Myles Jack, Shaq Thompson eye NFL future at linebacker

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They have been nicknamed the "running backers," and their exploits at both running back and linebacker have been elevated to legendary status.

On Saturday, UCLA's Myles Jack will face off against Washington's Shaq Thompson in a game where each could end up making plays against each other -- on both offense and defense. While they've become beloved players because of their ability to play two positions, each is eyeing an NFL future at just one position.

Speaking to reporters after practice Monday, Jack said he would consider playing exclusively at running back if it were to help his draft stock (it won't), but his heart has been set on defense. Despite the presence of 1,000-yard runner Paul Perkins at running back, Jack's carries on offense are seen as sparks to the running game, and he has helped out tremendously as a short-yardage option. Through nine games, Jack, a sophomore, has two touchdowns on the ground and has also contributed 52 tackles as a defensive leader following the departure of Minnesota Vikings first-round pick Anthony Barr.

Likewise, his opposite number for the Huskies remains locked in at linebacker even though he's coming off a career day at Colorado on offense.

"I have a defensive mentality," Thompson said after Saturday's win. "It's always defense first. Everyone loves hitting people."

Thompson, a junior, leads the country in defensive touchdowns with four such scores to go along with the two times he's found the end zone as a tailback. Due in part to injuries, he's seen his first extensive amount of playing time on offense the past two weeks and has rushed for 272 yards on 36 carries. He'll probably earn the start against UCLA based on talk from the Washington coaching staff heading into the week, too.

"Thompson's production as a two-way player in a major conference will enhance his value in the pre-draft process, as coaches covet versatility and athleticism." NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks wrote recently. "While most two-way players are only given spot duty on one side of the ball, the fact that Thompson thrived as a major contributor suggests that his talent is far superior to others manning the position on the Huskies' roster."

Making plays on both sides of the ball should do nothing but help Jack and Thompson in the eyes of NFL scouts when they put on the tape in the coming months and years. But if forced to choose, it's pretty clear both know they're more valuable at the next level at linebacker, and that's just where they want to play.

You can follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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