In a draft deep with talent but lacking in sure-fire star prospects, there is considerable disagreement among draft analysts about many of the top prospects in the 2013 NFL draft. But even in a class where quarterback evaluations vary greatly, the most polarizing prospect in the class appears to be Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.
With ratings that range from No. 1 overall to the second round, the spectrum of evaluations of Jones is a broad one.
After starting off the year near the top of many draft boards, Jones’ stock has slid due to a number of red flags and flaws in his game, but with less than one month until the draft, it is unlikely that there will be any consensus rating for him among media—or NFL teams for that matter. That will make him one of the most interesting stories to watch on draft weekend.
Where should Jones ultimately end up being drafted, and what teams are most likely to draft him? We’ll get to that, but first, let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of his game to evaluate why his stock is so heavily debated.
Why Jarvis Jones Could Be One of the Draft Class’ Best Players
There is a lot to like about Jones’ game and what he has accomplished in his two seasons at Georgia.
Skilled as both a pass-rusher and run defender, Jones can impact the game on all three downs.
Jones is very effective at turning the corner to get into the backfield and make plays. Lining up most often as a stand-up rusher on the line, Jones consistently showed his ability to beat offensive tackles around the corner.
While he does not have terrific speed, he makes up for it by anticipating and reacting quickly to the snap, using his hands well around the edge and taking wide but effective angles to the quarterback or ball-carrier. He is a good power rusher who places his hands well and can drive blockers back toward the ball.
Through his ability to consistently get around the corner and into the backfield, Jones led all players in the NCAA last season with 14.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss, and finished his career with totals of 28 and 44. Considering he did this against one of the most competitive schedules in the country in the Southeastern Conference, those numbers are very impressive.
Jones has a terrific motor, and made many of his plays on the field after getting blocked initially but giving a relentless effort and eventually working his way to the football. Additionally, he is a disciplined player who plays with effective patience, while he also has very good vision and instincts for reading plays.
Against the run, Jones is effective both at the line and back in space.
At the line, Jones does a good job of holding his leverage to set the edge, forcing plays both outside and inside. After setting the edge, Jones does a great job of moving in or out toward the ball-carriers and getting in on tackles. Although not a tremendous athlete in space, he moves well laterally and is a sound tackler.
Jones’ best skill of all may be his ability to force fumbles. Known for making big plays, Jones does a fantastic job of using his arms to strip the ball, syncing up his stripping motion with well-timed blindside hits to force turnovers and create potentially game-changing opportunities for his defense.
Jones used this skill especially well in his final collegiate season, leading the NCAA with seven forced fumbles.
Why Jones Could Fall Hard on Draft Day
Being a top 10 pick remains a possibility for Jones, but so is falling all the way into the second round.
TFY Draft Insider’s Tony Pauline reported in February that Jones could have a “DaQuan Bowers-type drop” on draft weekend. Like Jones, Bowers was once considered one of the consensus top prospects in his draft class, but ended up falling to the No. 51 overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft.
One of the major reasons for Bowers’ fall were medical concerns, which are also the biggest reason Jones could end up having a major drop on draft weekend.
Jones suffers from a condition known as spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column which increases his risk of injuries. He also missed two games last season due to injury, and appeared to be injured during his pro day, possibly tweaking a hamstring and/or feeling the effects of a groin injury which lingered last season.
These medical concerns, especially the spinal stenosis, will not be taken lightly. The team who ultimately drafts him will have to feel comfortable with how he checks out medically, and many teams could remove him from their boards as a result of his medical issues.
That aforementioned pro day, which took place at Georgia on March 21, also did no favors to Jones’ draft stock.
His 40-yard dash time, broad jump and vertical jump all would have ranked among the bottom two of all linebackers at the combine. As mentioned, however, Jones may not have been in his best shape: he appeared to be dealing with an injury, but also may not have been fully prepared for his workout.
There are a number of issues with Jones’ game, however, that also show up on tape.
While Jones is effective at making plays around the edge, he will have to become a more complete pass-rusher to have the same success getting to the quarterback at the next level.
He does not have a particularly explosive first step nor terrific speed. While Jones is effective working his way around blockers to their outside, he is limited in terms of inside pass-rushing moves and he struggles to disengage from pass protection.
Against bigger and faster athletes at the next level, Jones will need to become a better power rusher and use his hands more effectively—things he can do well but does not do on a consistent basis—in order to continue racking up sacks.
Playing behind a massive defensive line that consistently occupied blockers at Georgia, Jones was often able to get free rushes into the backfield or be able to work against tight ends on the line, which helped him in making plays and setting the edge.
He struggled, however, when teams focused their run blockers against him, and regardless of what scheme he plays in at the next level, teams will continue to do that and attack his weakness if he does not become stronger and better at disengaging from blocks.
Speaking of schemes, another knock on Jones is that he does not have a clear fit in a 4-3 defense.
He fits well as a 3-4 outside linebacker, the same position he played at Georgia, where he is not only an effective stand-up edge rusher but also good as a run defender both at setting the edge and in space.
In the 4-3 defense, he is not a natural fit. At 6’2” and 245 pounds with 33” arms, Jones is undersized for a defensive end and would likely be limited to situational pass-rushing as a lineman. He is not a great fit to be a 4-3 linebacker either, however, with limited coverage ability and subpar speed for the position.
While comparing Jones to Von Miller is very much a stretch—a better and more realistic comparison may be Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker and 2012 No. 35 overall pick Courtney Upshaw—he would likely play a similar role to Miller in a 4-3 defense. Jones would be best utilized in that scheme as a strongside linebacker against the run, but as a pass-rushing defensive end on passing downs.
Where Will Jones End Up?
While Jones may be at the top of some boards and is considered a Day 2 prospect by some, the more accurate truth lies somewhere in the middle. While he has some significant red flags and flaws in his game, he is a well-rounded player who can be a quality starter and impact player in a scheme and role that fits his game.
I would be remiss not to admit that earlier this draft season, Jones ranked among my top five overall prospects. Upon further evaluation, however, he currently ranks as my No. 13 overall prospect in the draft class.
Where will Jarvis Jones be selected?
As a projected mid-first-round prospect, the most likely landing spots for Jones are the New York Jets (No. 9 overall), New Orleans Saints (No. 15) and Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 17). All three of those teams run 3-4 defensive schemes and are in need of outside linebackers.
Jones’ medical concerns, however, make his draft stock very difficult to project, and it is unknown how far he could fall if he makes it past those three teams.
Should Jones fall past the first 20 picks, his eventual landing spot will likely have more to do with value and each team’s comfort with his medicals than they will with defensive fit. Some possible landing spots for him in the late first round or early second round could include the Indianapolis Colts (No. 24 overall), Atlanta Falcons (No. 30), San Francisco 49ers (No. 31/34), Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 33) and Detroit Lions (No. 36).
Dan Hope is an NFL draft featured columnist at Bleacher Report.