September 29, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles linebacker Christian Jones (7) reacts after he scored a touchdown on a fumble against the South Florida Bulls during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Florida State Seminoles defeated the South Florida Bulls 30-17. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NFL Draft: Pre-Season Breakdown - Christian Jones, OLB Florida State

The Florida State Seminoles have had a great deal of talent on both sides of the ball and head coach Jimbo Fisher has been able to land some impressive players since he has taken over for Bobby Bowden.  After having six defensive players drafted from their defense this past year, they have a few more who will figure into the draft this year including outside linebacker Christian Jones.

After starting out as a strong side linebacker, Jones was moved to weak side linebacker because of his impressive speed and athleticism.  This is also partly due to Jones lack of physical play to this point that was a bad fit at that position.  Jones has shown the ability to contribute against the run, in coverage, and on special teams for the Seminoles with a good amount of potential going forward.  This past year, Jones was able to rack up 48 solo tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 3 pass defenses, 2 fumble recoveries and a defensive touchdown.  With Vince Williams one of the defenders now gone to the NFL, Jones appears to be the next man up to be the guy calling the defenses for the Seminoles as well as being the biggest impact player at the second level.

Jones is a player who does a number of things well, but is just falling short in a few spots which could make him a more complete player and might be on the cusp of having a breakout year.  In addition to just continuing to add to his strength, Jones needs to do a better job of taking on blocks and finding more ways to make plays on the ball in coverage.  If he can address those issues, Jones could end up being one of the best weak side linebackers in the upcoming draft, but looks like a day three pick at this point.

Vitals & Build

Jones is listed at 6’4” 232lbs with a nice combination of athleticism and raw speed for the position.  He has decent strength for the position but needs to improve his functional power.  Jones is not small by any stretch but he has the frame to creep up to 240lbs without too much trouble, which could make him fit the prototype triangle numbers for the weak side linebacker position in the NFL.

Tackling

For the most part, Jones is a pretty good fundamental tackler who wraps guys up and drives them to the ground when able.  He will occasionally drop and twist as opposed to continue driving to secure tackles in situations where he comes from behind the ball carrier.  Jones can flash some power in his tackles and deliver a decent pop at times and when the tackle seems secured, he will start ripping at the football in an attempt to knock the ball out, just like he should.  He needs to avoid situations where he does not break down and will simply overrun the play and miss the tackle or a poor effort as a result.

Run Support

Jones is a classic run and chase linebacker that has good range for the position and can get all over the field to make plays.  He also will find holes to knife his way into position to make plays in the backfield.  Jones is comfortable coming up and attacking the running game when he diagnoses the play and will take good angles for the most part.

Jones needs to improve how he takes on and sheds blocks.  For the most part, he just takes on the block and does not shed.  He does the right thing in that he does not give up ground and will try to clog up the hole with the blocker so his teammates can tackle the ball carrier, but he has not shown much in terms of being able to shed.  That is preferable to players who will try to back out of the block and usually end up giving the runner a lane as well as freeing up a blocker to take out someone else.  Occasionally, he will flash what he can do in terms of taking on and defeating a block on his way to the tackle, but not with any consistency.  Jones will show that he can keep blockers from getting into his body at times when he is moving laterally and uses his arm to essentially stiff arm them and enable him to keep working down the line to make tackles.  He also needs to work on protecting his legs to avoid having his legs cut out from underneath him.

Coverage

Jones is an asset in coverage and really stands out in man coverage.  He has shown the ability to mirror the routes of both running backs and tight ends.  With a combination of the size to hang with tight ends and the speed to keep up with running backs, Jones can offer teams quite a bit in man coverage.

In zone, Jones does a great job of getting to his drop and being in position to play in coverage.  He shows good lateral movement and the ability to shuffle around in zone, but Jones will occasionally get too caught up in watching the eyes of the quarterback, stop moving and will get beaten as a result.  He has good closing speed, but he is more comfortable in man coverage than zone to this point.

Although Jones has shown he can get his hands in and knock the ball out at times, he really struggles to locate the football on throws and has not shown to have good ball skills.  Jones can play in the hip pocket of his opponent and make the opposing quarterback avoid throwing to his man, when they do, he is mediocre with the ball in the air.  Jones has simply not shown to be comfortable in these situations and is not able to make plays on the ball as often as he should.  The situations he does get his hands on the ball, he should probably be going for the interception as opposed to knocking down the ball. For all the ability he brings to the table in coverage, he has got to improve with his technique for making plays on the ball and finding a way to be a threat to cause turnovers so teams are afraid to throw at him.

He does do a good job of minimizing the damage and making the tackle quickly to avoid yards after the catch whether it is his man or making the play on another player’s responsibility with his closing speed.

Pass Rush & Blitz ability

Jones is not used to blitz all that much because of his ability to contribute in coverage, but the Seminoles will send him on occasion.  For the most part, Jones is coming downhill as a pure speed rusher and does not show much in terms of moves or nuance in how he rushes.  He is usually coming in an overload look and the hope is he can get to the quarterback before he is able to get rid of the football.  Jones needs to work on adding a move or two he can rely on, so the times he is blocked, he does not immediately become a non-factor.

Special Teams

Jones has also shown he can be an asset on kickoff coverage and has been able to get down the field quickly and make a tackle as well.  The combination of being able to contribute on kickoff and punt coverage should do nothing but add to his viability at the next level.

System Fit

Jones best fit is in a 4-3 scheme as a weak side linebacker in a system that will let him run and chase all over the field to take advantage of his speed.  He has shown he can be an asset in coverage and his fastest path to getting on the field at the next level will likely be as a coverage specialist.  Jones could also be an option for 3-4 teams as a weak inside linebacker as well, because of his speed and range.  Regardless of what system he ends up playing, it stands to reason he will be earning his way as a coverage linebacker and on special teams initially and then working his way up the depth chart from there, based on what he has done to this point.

Schedule

Mon, Sept. 2 at Pittsburgh
Sat, Sept. 14 vs. Nevada
Sat, Sept. 21 vs. Bethune-Cookman
Sat, Sept. 28 at Boston College
Sat, Oct. 5 vs. Maryland
Sat, Oct. 19 at Clemson
Sat, Oct. 26 vs. N.C. State
Sat, Nov. 2 vs. Miami(FL)
Sat, Nov. 9 at Wake Forest
Sat, Nov. 16 at Syracuse
Sat, Nov. 23 vs. Idaho
Sat, Nov. 30 at Florida

Notable Games

Clemson stands out because the Tigers will force Jones to defend both the run and the pass.  The question is who will be doing most of the running as Tajh Boyd is a threat to do both, which could put stress on Jones.  Miami is another game that features a team that could be a threat to run as well as pass the ball with Stephen Morris at the helm and Duke Jones hoping to build off of a successful freshman campaign.  The regular season finale in the Swamp against Florida is going to force Jones to really assert himself as a run defender and should be an opportunity for him to prove he can shed blocks to get to the running back.

NFL Comparison

At this point, Jones is somewhat similar to Phillip Wheeler, who just signed a free agent contract with the Miami Dolphins.  The former Yellow Jacket has been a successful run and chase linebacker with a good build for the position, but has not really shown himself to be able to make plays on the ball as of yet just like Jones to this point, but Jones will have this year to prove he can do more before going to the NFL.

Draft Projection

Jones offers a good amount of potential and there is a lot be excited about in terms of seeing his development this year.  If he can improve in taking on and shedding blocks, increasing his strength, adding more what he does rushing the passer and making more plays on the ball in coverage, he could secure himself a spot in the top 100 of this year’s NFL Draft.  The NFL Draft has not been overly kind to the weak side linebacker position in recent years and seems to be one that is often ignored, but if he can make the adjustments mentioned, he could end up being drafted on the second day of the draft and competing for a starting job as a rookie.

Tags: 2014 Mock Draft 2014 NFL Draft Christian Jones Florida State Seminoles Football Outside Linebackers

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