East Carolina has a way of sneaking some impressive athletes under the radar and into the draft. From David Garrard to Chris Johnson, they have had some talented players go into the NFL. This year is no exception with their talented tight end, Justin Jones. In a football world that has their rules increasingly slanted to that position, the position is coming at a premium and Jones has a power forward’s build with a mean streak for the game of football. As a junior, Jones had 25 receptions for 346 yards and 3 touchdowns. Those stats may not jump out, but the one that should is his average per reception of 13.84 yards.
Jones is still developing and really growing into and learning his body, but his potential going forward is substantial and coaches are going to be intrigued at the idea of having someone of his size in their offense because they are virtually indefensible. He is athletic and shows good strength to be a good inline option who can be used in the slot in some spots, but he needs to get more consistent with catching the football and getting off the ball better, but he could still end up being drafted right around the top 100 area and if he can break out, he could end up getting closer to the top 75 or maybe even the top 50 picks as he is a matchup nightmare.
Vitals & Build
Jones is listed at 6’8” anywhere from under 260lbs to almost 280lbs. He looks fantastic with how he carries the weight and is an impressive athlete. Jones looks similar to how LeBron James might look if he were playing football. He is strong but does not always show it and while he can work on being more explosive off of the line, he has deceptive speed when he gets going. Jones possesses good length and body control that makes him play even bigger. Jones still has the frame to continue growing but just owning what he has and being better with it would do him the most good in terms of athletic potential.
Route Running & Technique
Jones’ stance is something that he needs to keep working to improve. He is better out of a three point stance than he is standing up but his first step out of both is relatively average. Jones does a good job of using his hands to keep opponents out of his body but he does not show a ton of burst. Jones works up to his speed, which is impressive when he gets to it, but it is something he can continue to work to improve. His two point stance causes him to gather himself rather than explode off the ball at times, which makes him look a little slower.
In terms of his route running, the area that stands out with Jones is despite how enormous he is on the field, he is slippery. Between good use of his quick hands and body control, he is able to bend around opponents and keep them out of his body pretty well. This is extremely important as tall players tend to run into problems getting off of press but the fluidity he displays is impressive and should help him going forward.
His footwork can use more work as is not surprising given his height and length, so making quick cuts can be difficult. Jones does a good of finding space and creating space with his body when he is going down the field and that feeling of being slippery pays off in that area. Route running is still an area where he is working to get better and this will be a process when he gets to the NFL, but a lot of his instincts and natural athleticism aid him significantly and could ease the transition that allows him have some early success.
This is another area where Jones shows some good and some areas that are still developing. Jones obviously has a giant wing span and is not afraid to go after the ball with his hands, but he still has some drops and does not make all the catches he should. He is improving but he does not get a ton of opportunities to make plays either in games, which is not helping. If he can get consistent and expand his effective area to catch the ball, he becomes virtually indefensible. Jones would simply be too big and too tall with the ability to go up and get the ball in the air. If he can get more opportunities this season and capitalize on them Jones could be a breakout star and give defensive coordinators nightmares.
Run After Catch
The issues with his acceleration and first step make it difficult when he turns and comes back for the ball. On those plays, he is getting the catch and not much else, which is great for moving the chains and in the end zone. On plays where he is able to catch the ball going down the field and maintain his speed or not lose much of it, he has the long speed to shock some people and make huge plays. With Jones at this point, it is all about momentum, so if he is working to the sideline or down the field, he can make a play turn into a big one and in the right alley, he has the speed to score.
As a run blocker, Jones is active and gives a good effort. He tends to play a little high which is problematic at his height but he does show good strength and can move guys off of the line of scrimmage. Jones controls the guy in front of him, works to turn and push them down the field and stays with it through the whistle. His base can get a little narrow at times but he gets away with it in college because he is simply too strong for opponents at this point. His technique is a little raw at this point and it will become more critical when he moves to the NFL, but he gets after it.
In pass blocking, Jones looks bored and bitter. He mirrors the opponent and uses his arms to keep him in front of him, but his body language looks like a guy who sees any passing play and a route he is not running and getting open on as a frustration. Jones does his job in pass pro but he does not look happy about it.
The best fit for Jones is stepping in as a #2 tight end that can play a lot of inline work, block, and develop as a receiving threat. While he would do a good deal of blocking, he is someone who could be a nice option in the red zone or moving the chains with his size, especially when he does not need to be the primary read to do it. He might take a year or few but he could be a dynamic receiving threat in grow into a larger role, but with the increased viability for that position and the demand for it, Jones is a commodity and an asset going forward.
Jones can also play out wide or in the slot on occasion. As a jump ball threat or even just a decoy to rattle the defense by seeing him out there, he gives a team a weapon that can go up and get the rebound. If he is up against a corner, he is simply too big and too strong for most opponents and the success rate of that play is extremely high.
|Sat, Aug. 31||vs. Old Dominion|
|Thu, Sept. 5||vs. Florida Atlantic|
|Sat, Sept. 14||vs. Virginia Tech|
|Sat, Sept. 28||at North Carolina|
|Sat, Oct. 5||at Middle Tennessee|
|Sat, Oct. 12||at Tulane|
|Sat, Oct. 19||at Southern Miss|
|Sat, Nov. 2||at Florida International|
|Sat, Nov. 9||vs. Tulsa|
|Sat, Nov. 16||vs. UAB|
|Sat, Nov. 23||at N.C. State|
|Fri, Nov. 29||at Marshall|
The three games against ACC opponents are a great opportunity for Jones to stand out as a player. First against Virginia Tech at home and then in Chapel Hill against North Carolina in back to back weeks will get him some exposure against a bigger conference on television and let him show why he can be special playing against a BCS conference. The Pirates finish their season on the road and their second to last game is at N.C. State and the Wolfpack have had some troubles recently, so Jones could have a big game and potentially be part of a big win for East Carolina in that game.
Jones’ game could be one that resembles Steve Heiden. Heiden was drafted as a third round pick of the San Diego Chargers and was nothing but a blocker with the same kind of size before he was acquired by the Browns. He started to develop as a receiver and got better and better until injuries ultimately ended his career. Heiden was a blue collar guy that just showed up and did his job and fans knew what to expect from him and was a fantastic option across from Kellen Winslow. That could be the type of player that Jones is at the next level.
Justin Jones is still developing as a player but he still comes in with an immediate impact and viability for teams looking to add someone who can block and potentially be a big time weapon with continue development. There are not a lot of defenses against a 6’8” tight end who knows how to go up and get the ball, so if Jones can get better with his hands and be more explosive off of the line, he can go from a fringe top 100 pick into being a solid second day player for someone. Jones is an intriguing player because he can contribute now with long term potential going forward.