Long after the green room at Radio City Music Hall has emptied and long after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has given his last hug, the "real" draft begins. It is those late rounds on Saturday, when NFL teams round out their rosters and occasionally find those hidden gems. You know them well: Tom Brady and Richard Dent, Shannon Sharpe and Terrell Davis.
Bowling Green standout defensive tackle Chris Jones is one of hundreds of players who hope to be among those selected in those Saturday rounds at the 2013 NFL Draft. When you are in this group, there are no guarantees, and more players than not will end up scrambling for coveted free agent spots after the draft. But, if Jones is selected, his combination of work ethic and physical tools could make that pick pay off for a long time.
Jones played from the moment he arrived on the BGSU campus. As a freshman, he played in every game and started six. He recovered a key fumble in a win at Miami, then provided five tackles in that season's Humanitarian Bowl. During the following season, Jones showed more and more flashes of his brilliant play and started all 12 games. In a win at Central Michigan, he was unstoppable, compiling 3.5 sacks, 5 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. All of that led to National Defensive Lineman of the Week honors. At the end of the year, he was named to the third team All-MAC squad.
Jones kept improving as a junior, and so did his results. He earned first team All-MAC honors by recording 8.5 sacks, which tied for most in the conference. He also had 14 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. He was also durable, as he started in all 12 games for the second consecutive year.
However, all of the above was just small potatoes compared to what Jones had in store for the MAC during his senior season. As a senior, Jones became known as the "Monster of the MAC". How? He recorded 42 tackles, 19 of which were for loss. He recorded an astonishing 12.5 sacks and ranked third in the nation in the category -- as a defensive lineman that was almost always had to deal with multiple blockers.
More importantly, his presence helped BGSU finish with one of its best defensive seasons in program history. The team allowed just 16.8 points and 296.6 yards per game and led MAC in both areas. In the yards category, their average was over 60 yards per game better than any other team in the league. Jones' defense also led the league in rushing and passing defense, as well as opponent third-down efficiency.
Perhaps the signature game of his entire career was in 2012 against Miami University. In that contest, he had 2.5 sacks and a 23-yard fumble return for a touchdown. Jones harassed NFL quarterback prospect Zac Dysert all evening, and BGSU romped to a 37-12 win -- their first at home against Miami in 15 years.
Jones was rewarded for his efforts by being named MAC Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-American by the Football Writers' Association of America.
So, what about Chris Jones appeals to NFL teams?
First of all, you have to look at his work-ethic and coachability. Jones has an endless motor and frustrates offensive lineman because he comes at them over and over and over again. If he does not beat his man on one play, he will attack harder on the next snap. He is relentless in his drive for success, and that is a valued commodity. NFL teams want players who will work at their craft. Of course, they also want players that can be coached up, and Jones' constant improvement in his production indicates that he is not complacent and will allow coaches to help him improve.
Jones is also very strong. At February's Combine, he had 30 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press, and that was one of the best figures in his position group. He is also powerful and can gain an advantage in man-on-man situations, especially when he anticipates the snap. Scouts also like his low center of gravity and the leverage advantage that can provide.
However, Jones does have some weaknesses that scouts view as significant. Many cite Jones' size as a problem. Jones is just shy of 6'2", and that height is not prototypical for today's generation of NFL defensive lineman. Also, he is not a really bulky player. While a smaller lineman does pose some different challenges for offensive lines, Jones is not going to take up much space on the interior and will have to work to avoid being overpowered by bigger players. Quickness can alleviate some of this issue, but most believe that Jones' speed is just average.
Whether he joins a roster through the draft or post-draft free agency, Jones will have some proving to do. He had an ankle injury that prevented him from participating in position drills at the NFL Combine and hurt his 40-yard dash time (5.33). That 40 time improved at BGSU's Pro Day but only slightly
Who might draft Chris Jones? The late rounds of the NFL Draft are almost impossible to predict, so speculation about specific teams would not mean much at this point. However, Jones played in a four-lineman scheme at Bowling Green, and teams that run that scheme in the NFL would be a good place to start. Teams with depth issues on their defensive line will certainly take a look at him.
No matter where Chris Jones lands, he absolutely has the talent and desire to become an important cog in a defensive line rotation. Could he ultimately join that elite list of late-round gems? If he improves his technique by listening to coaches and keeps his focus and drive to succeed, he can make it happen.