The Tennessee Volunteers have one of the best offensive lines in the nation with some talented players such as Antonio Richardson and Ja’Wuan James, but their center James Stone is an interesting prospect as well. As up and down as the Vols have been overall this year, the offensive line has been a consistent strength with Stone running the show in the middle at center mostly, but also with some experience at guard.
The Volunteer offensive line and Stone in particular have been bred and developed to handle the power of the SEC which is where they excel. Stone handles power well and looks far more comfortable when taking on an opposing nose guard one on one than he is taking on athletic opponents. Being able to handle power from some of the best and brightest in the country is a good sign for Stone but he still has issues being comfortable blocking in space and dealing with quickness. Stone projects as an early day three pick based on what he can do with his ability to handle power and anchor inside but would be best suited as a backup that can continue to develop his lateral quickness to be able to operate and succeed in space.
Vitals & Build
Stone is listed at 6’3” 291lbs with a good build and solid functional strength. He is a decent athlete and maybe better than he sometimes shows on the field. Stone is a natural bender and is able to generate power relatively easily. Still with the potential to add strength that would only make him a better source of power in the middle, he can also get quicker and be more comfortable and natural in space. The result would be a better player for Tennessee his senior year but make his NFL future look far brighter.
Stone flashes the ability to move well, especially when it comes to going forward. He shows a fantastic first step going up the field but at times will look somewhat sluggish going laterally, turning and corner, looking awkward at times in open space so he needs to improve his overall fluidity and body control. This is something that he needs to improve upon and could potentially be held against him as he works to get ready for the NFL Draft.
Stone’s success at a run blocker seems to depend largely on the type of player he is up against and where they start from on the defensive line. He does a good job of locking onto and establishing position on opponents lined up right over him. Stone has quick hands and is able to snap the ball and fire off into his opponent with relative ease. Once he is engaged in the block, he can be difficult to shake, especially when he has the benefit of playing in a phone booth. He takes on power well and does not give up much ground while having the ability to create space or turn an opponent. Stone is much more comfortable taking on and bracing himself against power than he is against speed and quickness. He holds up against some of the biggest and strongest opponents he faces without too much problem.
Stone is far less comfortable against athletic opponents and even less when they are out in space. For instance, if he is going up against a setup with a pair of defensive tackles lined up over the guards or even in between the guard and tackle, Stone can have trouble going out and getting them. He can end up lunging and overextending trying to reach out and get to the block rather than keeping his feet under him and easing into the block more naturally. Stone wins the vast majority of his blocks if he can get his hands on them, but athletic opponents who can keep him out of their body or hand fight well can give him problems. When he can get control of them, he will establish position and can drive them off of the ball, but establishing the block can be dicey at times.
Stone has the agility and athleticism to get to the second level but he is awkward in space. He just does not look comfortable going out and getting a block, especially when they are smaller and more athletic. Stone will rush himself at times and will hesitate at others as a result. More experience should help him and just exposing him to more situations where he in space, so he does not seem to panic would be beneficial. It would be nice if Stone had a meaner streak and finished more blocks and more plays in general. There are times when he seems to stop while the play is going on around him and a more aggressive lineman would take the opportunity to go block someone else even if it just to send a message.
Stone does stand out in goal line and short yardage because of his ability to fire off of the ball forward with quickness and strength, but he just needs to do a better job of hitting moving targets and landing blocks while on the move. Experience will help but he just needs to focus on where he needs to go and where the opponent is, but when he hits, he can move guys backwards.
In pass pro, Stone again does a great job of anchoring and holding up against power. He will give up some ground but is able to re-anchor and ultimately wall off the opponent. Stone excels in a phone booth and is tough to beat when there is limited space to operate. When he has the block, he is good at establishing a pocket and giving the quarterback room to step up and throw the football.
While he has more trouble in space, he is good at adjusting to multiple attackers and diagnosing the appropriate threat. He can help a guard with a threat and adjust on a delayed attack from the opponent. Stone sees the field well and has good awareness of what is going on around him. In situations where opponents blitz the A gap, he adjusts quickly and is able to move into position and neutralize it. Simply sending speed up the middle is not enough and they have to show some sort of move to defeat a block.
Like in the running game, Stone is far less comfortable dealing with athleticism than strength. Opponents who can keep Stone out of their body or hand fight well with the speed to get up the middle quickly give him far and away the most trouble. At times, his lateral agility can appear sluggish and he can get beat if the opponent has enough space to exploit the opportunity.
Some linemen can be uncomfortable in space when they are not blocking someone and take themselves out of position as a result. Stone is patient and is able to wait for a threat to present itself. There are times when he does not do a good job of keeping his head on a swivel and will not see pressure coming from one side, but for the most part, he does a good job in this area.
Stone snaps the ball effectively and accurately with consistency. He is able to adjust and fire out his hands quickly. His punch can be pretty good but it could be more consistent as he catches opponents too often. Having more sudden and violent hands could help him in dealing with some of the more athletic threats. If he is able to jolt them even for a brief moment, he might be able to take advantage and get better control of his position and the block in general.
For the most part, Stone is good in where he steps and how he steps. He is at his best going forward. Stone could move faster when it comes to working laterally, but he does a good job of blocking from balanced position the vast majority of the time. He is not often cheated when it comes to landing a solid blow given the opportunity. The key for Stone in addition to working on getting quicker with his feet is keeping them under him when he gets to the second level and avoiding the urge to lunge to reach for blocks.
Stone’s best fit is in an offensive system that is looking to shrink the field and play in tight spaces. The more often he can stay in a phone booth, the better off he is. Stone needs to continue developing laterally and hitting targets in space and while he looks like a backup to start out his career in the NFL, he certainly has the potential to start at some point in his career.
A team that is intriguing fit for Stone is the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals play in the AFC North which feature three teams that use a significant amount of 3-4 looks and Stone has shown to be able to anchor effectively against power. He is not a finished product and needs time to develop, but he might be a nice fit in that unit that demands power at the point of attack.
Stone’s game might resemble that of Jason Kelce of the Philadelphia Eagles. Kelce is the center for what has been a power based offensive line in Philadelphia and has been shortly since he was drafted as a sixth round pick in 2011. Kelce has battled injuries which have hurt his development but he has been a reliable member of an effective unit when they have been on the field at the same time. Like Kelce, Stone has the potential to get much better when he gets into the league.
Right now, Stone looks like he is an early day three pick. He is more than capable of handling himself against power and anchors well against overpowering nose tackles. Stone still needs to work to improve his ability to operate in space and take on more athletic opponents and become better when it comes to reach blocking. He might appear undersized for the position but does demonstrate some remarkable strength and power. He is likely going to have an opportunity to firm up his stock and show what he can do in the postseason and likely the Senior Bowl where he could ultimately answer the questions teams will have and his ability to potentially contribute at guard does not hurt him either.
Some of the film used for this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com