Signing DeSean Jackson served as a major splash for the Redskins this offseason, but they'll enter next month's draft with plenty left to address on their roster.
Although the back end of the defense is lacking and serves as arguably the team's most glaring position of need, the Redskins could also afford to upgrade the middle. A versatile athlete like Florida State's Christian Jones would not only fit the bill, but his current draft stock would seem to make him a viable option for Washington somewhere in the third- to fourth-round range.
What He Brings
Two of Jones' biggest strengths to his game are uncoachable talents in the form of athleticism and instincts, which combine to make him a versatile player at the inside linebacker position.
During his time in Tallahassee, Jones saw nearly every alignment at the linebacker position, from putting a hand in the dirt and rushing off the edge, to taking tight ends off the line and dropping into coverage. His vast experience in one of the nation's toughest football conferences speaks to how natural skills such as play recognition and speed help him adjust to be most effective.
Jones' athleticism jumps out before the tape rolls—standing 6'3", 240 pounds with long arms, a cut physique and somewhat of a high waist. Whether he's using his length to break up passes in coverage, or his fluid hips to bend around a tough angle, Jones possesses the body control and coordination necessary to get it done at the next level.
Despite his lack of bulk, Jones plays with a mean streak, violently wrapping up ball carriers and ripping them to the ground. He's physical in pursuit and inviting of fighting through contact, although his own size can sometimes struggle against larger, more physical blockers.
While his speed and length help him in coverage, Jones also puts his athleticism to good use as a pass-rusher. His combination of explosiveness and agility make Jones a threat every time he attempts to attack the line of scrimmage. He remains both disciplined and relentless in pursuit, demonstrating good acceleration and intelligent angles to the football.
How/Why He Fits
Even beyond the retirement of London Fletcher, the Redskins inside linebacker position consists of question marks outside of Perry Riley. While hopes are high for Keenan Robinson, the 24-year-old linebacker hasn't been able to stay healthy since being drafted in the fourth round in 2012. And although adding names like Akeem Jordan and Darryl Sharpton in free agency helps the unit overall, neither name is considered an unsurpassable starting option.
Throughout all of last season, the Redskins inside linebacking corps struggled in pass coverage—Fletcher's age had consumed his speed, and Riley didn't come around until late in the year. As a result, outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan were asked to drop back into coverage more often, thus taking away from the defense's overall ability to penetrate and pressure the opposing quarterback.
Adding a long athlete like Jones would help instill reliability in the middle, providing more leeway to the guys on the edge who are at their best when pinning their ears back and attacking the passer.
Jones' tackling ability and skill set against the run would also fit well in Washington, as he's not solely the coverage guy to Riley's run-stopping style. In fact, due to his pursuit and athleticism, Jones is more of the penetrating type when compared to Riley, making him a better linebacker to make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
For a team like the Redskins who could use more speed, youth and natural instinct on defense, Jones looks like a perfect fit. Although he may not be a finished and polished product, a year or two in the big leagues will give him the experience necessary for everything to catch up with his advanced athleticism.
Forecasting Draft Position
While the fourth round seems fair for Jones, the Redskins probably can't afford to skip him at No. 66 in the third round if they are in fact interested in adding the Florida State linebacker. The idea of waiting until the early fourth round has a nice ring to it, but Jones' raw foundation warrants him a third-round grade, and there will be plenty of teams thinking about how his versatile skill set can conform to their defensive scheme.
Yes, the Redskins have worked to improve the inside linebacker position, but there's never anything wrong with competition. Draft Jones, give him his shot in camp and fans could be surprised at how quick he makes an impact.
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