the short passing game, Jack was fun to watch. Routinely, he was asked and able to run and cover #2 and #3 receivers down the deep middle in the Jaguars’ Cover 2 system. Tons of clips of him being able to carry the seam, opening up and running with actual receivers. He is #44 in all these clips. The aerial views might make it tougher to see here but look down the middle of the field of the linebacker carrying. That’s him.

First couple of clips show it while the last two against the Colts and Seahawks show him matching up on the tight end, the latter forcing a Geno Smith throwaway in the red zone.

Pittsburgh isn’t a base Cover 2 system but will run it and use 2 Man on third down, asking their underneath defenders to match routes and carry #2/#3 vertical. Jack has the ability to open his hips and run while staying in-phase, something Bush has struggled to do despite his speed. It’s not just about being fast. It’s about being able to open up at the right time, take a good angle, and not try to make so much contact you knock yourself off the route (Bush often tries and fails to initiate contact, causing him to get off-balanced and beaten).

But Jack isn’t just a coverage guy. While he’s not a Vince Williams type of thumper, he flashes heavy hands on contact in the run game when he’s playing aggressive and meeting the lineman at the line of scrimmage. Great example here of him jolting back the Seahawks’ right tackle to make this run stop.

Film Room: Myles Jack, A Steelers’ Linebacker Who Can Actually Cover

Myles Jack isn't your traditional thumper but there's some violence in his hands. Watch him jolt back the RT here and make the tackle. #Steelers

— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) March 17, 2022

He’s also a sideline-to-sideline player who can chase along the perimeter. Also like his ability to work down the line and scrape over blocks to stay clean and make tackles.

While tackles are far from the end-all of evaluating players, he’s been a tackling machine for the Jaguars. 108 tackles in 2021, 118 in 2020, and he had 107 back in 2018 as a 16-game starter. Despite a serious knee injury coming out of school, he’s largely been durable and available, playing in 14+ games in five of his six seasons and missing only four games over the last two years, not a terrible number. Jack has been an all-downs, all-situations guy who rarely comes off the field. In ten of his 15 starts last season, Jack played 100% of the snaps. He played 90%+ of the snaps in 12 of the 15. Jack could certainly could – and for me, expected to be – the everydown linebacker this season for Pittsburgh. Last season, they didn’t have that everydown guy, rotating in a bunch of linebackers in different situations and even playing Robert Spillane in dime packages which…yuck.

On the negative side, Jack is not your classic run-stopping linebacker. He can come downhill and play physical but he’s also prone to getting swallowed up if he isn’t able to play fast. Jack can get washed and moved in the run game and even beat up by tight ends when he’s catching them. Saw it quite a bit on his tape. Some examples.

His processing and overall “see-to-do” runs hot and cold and there are times where he gets out of position because of it. Life of a 100% linebacker isn’t easy and you’re trying to diagnose everything as offenses are always trying to trick you. But there were some moments on top where he got out of position or was late to read the play. In the second clip, watch him expand on the flat despite having a defender there, which helps open up the curl behind him in his zone window.

Jack also hasn’t been a super splashy player. In his six-year career, he has just 19 tackles for loss on 513 total tackles, 3.7%. That’s lower than Robert Spillane (5.4%), Devin Bush (5.3%), and Joe Schobert (3.9%). Some of that could be scheme-related, the Steelers’ 3-4 system may ask their linebackers to be more aggressive but even in Schobert’s lone season in Jacksonville, he recorded a 4.3% TFL rate.

Jack has just 6.5 career sacks and only 1.5 over his last three years. He didn’t record an interception or even deflect a pass in 2021 for the Jags nor did he force or recover a fumble. There were just a lot of tackles. Blame some of that on being part of a poor defense, sure, but the overall production does not wow.

Despite entering his seventh season, he doesn’t turn 27 until early September so there’s a nice blend of youth and experience. He doesn’t look like much less of the athlete he was coming out of UCLA, despite a knee injury that some worried would have long-term effects.

I want to be a bit careful in proclaiming that Jack is the answer, partially because we’ve been down this road with Bush and to a lesser extent, hopeful Schobert would really stabilize things. Neither of which happened. Let’s hope Jack provides stability after the revolving door of inside linebackers the last two years. Since 2018, post-Shazier, here’s the list of ILBs to play 200+ defensive snaps: Vince Williams, Jon Bostic,Devin Bush, LJ Fort, Mark Barron, Robert Spillane, Avery Williamson, and Joe Schobert. That’s eight of them with Jack presumably becoming the ninth. Not great, Bob.

But Jack is more proven than Bush obviously was coming out and his tape, especially in coverage, is higher-end than Schobert or any of those other names. The important thing for Jack and the Steelers is that he’s allowed to play fast and physical. To get downhill, not have to overthink, and catch/wait on the play to happen. Pittsburgh does have an aggressive scheme that gives their linebackers a lot of freedom so I think it’s a solid system fit that could produce the splash plays he’s been missing.