INDIANAPOLIS — Josey Jewell is unshakeable, unflappable and most definitely unmistakable.
The Iowa linebacker was one of the most tenacious at his position, not only in the country, but in school history. He was a unanimous first-team All-American, the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year and a tackling machine for the Hawkeyes. He also carries an all-business personality that coaches and general managers might try to slightly diffuse during an interview.
Nope, no way. Not Josey Jewell. Not “The Outlaw Josey Jewell.”
“Maybe they would tend to make it more tense if anything,” Jewell said. “Mine so far were really good. I didn’t feel tense really that much, but I definitely could see if people felt that to try to get you more nervous and try to see what you do in those scenarios.”
Jewell’s idea of football fun is cracking running backs and watching film. He fits right in with NFL coaches who want the same thing from their linebackers. Despite missing a game with a shoulder injury, Jewell posted 136 tackles last season, which was 18 more than No. 2 in the Big Ten. He averaged 11.33 tackles per game and none of the three ahead of him nationally made a bowl game last year.
Few were better recently in college football with attacking runners downhill than Jewell. His football instincts are praised, as are his skills. That’s what he told coaches in both formal and informal meetings.
“I definitely think it’s a lot of instinct and I also think it’s a lot of film preparation, watching a lot of film with coaches, a lot of film with other players,” Jewell said. “Just understanding each scenario or each formation what they can run and from there just understanding from there what their job is and how you can effectively do it.”
So far, Jewell has met formally with the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys. The informal encounters are too numerous to remember, he said. Jewell measured at 6-foot-1 and 234 pounds with 10-inch hands. He bench-pressed 225 pounds 18 times on Saturday. But the location and future size of his paycheck will be determined by what he runs in the 40-yard dash on Sunday.
If Jewell can reach the 4.6-second range, he’s probably a second- or third-round selection. If it’s slower than 4.8 seconds, he might drift a round lower. Jewell understands that and has spent the offseason preparing for the 40 and other agility drills.
“It’s a different kind of test,” Jewell said. “It’s not going out on the field and tackling people. You’ve got to show out on other stuff. You’ve got to show out on the 3-cone, be able to tell them you’re good at changing direction. The 40 is big for everybody, too, to let them see your overall speed.”
As for his football ability, there’s no question Jewell belongs among the elite. He’s widely considered one of the top five inside linebackers at the combine. But can he run?
“The big thing for him is if teams feel like he can cover,” said Dan Shonka, national scout and general manager for Ourlads Scouting Services. “They play 4-2-5 and as an inside linebacker, you’ve got to be able to run and cover. He’s good. He can get back in zone coverage and things like that. He’s smart. He understands what he’s supposed to do in zone coverage. The big problem is if he gets matched up with a speed back and you’ll have to see if teams think he’ll be a three-down linebacker because he’s going to play on special teams.”
Teams wanted to get a look at Jewell in those drills in late January at the Senior Bowl. But Jewell declined the invitation. He became sick while playing at the Pinstripe Bowl and lost 7 pounds. He was unsure he could compete at a high level and didn’t want to risk a bad performance while he was getting back to health.
To prepare for the combine, Jewell stayed in Iowa City. He also spoke with former Hawkeyes James Morris, Pat Angerer and Chad Greenway, who offered their advice.
“Be confident in yourself,” Jewell said of what they told him. “Take it slow, enjoy the process because you’ll never get in a process like this again. You only get one combine to come to, just enjoy it and make the best of it.”
Greenway, who retired after an 11-year career with the Minnesota Vikings, grew up on a South Dakota farm. Jewell grew up as a farm boy in northeast Iowa. Both were unheralded by most major college programs before joining the Hawkeyes. The two have developed an affinity for one another, and Greenway said last fall that Jewell is “going to have a great pro career.”
“Obviously I’ve followed Josey the last few years,” Greenway said. “There’s obvious similarities to my own situation and story. Very lightly recruited and comes to Iowa and just has an unbelievable career. I think as I’ve gotten to know Josey just a little bit and talked to him a few times, the thing that has impressed me is how he has handled his success and the way it seems to me he keeps his mind focused on the correct things. He’s obviously a team-oriented guy with unique ability to play every snap.”
As for which NFL player with whom he best compares, Jewell views Carolina Panthers All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly as the model. Kuechly stands 2 inches taller and weighs a few pounds more, but his toughness and instincts are comparable to Jewell.
“I look at him and his film preparation,” Jewell said. “You can definitely see it with his anticipation before plays, recognizing plays by the formation, by techniques. If the guy’s sitting back a little farther, the guard’s sitting back, maybe gonna pull power, stuff like that.”
The cerebral part of Jewell’s game comes out in interviews. The physical part of his game shows up on tape. The intangibles are obvious each day in practice. Now it’s about how his athletic ability measures against his peers. If he conquers this battle like all the others, some NFL team is getting a hell of a linebacker.