Jordan Zumwalt has been the least publicized linebacker in the UCLA Bruins defense this year, because of the glut of talent they have. With Anthony Barr’s freakish athleticism and Myles Jack being an impact player on both sides of the ball, Zumwalt can get lost in the shuffle. However, Zumwalt seems to do everything for the Bruins, from playing inside linebacker, outside linebacker, playing as an edge rusher and on special teams, having made an impact in all of those areas.
Zumwalt’s unique skill set has him as an unfinished, but versatile player for the NFL. Ultimately, he is undersized and will need to continue to get stronger in the NFL, but he can contribute in pass coverage and a pass rushing option. If he can get stronger and improve his angles as a run defender, he has the potential to be a full service player, but should be able to be a sub package player and special teams player early in his career. As a result, Zumwalt projects as a third day pick but could come off the board early on day three as teams bet on his potential if they believe he can help them defend against tight ends.
Vitals & Build
Zumwalt measured in 6’4” 231lbs at the Reese’s Senior Bowl. He looks tall and lanky for the position, but demonstrates an impressive amount of functional strength despite being undersized. Some of this is generated because of his acceleration and resulting momentum. Zumwalt accelerates well and has good top end speed.
His agility and quickness are effective as long as his hips are pointed in the direction he wants to go, but he has far more trouble flipping his hips and making wholesale changes in direction, both because of his hips and what can be a high center of gravity. Zumwalt needs to continue to add strength and fill out his frame and if he can do that, his physical potential is pretty substantial going forward.
Zumwalt is good when it comes to being a wrap up tackler for the most part, only occasionally trying to shoulder bomb opponents and usually it is when the opponent is corralled by teammates. He has shown he can generate an impressive amount of power quickly and can deliver impact hits that can be game changing.
The issue that is always going to be a challenge for Zumwalt is tackling high. When he has the space and can get behind his pads, the results can be devastating for opponents, but when he is forced to operate in a small area, he has to work from a high point and just try to outmuscle the opponent.
One of the reasons he can hit so hard is because he is able to keep his feet under him when he tackles, allowing to keep his power going. There are times when he will end up leaving his feet but that tends to happen at the time of the hit as opposed to launching himself to make the hit.
The height issue will always be there so working to get lower will be something he always needs to address. Additional strength should only make it easier for him to be more effective.
Zumwalt is an aggressive run defender which can be a double-edged sword. When he is right, he can be a big time playmaker, but it can also cause him to be out of position and take bad angles. When he is moving forward, he will often take the most aggressive path, which can end up opening up running lanes for the opponent or get him shielded from the play.
Zumwalt seems to be at his best when he is able to be patient, slide with the play, be sure of his read and take the appropriate angle. Because he is able to accelerate well and comes downhill so effectively, he covers ground quickly and can close on the ball carrier in a hurry.
Zumwalt’s long arms make it so he can keep out of some blocks, protecting him and allowing him to work through trash and get to the play. His experience lining up as a standup end has really paid off for him in this respect.
He needs to continue working on shedding blocks when opponents are able to get into his body. Too often, he is able to be stymied and erased from the play. The one area where Zumwalt can be a real source of frustration for opponents is when he is attacking downhill, generates speed and throws himself into a block. Despite his lack of sheer mass, he creates momentum and can make an impact in that respect.
Zumwalt has a decent amount of range. When he knows where he is going, he can get just about anywhere he wants on the field. The times he has to adjust or correct himself, he can get in trouble. Zumwalt tends to have good instincts and see where plays are going, but will occasionally get caught and miss the play entirely.
While the size issue is there for the time being, Zumwalt can be a really effective run defender if he can be consistent with his reads and angles. Should his size catch up, he could be a full time backer in that respect.
Zumwalt has substantial experience dropping into coverage and despite much of that experience being in zone, he appears far more at home in man. He gets to his drops quickly and gets in position fast, but he can end up having cement shoes when it comes to reacting to where plays are going and having a strict definition of where he thinks his zone ends.
His hip and balance issues can pop up, which makes him play slower than he otherwise might. His length is an advantage as he does have a significant amount of reach and the ability to get to passes, provided he can see it.
Zumwalt is far more effective when he is sliding and rolling with a play in coverage where he can rely on instinct and attack with speed. As a result, Zumwalt is tremendous when opponents try to roll out against him. He is able to cover a good amount of ground and makes it more difficult for opponents to make plays in that position.
For many of the same reasons, Zumwalt seems better in man coverage. When he knows what he is doing, he is a far better player. Zumwalt has the athletic ability and length that could make him a real asset in defending tight ends with the ability to contribute against running backs trying to run routes.
Zumwalt has shown he has the ability to cause turnovers and intercept passes in coverage. This is likely where Zumwalt is going to make an impact early in his career as he works to fill out his frame.
Pass Rush & Blitz Ability
Zumwalt has a substantial amount of experience blitzing and rushing up field from a number of different angles. He has been used as an edge rusher in spots but has also been a blitzing option in the middle of the field. Typically, Zumwalt is trying to time the snap and trying to jump into the backfield quickly, but he does have some experience with delayed blitzes and later rushes.
His speed, acceleration and athleticism make him a viable option in this regard. Zumwalt has shown he can use his hands to keep opponents out of his body at times and he can adjust and make plays in space, provided he does not have to make a drastic change in direction. He has shown he can slam into opponents and make an impact on the pocket on the blitz and his height is useful when it comes to obstructing the quarterback’s vision and potentially knocking down passes.
Zumwalt has experience on special teams, protecting on kick returns and could be a nice option to try and block kicks because of his acceleration and length. This is an area where Zumwalt should be heavily featured.
Zumwalt’s best fit is probably in an attacking style of defense and perhaps a 3-4 where they can be more aggressive with him. His early impact looks most likely as a sub package player, coming in and being used on passing downs, whether as a coverage linebacker or an extra blitz option. Zumwalt could also potentially contribute as a weak side linebacker or middle linebacker in a 4-3.
Zumwalt certainly has the potential to develop into a full service linebacker and if a team sticks with him, he could be a low risk, high reward player. If all else fails and he is unable to develop into a full time player, he should always be able to help on special teams and potentially match up with tight ends in coverage.
Zumwalt’s game and path to NFL success could be similar to that of Emmanuel Lamur of the Cincinnati Bengals. Lamur came into the league as a lanky special teams player who has evolved in his time with the Bengals and is projected to be a good option for their starting weak side linebacker spot. Both players have above average height and length for the position but bring a good amount of athletic ability and have the potential to be unique players as well.
Jordan Zumwalt has done just about everything for the Bruins in that defense during his career, but likely will have to earn his way into the NFL as a sub package player and special teams asset early in his career. If he can add bulk and continue to improve as a run defender, he could blossom into a full service linebacker with some unique qualifies. Zumwalt is a third day prospect with some intriguing potential and could go early on day three as a result.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com