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Preseason Performers: Rookie linebacker Vi Jones

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 15 Hula Bowl All-Star Football Classic Photo by Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

During the preseason, outstanding individual performances often get lost in the fray as our focus turns to more pressing matters — especially this season, given that this is the first year since 2012 that we are seeing a legit QB competition unfold (using that word in the Carroll sense). However, sometimes it is worth it to take a moment to recognize the efforts of players who are either on the roster bubble or likely to be practice squad candidates. Sometimes, these guys end up being quality spot-starters who make an impact during the season, like Jake Curhan last year. This time, I want to look at a player on the other side of the ball: Vi Jones, rookie undrafted free agent linebacker out of North Carolina State.

During last week’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Vi Jones recorded six tackles and what could have been a pretty critical sack on Kenny Pickett, which you can see below.

This play ended the Steeler’s series, and set up a scoring drive for the Seattle Seahawks, which would tie the game up at 25-25. Of course, this wouldn’t ultimately matter to the outcome of the game, but by that same point the outcome of this game wont ultimately impact the outcome of this season, so take it for what it is worth. Regardless, Vi Jones displayed a high motor and solid athleticism on this play, which he will need to continue to do if he wants to climb his way into a roster spot. He also utilized his great length, putting his nearly 80” wingspan on display as he maintained separation from the blocker and ultimately stretched out to drag down Pickett.

Corbin Smith wrote this of Vi Jones leading up to the preseason:

“The son of former Cowboys linebacker Robert Jones and younger brother of current Jaguars receiver Zay Jones and former Vikings receiver Cayleb Jones, Vi Jones has football in his DNA. He originally enrolled at USC as a four-star recruit, playing two seasons for the Trojans before transferring to North Carolina State. After sitting out a year, he starred on special teams for the Wolfpack in 2020, tying the national lead with three blocked kicks. Becoming a full-time starter in 2021, he set career-bests with 45 tackles and half a dozen sacks while also generating four forced fumbles. Despite an impressive pro day workout, including running the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds, the long, athletic linebacker went undrafted and signed with the Seahawks as a priority undrafted free agent.”

Smith goes on to note that his biggest competition would be Jon Rhattigan and Ben Burr-Kirven, the former of whom is currently on the PUP list, and the latter having since been released with a failed physical. That isn’t to say that Vi Jones isn’t facing competition, but after Jordyn Brooks and Cody Barton, the Hawks don’t have a ton of proven linebacker depth. The team is likely aware of this fact; on Saturday, Vi Jones tied with fellow rookie Joel Dublanko with 32 snaps each, which paced the linebacker corps (at least the off-ball guys).

Vi Jones is an athletic and rangy linebacker, albeit a bit undersized for the position. With this in mind, the biggest question to me is whether or not he can prove that he will be impactful on special teams, which he certainly was at NC State.

No matter the outcome, I greatly enjoyed watching Vi Jones play in his first NFL game. His speed and play strength may very well endear him to a team that is rebuilding its entire identity in 2022. Either way, I will definitely be keeping my eye on #50 when the Seattle Seahawks take on the Chicago Bears tomorrow evening.