Christian Jones has been a great athlete in search of a home since joining the Florida State Seminoles. He spent his sophomore year as a strong side linebacker, his junior year as a weak side linebacker and his senior year as a leo backer. His willingness to move around and help the team has certainly been helpful in what it has allowed the Seminole defense to do and he has been a contributor at all three positions.
The problem for Jones is that he has been exposed to all these different positions and is going to leave Florida State, still without a home. As he goes to the NFL, teams have to decide where he projects best and try to develop him there.
On what he has shown, his best fit appears to be as a weak side linebacker with the ability he has shown in coverage and his speed and rage. Jones needs to work on doing a better job making plays on the football and taking on and shedding blocks but the raw tools are there to do the job. Where he is drafted may ultimately be on his ability to play special teams, where he does a great job, his athleticism and potential to learn and develop in one position. He is versatile with a little bit of skill everywhere but no real mastery anywhere. Jones projects as a third day pick that should be a great special teams player and could be a nice sub package player initially as a coverage linebacker that has the upside to develop into a full service player in time.
Vitals & Build
Jones is listed at 6’4” 235lbs with a nice combination of athleticism and raw speed for the NFL. He has pretty decent hips, quickness and body control. Jones has decent strength but needs to improve his functional power. He is not small by any stretch but he has the frame to creep up to 240lbs without too much trouble, which could make him more attractive to NFL teams.
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.
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.
As a junior, Jones has shown he can be an asset in coverage and has stood out in man coverage. He showed 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.
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.
The problem for Jones is that as a senior, his change in position really made it so he did not play much coverage. The Seminoles used him in drops on occasion and would sometimes have him play a more traditional linebacker, but by not getting to spend the whole season working in this capacity, he did not look comfortable and took a step back. Jones should be able to get back the progress he lost with reps and coaching, but it was somewhat of a shame that he was unable to really work on this as a senior.
Pass Rush & Blitz ability
As Jones has played as a rush end both from a two point and three point stance, he has far more experience rushing the passer. His speed makes him a threat to land the outside rush and beat opponents around the edge and he is occasionally able to work up the field, can make a move and slip inside to get in the pocket.
The problem for Jones is he really has trouble taking on beating blockers. As a result, he gets engulfed too often and will fall back to his speed and quickness to try to win, making him predictable. When he is unblocked and has a line to the quarterback, he can make a big play and get the sack, which makes him more worthwhile as a blitz option than it does a regular pass rusher. Still, he does have some experience there, so it is conceivable he could see snaps there in the NFL as a declared rush option.
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. He has also worked on punt protection and has a great skill set to play on just about every special teams unit except field goal. This is going to be extremely important for Jones as it will hopefully enable him to keep a roster spot while an NFL team decides what position they want Jones to play on defense and can work to develop him there.
Jones could end up being similar to Danny Travathan of the Denver Broncos. Travathan has always been a weak side linebacker with good speed and quickness. He is able to chase down running plays, help in coverage and rush the passer; all things Jones can do. If Jones can find a good fit and a coaching staff that can work with him and allow him to develop, he can contribute on special teams like Travathan did and work towards becoming a full time player.
Christian Jones has done a little bit of everything while playing at Florida State. The fact that he has versatility and he has been willing to move around for the sake of the team reflects well on him, but his lack of an obvious position is a little problematic. He has the athletic ability to play at a number of positions, but appears best suited as a weak side linebacker and sub package player that can help in coverage, run and chase down plays and occasionally come on the blitz. His earliest contribution might be as a great asset on special teams, but if a team can take the time with him and let him master one spot, likely WILL, he could develop into a full service player and be a better pro than he was a college player. Jones projects as a third day pick likely going on the early part of day three and could be a player who dramatically outperforms his draft slot if he can find a home and master that position.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com