We've been talking about some of the top guys in the draft quite a bit lately. As we get closer and closer to the draft I want us to get familiar with some names that will be available at the top of the 2nd and 3rd round. Today's name is Mississippi State defensive lineman Chris Jones. Jones is another massive lineman at 6'6, 310 pounds. He may not be a top name in the draft but he's definitely ascending and I think that's showing in most mock drafts, as he's being mocked in the late 1st early 2nd rounds from major media outlets in March.
I reached out to my man Charles McDonald who writes over at SB Nation's Falcoholic. Chuck knows his stuff when it comes to the guys up front and I wanted to pick his brain to figure out what Jones' best fit is, if we're over or underrating him, and finally if he's a guy that you can plug and play day 1.
KP: When you watch a "good" player, how long should/does it take for them to jump off the screen like "ohhh, that's the guy?"
Chuck: With front 7 plays, you can usually tell within the first couple of plays whether they're somebody of notice or just a guy.
KP: Right. This might read as ridiculous but usually in about a minute, so let's say 5-10 reps, you can tell if he's a player. Something will jump about that you'll notice. What was that play for you with Chris Jones?
Chuck: It was this play.
(jump to :23 seconds)
Against LSU in the 1st quarter. He attacked the right guard and read the backfield in the same movement, ate the block attempt from the fullback, and cut back inside for a short gain. For a bigger defensive lineman, that amount of efficient movement in a short amount of time is always impressive.
KP: Always and forever. That's a good one. Let's talk about the LSU game. This game made me think he could be a dominant run defender. He won all over. He already has #datlength and even though he didn't use it early on, it came as the game went on. Whether it was resetting the line of scrimmage when he was head up on the guard, winning with a push pull move over the center, picking up a stop as a 1 technique, or, where he's best at, as a 3 technique, he resets the line of scrimmage then stacks and sheds the offensive lineman for a stop. Jones is a player.
Chuck: Most definitely. I like to see the results of a play when defensive lineman don't use good technique to try and get a feel for their most disatrous outcomes on any given play. Even when Chris Jones doesn't use his ridculous length or play with good leverage, which does happen a bit too frequently, he's not getting bulldozed off the line of scrimmage. He has a very natural anchor. It's a subtle thing, watch him take on the center here(above video at 4:08.) He never really gets his arms extended and doesn't play with good leverage, but he's not moving off the line of scrimmage either. Just being where you're supposed to be and not in the laps of your linebackers is highly important.
KP: I like that. Good example. So imagine if you can get through to him with the tools he has. Look out. This is one of those weird situations where what looks like raw athleticism doesn't match up with testing. His combine looked like mine as a freshman. It wasn't good. Is it all upper body with him or what's the deal here?
Chuck: It was confusing at first, but I went back and watched with the combine measurements in mind and it started to make sense. He's a length/strength interior defender that wins with quickness and movement skills over raw explosion, if that makes sense. For example, this play in their bowl game versus NC State.
(jump to 1:32)
He gets off the ball quickly, but you don't really see that burst or explosion that guys like Bullard or Nkemdiche show. What he does show is a nice ability to flip his hips and come back to the other A-gap. Think that correlates with his above average agility times, which were 7.44 second 3 cone and 4.62 short shuttle. At his pro day Jones improved on his 3-cone to a 7.11, which is really, really good.
I have a question that popped into my mind while I was watching him earlier: what do you think of him at nose tackle?
KP: I haven't circled back to watch since the combine but I see where you're coming from and it makes sense. Like, on passing downs or just sporadically? Interestingggggg. So I mentioned he won from here vs LSU. He also did it against Ole Miss and Missouri. Imagine him head up with his length and quickness against a center. I love the idea of moving a guy around. I'd worry about him staying square against double teams and getting washed but as a change of pace I can see him being productive. What are you thinking?
Chuck: Yeah that's what I was thinking. A guy that you probably want playing 4/5 technique, but if you have to put him at 0 it won't kill you. Probably don't want him playing there a long time because his leverage issues are gonna kill him against the more compact centers in the league. On passing downs, you can put him wherever. We've seen him win with a quick swim and he has the quickness to win with ease on two way goes once he starts to get depth and collapse the pocket. That head up pressure can be a game-changer. If you get him with a defensive line coach that's going to run him through chutes until he pukes you've got a good chance of getting a true difference maker on the interior.
KP: Another good call. He seems like he cruised through games. Then he'll flip the switch and your eyes will light up, like against Missouri.
Miss St DT Chris Jones played like a top 15 pick against Missouri.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 20, 2016
He needs to be pushed. Don't know who will be the 1 to get the most out of him but the skills you want are obviously there. Let's talk about these leverage issues. San Diego is a rare stone-age defense that 2-gaps on run downs at times. Can Jones do that from the 4 technique?
Chuck: My dumb Falcons do the same thing. I definitely think he can play from the 4, just might need to be patient with him through his rookie year. Early on I think his best role is probably a 3 technique or 1 technique. Like I said before, even on his worst plays he's not really getting blown off the line of scrimmage. If he's matched up man to man against guys like Mitchell Schwartz, Russell Okung, Donald Penn, etc. he's probably going to struggle two gapping against them.
My favorite quote from Chris Brown's Smart Football: "In short, while a one-gap player attacks gaps, a two-gap player attacks people."
With the leverage issues he has right now, counting on him to be a reliable 2-gapper from the 4 might not be a great move. Let him sit in gaps as he cleans up his technique and gets used to the speed of the game. He can play 0/4 on special occassions.
KP: You're probably right and fans aren't going to like that. Sidebar: There is a person on the internet who said the Falcons QB has better pocket presence than the Chargers QB. One of these QBs is not like the other.
Chuck: That's a bad take, but maybe the Falcons QB can reach that level someday. He is the Chargers QB's son, after all.
KP: *leg drops you from the top ropes*
So with Jones, is he a project, a day 1 starter, or is he a sub package guy early on?
Chuck: Probably start him off as a sub package guy or a guy who gets to rotate in with starting defensive line fairly often. Best way to get experience at defensive line is to go get your ass kicked, in my opinion. Feel the speed of the game and what works/doesn't work with you. It's not like he's a project where you have to start from the ground up. He's just a little rough around the edges, but if he was perfect we'd be talking about taking him 3rd overall. I think it's okay for him to see a decent snap count from the jump.
KP: I like him a bit more than you it seems. I have him in my top 15. That said, I don't think I disagree. Jones has all the talent in the world but, there's always a but, the leverage issues and hot/cold streaks can't be ignored. Jones is a good guy to draft if you have someone to compliment him. How high are you taking him?
Chuck: He's got an early 2nd round grade from me. That 30-40 range seems appropriate to me. If he hits and realizes what he can be, that'll be far too low.
KP: He's higher due to a weak class. Before we get out of here, give me 1 play/example why Jones won't be what we think he can at the next level?
Chuck: He doesn't have many bad plays, but there are times when he gets caught being a "peaker" and lets himself get pushed around. Here's what I mean.
(jump to 2:04)
He freezes trying to find the ball and ends up getting washed out of the play. Note the lack of arm extension here, too. Consistency, consistency, consistency is the name of the game with Chris Jones.
KP: Without sounding like a broken record but it's a leverage thing with him. I like how you mentioned him "peaking" because he does get in trouble there, too. A play that stands out to me was against Alabama and he goes for an arm over move and the guard catches him mid swim and drives him back a couple yards.
Let's flip the coin here and go over a play that makes you think there's no doubt he'll shine at the next level. For me, there are a handful of plays with Jones where he's using quickness and power and it ties together.
If I had to choose one, it's this play against Bama.
(jump to 28:24)
This is a good example of Jones using his length. He makes 1st contact. THen he resets the guard by about 3 yards. This is what he can do.
Chuck: Yes, we need to see more of that. If he does that process with clean technique more consistently he's a top 15 pick. This was one of my favorite plays from Jones.
(jump to :26)
You see why he was a 5 star defensive end prosepct coming out of high school. Hand placement on the tackles outside arm and attacking the half man on his way to the quarterback. SMooth. Like you said before, he's a player.
KP: Whew. It's not "potential" if you can see it in every game. His hand placement and ability to disengage/keep himself clean are why I think he'll be more than just fine. If he's there at the top of the 2nd, I would love to grab a power guy like Jones.