The 2018 NFL Draft class for defensive tackles is the deepest we’ve seen in years; the talent is great from top and to bottom. Everyone has a different DT1, from Vita Vea to Maurice Hurst. Falling behind them are some more supremely talented defensive tackles, with varied skillsets. There are evaluators who love Tim Settle from Virginia Tech or Poona Ford from Texas. But if there’s one defensive tackle that doesn’t get nearly enough recognition, it’s Justin Jones from North Carolina State.
Coming out of high school, he was a three-star recruit from Austell, Georgia. He had offers from plenty of colleges, but the ones that were made before he committed to North Carolina State were Michigan State and Ole Miss.
Once touching down in Raleigh, North Carolina, Jones saw time as a reserve during his freshman season. In 2015, he was a rotational player and only started in three games. Despite limited action, he still recorded 30 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks. It wasn’t until his junior and senior seasons (2016, 2017), that he saw the field as a full-time starter.
By the numbers, you can tell he isn’t the most productive pass rusher or the most disruptive run stopper. However, there’s a lot more to Justin Jones than what the stats say. Let’s dive into some film and his scouting report:
- Hand usage is consistent – always brings active hands
- Strong punch, which knocks offensive linemen off track/balance
- Stout player with thick build and good overall strength
- Consistent base and leverage against offensive linemen
- Long wingspan (81″) for player of his size (6’2 1/2″ and 309 lbs)
- Allows him to create consistent separation
- Maintains and controls his gap
- Strings plays out and displays good lateral movement
- High motor with workhorse mentality
- Team player who consistently does whatever it takes to help the players around him
- Consistently works against/defeats double teams and down blocks
- Solid spin move when rushing the passer
On the play above, you’ll see Jones (#27) lined up as a 3-technique, and his job is to maintain/control the B-gap. He plays this perfectly against an outside zone and shows great lateral movement. You’ll notice his punch and separation while riding this play out to his right. He forces the running back inside and his teammates reap the benefits.
On the play above, Jones (#27) is playing as a 3-technique. He shows a great burst and punch while push-pulling his way inside and to the ball carrier. One area of improvement for him on this rep is to process his hands faster. Overall, this is a great rep from Jones, who processes the play well and fights his way into the backfield.
- Doesn’t have an arsenal of pass-rush moves (very basic)
- Can play stiff and too high
- Mental processing is inconsistent when reading the backfield/blocks
- Burst was great at the Senior Bowl – inconsistent on film
- Relies on power moves
On the play above, you’ll notice Jones (#27) back as a 3-technique. He has a solid punch and you can see the right guard have to reset his hands because of the separation. However, Jones is just relying upon his power to get him off of this block. He does a nice job reading the backfield, but he’s leaning on this block for too long. He could have made this tackle in the backfield, but instead the running back gained a yard. Improving on this area can make him a fierce player in the middle of a team’s defense.
On this play, Jones is back as a 3-technique and the burst off the ball is great. Again, you don’t see this on every play, and that’s a problem. It could be a way for the Wolfpack to execute line stunts or allow the play develop to help read it better, but this burst is what we want to see more of on Sundays. As for his base, Jones gets a narrow base (that’s not good) while getting up field. He tries to counter back inside, but the offensive lineman does a decent job staying with him. This play is executed perfectly from Bradley Chubb, who long-sticks his way into the A-gap to make the play.
The consensus won’t have Justin Jones ranked as highly as I do when it comes to the draft board. That’s fine; I’m not worried about it. Though he was brought into North Carolina State as a rotational player, he eventually earned his way towards more reps on the field. Hard work pays off, and it led to a starting position alongside Bradley Chubb.
I've often talked about how good McGlinchey/Nelson was for Notre Dame OL. Jones/Chubb duo at NC State is pretty damn good for a defense. Pay attention to the right side of the line. Chubb off the edge with a swim and Jones just blows up this RG (71). WHEW! pic.twitter.com/ZaPlfZwHDD— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) March 20, 2018
Justin Jones is far from perfect and, to be honest, he’ll never be perfect. “The little things prevent the big things.” What does this mean? It means he’s a technician who works hard in the middle, and by doing so, he prevents big runs and other plays. Even though he played on a talented defensive line, he was a standalone talented piece who’s often forgotten about. As of right now, he’s going to earn a top-70 grade on my big board, and on our grading sheet he earned a grade of 4.454 overall.
This puts him in the middle of day two of the draft, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear his name called near end of the second round. He’ll play as a 3-technique at the next level, and teams that are looking for a plug-and-play starter will get that in Justin Jones. Certainly, he’ll have to get more consistent off the snap and create a plan when rushing the quarterback. For year one, I expect a two-down player, and by year-three, he should be an every-down contributor.
For more information on Justin Jones, I spoke with Eliot Crist on the Draft Daily Podcast. Be sure to check it out and subscribe to his podcast.