With less than two weeks remaining until the start of the NFL Draft, the speculating and prognosticating are nearing a fever pitch. We’ve already seen the very top of the draft re-shuffled after the Los Angeles Rams took the express lane to Highway .500 by snatching (and giving up a whole lot in the process) the first overall pick from the Titans. There’s a good chance even more wheeling and dealing will take place inside the top ten, albeit likely on draft day itself, which will once again alter the course of the three-day event.
Despite all of the craziness that usually happens with the first round, one thing that the Seattle Seahawks have managed to do particularly well under John Schneider and Pete Carroll is “getting their guy.” Though it’s never stated publicly when guys on their board were selected before they were able to get them, it’s pretty fair to say that the ‘Hawks do a great job at identifying the range in which players they like will be selected, and are able to move up or down accordingly.
In a recent interview with Dave Mahler of 950 KJR in Seattle, Schneider hinted at the likelihood that this particular draft is ripe for trading down. With their second selection at #56 overall, it feels as though unless a player they covet falls to them with their first pick at #26, they’ll look to add a pick in between. After the deal with Los Angeles, the Titans now own picks #43 and #45, meaning they could very well be a viable trade partner.
While it’s undeniable that the Seahawks still have work to do in order to address their offensive line, recent signings appear to indicate they may be looking to stack their chips on the other side of the trenches as well. The signing of veteran Chris Clemons and move of Frank Clark to a more hybrid LB role solidifies their edge attack, but they could still stand to add a bigger pass-rushing presence in the interior. With the potential volatility of Michael Bennett’s contract situation, one such player that could be a great fit is Mississippi State DT Chris Jones.
At 6’6″, 310 lbs., Jones is one of the most physically-imposing defensive line prospects in this class, and possesses just the type of explosiveness that the ‘Hawks desire from their defensive line. He was a five-star recruit (something Carroll & company seem to love) coming out of high school and decided to stay in-state despite heaps of offers from plenty of other high-ranked programs. He entered the draft after a stellar junior year at Mississippi State, where he racked up 44 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks for the Bulldogs en route to a Second-Team All-America selection by Pro Football Focus.
At the Combine, Jones ended up being known more for his wardrobe issues, but his 1.7 10-yard split at 310 lbs still managed to show just how explosive he can be. In addition to that, he reportedly looked stellar during positional drills at Mississippi State’s Pro Day in March.
During his 2015 campaign with the Bulldogs, Jones moved around a bit on the defensive line but was at his best as a pass rusher out of the 3-tech. At times, his ability to dominate a guard at the point of attack and drive them into the backfield looked plain effortless. For example, take a look at the play at the 4:53 mark:
That play is one of the best examples of Chris Jones at his best. Explosive off the ball, great use of his length with violent hands, low pad level. It’s stealin’ your lunch money and using it to order five pounds of mayo. On a play out of the shotgun, he ends up putting a guard behind the quarterback by the time the play finishes. Just think for a second about that for a second. Jones generated 34 hurries in 2015 alone, finishing with the second-highest Pass Rush Productivity grade according to Pro Football Focus.
Another one of Jones’ best traits is his uncanny ability to disrupt the passing lanes of opposing quarterbacks when he gets into the backfield. He was credited with four pass knockdowns on the season, but he surely altered many more. Even in the midst of the play I highlighted above, Jones throws his hands up before finally stumbling to the ground. When he can pin his ears back and go after the quarterback, Jones almost always finds himself with his hands up and in great positioning in the throwing lane. Even though sack and tackle for loss numbers still remain the main route to a paycheck for defensive lineman in the NFL, players who are able to disrupt the timing of an opposing offense are still invaluable. It’s part of what makes the games of current Seahawks like Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett unique and Jones could stand to follow in their footsteps.
Now, to the negatives. As good as Jones looks when he’s creating havoc for quarterbacks in the backfield, he can also look less-than-good on plenty of occasions. He has a tendency to play too upright at times, which is a pretty big issue when trying to create leverage at 6’6″. Jones also tends to struggle with diagnosing screen plays and misdirection rushes, therefore opening up lanes for opposing running backs. At times he’ll also power down the motor and and give up on plays far too easily, especially when away from the ball.
Another key hinderance to Jones’ draft stock at this stage is the small sample size of production. Having only started regularly in 2015, Jones clearly made the most of his time on the field, however only having that one season of production can at times leave more questions in the minds of evaluators than answers. Then there’s his arrest in March after being caught driving with a suspended license. Not a particularly large red flag, especially compared to his team’s own quarterback Dak Prescott, but showing up in a police report in the months leading up to the draft is never a good thing.
Overall, Chris Jones has the type of explosiveness that is rare among players at his size, especially on the interior of the defensive line. With the NFC West likely to feature two rookie starters at quarterback, and 36-year-old Carson Palmer, pressure from the front seven will be the key to a division title. Chris Jones is just the type of player that can provide that pressure and Pete Carroll could be just the type of coach to turn those flashes of brilliance Jones showed during his time at Mississippi State into a more regular occurrence. I would expect him to be high among the ‘Hawks’ priority draft targets with either of their first two selections.