I can’t figure out why Mississippi State defensive tackle Chris Jones isn’t getting more love during this draft season.
Maybe it’s because he was a bit inconsistent — his lowest grade came against lowly Northwestern State. Maybe it’s because he only has a hair over 1,000 snaps played the past two seasons with seven sacks to show for it. Maybe it’s because he has a pretty simple name like “Chris Jones.”
Truthfully, I don’t know. But I do know that no interior player had a higher pass rushing grade against Power-5 competition. Only DeForest Buckner graded out higher overall against the Power-5, and it took the Oregon defensive lineman 420 more snaps to do so. Jones’ 12.1 pass rushing productivity was easily the highest in the class.
If I were to sum up Jones' freakish potential in one play, it would be the one below from MSU's game against Arkansas this year.
His initial swim move skirts any chip from the center on the slide protection and keeps his momentum to absolutely blow up the right guard. What makes Jones special is his prodigious strength. The right guard on this play simply can’t match the power coming at him and crumples. Jones +9.1 pass rushing grade against Arkansas was the highest of any interior lineman against a major conference school.
What I love about Jones is that he combines that strength with ultra long 34.5-inch arms. It leads to him tossing offensive linemen around like rag dolls and it’s beautiful to watch. Here against Ole Miss, Jones gets the first punch in and then after that the left guard was no more than a blocking sled.
For a big man he has some burst off the line. His 10-yard split at the combine was 1.7 seconds — a ridiculous figure for a 6-6, 310 pound lineman. And when he wants to play low, offensive linemen move backwards.
And Exhibit B:
The issue is that Jones doesn’t always want to play low. The best explanation I can come up with is that he’s technically raw.
Coming out as a junior, Jones has only had three solid years of coaching after playing for a very weak high school program in Mississippi. I can forgive some of that. What I can’t forgive though, and have no explanation for, are the plays where the effort doesn’t seem to be there. They are especially worrisome when you consider he was only playing 61 percent of Mississippi State’s defensive snaps last year. That’s something that as a coach and GM you’d have to vet out in the interview process.
Can you fix him standing straight up when slant takes him away from the play?
Or how about him giving up once the quarterback breaks the pocket?
To some degree I believe a team can motivate a guy to bring effort on a more consistent basis, but it’s still a big red flag. What's crazy, however, is even with a handful of poor plays he still graded out so dominantly. If he puts it all together, Jones’ ceiling is as high as anyone in this class, and the scary thing is he’s barely scratching the surface right now.
Where does that kind of potential fit in the NFL draft? I’m on record in the PFF offices saying I’d take him in the top five picks, but more realistically, with the risk he presents I’d say once he slips past pick No. 10 the value is too good to pass up. The pick No. 11-14 range of Chicago, New Orleans, Miami and Oakland is the sweet spot where every team could benefit from his services. Anywhere farther down than that and one very lucky team is getting the steal of the draft.