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Better Know a Freshman: Jalen Mills - Mr. Makes a Living Around the Football

Jalen Mills is not Tyrann Mathieu, but the Chief will find a way to best deploy him for the 2012 LSU Defense. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
Jalen Mills is not Tyrann Mathieu, but the Chief will find a way to best deploy him for the 2012 LSU Defense. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

We live in a sports age when it's easiest to define something by using the actual term which is needing defining. When you see a guy playing football, making plays, even though he may not be the biggest, baddest, fastest or best, do you know what that is? "He's just a football player." Unconsciously or not, we've all come to accept this term. Some of us (ME!) even use it... with regularity. When you see someone say, "He's just a football player," you know what they mean. If you proposed this idea to someone newly interested in the game, I do believe they would respond, "Well yes. I surmised that, because I am currently watching him play football. Therefore he is not a baseball, hockey, soccer or fencing player. He could theoretically be any of those things to, but my limited subjective experience does not make this reality evident to me." To which you would reply, "No, moron! He just makes plays." In my household we call this "ESPN Analysis."

Which brings us, as you can tell by my aptly titled article, to Jalen Mills. Jalen Mills is the highest rated recruit in this signing class. No. Jalen Mills is the best athlete in this signing class. Nope. Jales Mills is the best corner prospect we've signed in years. Ugh, not that either. Jalen Mills is a future first round draft pick. Well, not likely. Jalen Mills is a football player. Ahh, that's more like it.

After the jump I am going try to use words to describe things that are actually happening and that I actually believe without simply re-stating what I'm attempting to define.

I live in a high-rise apartment building on the North Side of Chicago. My building has a shared laundry room with hundreds of other residents. It is located on the top floor. I pay for my laundry using an imitation credit card that will not work unless I charge it with non-imitation money. Once, when my wife cycled through a load of laundry and I sat lazily on the couch, likely drinking beer and watching baseball (this is my contribution to life), she discovered a used condom wrapper on the floor between the adjacent washer and dryers she utilized to machine wash and tumble dry our clothing. Her logical conclusion: "Surely my husband is cheating on me." Reality: In between drinking beer and watching baseball, when would I have time to cheat?

At first thought, I couldn't believe how irrational and illogical my wife thought. Then I realized, I DO THIS. All the time. I watch two and a half minute highlight clips and then tell people, a lot of people (somehow I've been given you all as an audience, to your detriment), what to think of some player. Not that you all agree or trust what I say. But my words are out there. So take me FWIW. My opinions are essentially busted condom wrappers on the floor of shared laundry rooms.

That being said, I like Jalen Mills. He stands at 6'0" (probably more like 5'10") and listed at 180 (probably more like 170). They list his speed at 4.4-4.5, but I suspect he isn't that fast. He's not an overly dynamic athlete (he's not a bad athlete, by any means). I think what really stands out is how physical and aggressive he is. I'm not the first, nor will I be the last, to make the comparison, but his willingness to come up and tackle, despite not having great size, reminds me a lot of Tyrann Mathieu. Seeing that, you can understand why his name continues to be amongst the first to come from Miles' lips as potential replacements in the Mustang package. This is yet another three-star woefully undervalued by the recruiting services. Check his highlights (this is the least impressive reel of clips I've seen of him).

Jalen Mills #19 CB Desoto,Tx (HS) (via 31theglove)

Thus far, the reports suggest that that will be the guy taking the field in place of [NICKNAME REDACTED] most often this season. Chavis believes strongly in employing his 11 best. Over the past two seasons, that's been Tyrann Mathieu playing a Nickel/LB hybrid role and generally blitzing and causing all sorts of havoc. To suspect, hell even hope, that another player can step in and be the same type of playmaker is simply unrealistic. Tyrann Mathieu is one of the most dynamic, exciting players in the history of college football. Players that like are simply not replaced.

Yet, Jalen Mills looks to be a Mathieu-lite. Amidst all of his playmaking accolades, Mathieu's sound tackling was often overlooked. He could take down guys with 100 pounds on him, man up. It's a skill, and it's a gift. I think Mills may possess a similar ability in that regard. He's fearless as a tackler, but he doesn't just launch his body around recklessly, hoping to dole out the biggest hits and draw the biggest ooohss and aaahhhhss. He knows how to tackle. That's a unique talent. That's a talent which makes him perfectly suited to become the pseudo-LB that Mathieu became the previous two seasons.

Mills can cover too. There's plenty of undersized defensive backs who may better suited to play in the box (Jerico Nelson comes to mind). Mills doesn't fit that profile. He's a defensive back all the way. But his unique skill set may allow LSU to get more creative with him.

However, don't expect to see him on the field that often. Mathieu became virtually indispensable to LSU. He simply did not come off the field very much. Chavis likely has an idea of who his 11 best are already. If that means employing a more traditional, three LB look, then he will do it. If that means sticking with the nickel and dime looks, he will do it. If that means putting six DL and figuring out how to configure the back five, he'll somehow understand how to make that work too.

Mills has a knack for finding the football. It's an inexplicable gift. It's not a learned skill. It's not something you practice. It's instinct and intelligence and aggression bottled into the ability to always know where the ball is, where the ball is going and how you are going to stop that. Some players have it. Most players (even great ones), do not. Laron Landry was/is a superb player who makes tons of tremendous plays. But he is not Ed Reed, one of the most elite ballhawks in football history.

The main takeaway here is that if Jalen Mills is on the field, he's earned the right. Chavis believes he's one of the best 11 and should be on the field. And right now, that looks to be precisely what's happening.

High End: Millls could become a 4-year starter at his current trajectory and potential all-conference selection.

Low End: Knowing all we know, I find it hard to believe he'll be anything less than a spot-starter for his entire LSU career.

Realistic: I suspect Mills will step in and play a good bit this season. How he evolves will determine what his role becomes (much like Mathieu as a true freshman). I see Mills being a very successful starter for LSU.