Here’s a wonky idea: if you flip a couple of the Seattle Seahawks’ draft picks in your mind, its draft starts to make a little more sense.
(Of course, this gets to a discussion about whether you should value the totality of a draft class, or whether the team maximized the value of each pick. But let’s save that for another time, shall we?)
Jamarco Jones, a two-year starter at left tackle for an elite college program, with the wingspan of a pterodactyl, an objectively beautiful pass set, and a skill-set built on technique and efficiency, would make all the sense in the world as the Seahawks second selection: the 15th pick in the third round, 79th overall. Nope. That honor went to USC’s Rasheem Green, a violently inconsistent pass-rusher, drafted solely for his athletic upside rather than present football prowess.
Instead, Jones landed in the fifth round, 168th overall. It’s a head-scratcher. If you flipped the pair, the selections would make more sense – particularly in what they can offer in year one.
Regardless, it puts Jones in a position to be one of the steals of the 2018 Draft.
(Another fascinating thought exercise: If you were a general manager, would you rather take a guy in the right spot for his talent, and receive adulation for that. Or draft a guy later than you should, but get extra credit for having landed a steal? I guess both would be on your team, so it would seem insignificant. But it’s interesting nonetheless. Decision-makers get a bump for selecting guys later than they should, which is a weird dynamic.)
The Athletic Question
Jones went in the fifth round, mostly due to poor testing times in the lead-up to the draft. The spider chart wasn’t kind. His wingspan – which placed him in the 90th percentile of offensive tackles tested at the combine (at least since the combine has been keeping records of such things) – could not make up for his truly terrible three-cone or vertical jump.
The Ohio State grad tested in the 11th percentile of the leaping test and the 5th percentile (!) of the agility drill. He can’t explode out of his stance; he can’t shuffle his feet, is what the league concluded from its pre-draft battery of tests.
Nonsense. Teams, typically (and rightly), favor pro-size and athleticism over technique. You can teach hand position, you can’t teach first-step quickness. But I feel they missed on Jones.
The athletic tests make grim reading, but the tape tells a different story.
Jones was one of the most technically proficient and well-rounded linemen in the 2018 class. Or any recent class, for that matter.
It is always fun when players turn an ingrained physical weakness into a tool. Jones isn’t an explosive leaper. As such, he’s developed a fluid, efficient pass set that’s as pretty as they come. One that allows him to get in position, in-time, as well and consistently as those who seemingly have rockets snuck into their cleats.
I mean, just look at this (left tackle, #74):
He doesn’t shoot out of his stance. But he’s controlled -- calm. There’s no false steps or a frenzied rush to get to his spot. It’s fluid, almost graceful. Linemen with poor initial pop often look to compensate by rushing their feet, trampling the ground with quick, erratic steps that wind up doing the opposite of what they hope (those with lesser talent start flailing their arms, as though that means something).
Not Jones. He understands his athletic limitations. And – clearly – he’s worked hard to perfect the nuances of the position. He can make up for a lack of initial explosiveness by maximizing his efficacy.
So far so good. Jones’ feet are downright impressive for someone so big and long: He can drop anchor in pass protection to absorb speed-to-power moves; can slide and move against speed-rushers; and can re-anchor when required, to fight off any counter-move.
The big concern: he’s tight in the hips; he isn’t a natural dipper.
If quality dip-and-rip pass-rushers – those who make their living with first step quickness – get off-the-ball with good initial speed and quality leverage (low to the ground), he can be in trouble:
Those kind of rushers are, obviously, a problem for everyone. But Jones has little margin for error, as opposed to those with the flexibility and core strength to dip and contort once they’re engaged with a pass-rusher.
And though he has some pop in hands, Jones is still more of a latch-and-drive guy in the run-game than someone who will bulldoze open holes through the sheer force in his hands. Still, there aren’t many who can. Certainly not those selected in the fifth-round. And it’s not like Jones is a terrible athlete. You don’t start for Ohio State if you are.
Jones is a better on-field athlete than tester.
Let’s start with his wingspan. You can’t teach arm length. That tight, compact pass set coupled with those go-go-gadget arms unnerves pass-rushers. In college, dip-and-rip edge-rushers were left dazed and confused. This fella can’t hang with me out of his stance:
Yeah, he can. Above, the Illinois pass-rusher tweaked his alignment. He had been tighter to Jones throughout the early goings of the contest. He shuffled wider as the game moved along, to create a better angle to loop around the Buckeyes’ lineman and penetrate into the backfield. If he won the initial fight – the get-off – it would be curtains for Jones, he thought.
Not so. Jones won the early exchange with his customary footwork; he has nimble feet for a giant. Using a 45-degree set, he closed off the initial path. As the Illinois man looked to twirl back inside, Jones shuffled again, locking his giant mitts onto the rusher before the defender could even engage in a hand fight. The rep was won, ending with the defender going for a ride in Jones’ belly button.
The scene was commonplace throughout the 2017 season:
Whether it was a quick-set, with Jones taking the attack to the defender, or that borderline elegant vertical set, Jones was able to play keep-away with edge defenders, like the older brother who plants his hand on the forehead of a younger sibling, laughing as the youngster swings away aimlessly.
There are no bells and whistles. There’s just not much a defender can do when a lineman gets there first -- low and with inside position. After all, that’s the name of the game.
Jones can be cunning. At times, he fastened himself to a defender early – regardless of the type of pass set. Other times, he waited. He forced an edge-rusher to commit first. It’s rare to see Jones lunge-out and overplay his hand (more on that later).
Hand placement is everything. Jones consistently stone-walled much better athletes by plunging his hands into the middle of their breast plate. Once in position (the “fit”), he controlled the rep; 20-yard splits and three-cone times were meaningless:
That’s Jones working against his aforementioned new teammate, Rasheem Green, above; the testing freak.
Jones quick-set, engaging Green early in the rep and taking away some of the USC rusher’s athletic advantage. Again, playing lower than his opponent, he used every inch of that wingspan to lock onto the rusher, before shuffling his feet and managing the rep with apparent ease.
(Jones routinely owned Green 1-on-1 in that contest)
It’s not just in these short spaces where the testing-to-tape differences show up. Jones showed throughout his career that he can move as well, at least in a northern direction.
Hyper-athletic tackles are a plus. Sure, they’re better against explosive rushers. But they also expand the playbook, allowing teams to sprinkle in different things: creative trap plays; nifty gap-scheme concepts; and all-manner of screen designs. Yet an offense can still be effective if the sum total of a tackles’ athleticism is the ability to climb up to the second-level, run out on pitch plays, pull on some counters, and, perhaps most importantly, get across the face of his man on outside-zone runs.
The earlier examples expand a basic playbook (though are themselves staples in everyone’s book these days). Outside-zone, however, is the bread and butter of the modern football. There isn’t a team at any level that doesn’t use some form of outside/wide-zone as a foundational element of its system.
Tackles must have the speed and skill to get in front of their defender, before twisting and contorting their body to wall off a lane.
Jamarco Jones: Check.
And how about that ability to move up to the second-level, be it on a zone-concept, or an angle block – where body positioning and intellect come more into play?
Of course, there are times when those disastrous athletic tests rear their ugly heads on the field.
Jones is a glaring minus on concepts that pull the tackle across the formation. He will kind of, sort of get there. Eventually. In his own time:
That’s not good enough for the next level. Forget the outcome; focus on the process. The movements were anything but fluid. That lack of hip flexion played its part again: Jones was slow to get out of his stance; slow to swivel his hips; and struggled to wrap across the formation in time. A worrying sign.
For some reason, Jones is more comfortable pulling to his left kicking out on quick pitches/tosses. It’s one of those weird idiosyncrasies. Clearly, he can shift when needed:
There are more concerning issues, though. There’s instances where tries to make up for that lack of initial get-off — particularly against great athletes — by doing what many linemen suffering the first-step-inferiority-complex do: overcompensating by kicking out too far.
I mean, Jones literally fell over.
It’s tough for a tackle who lacks hip mobility to course correct once a rusher dive-bombs inside.
This was never more evident than when Jones lined up for The Game. Opposite Michigan’s pair of pass-rushing studs – Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary – Jones appeared overmatched. He was run over. He was run around. And when he tried to accommodate for the lack of spring in his ankles, he flared out too far and gifted a pathway to his quarterback.
Jones appeared shell-shocked in the first-half of that game. The long-armed apparition hadn’t faced anything like this all season. Nor had he been exposed. But he couldn’t cope with Gary’s rare combination of speed, length, and powerful hands. He was undone by Winovich’s sheer tenacity:
It’s a half that likely cemented the views of some of the NFL’s decision-makers. He just doesn’t have the athletic makeup to play in the league. He appeared off-the-pace against two next-level athletes.
Give Jones some credit, though. He fought back in the second half. After the two Michigan stars took turns undressing the recent draftee in the first half, the Buckeye fought back.
Michigan consistently switched up its defensive looks, placing their Viper (hybrid linebacker/safety) on Jones, or attacking him with stunts or twists, while shifting Winovich and Gary over to the opposite side.
It was easy work for Jones. He tightened up his stance. He switched to more quick sets: not giving pass-rushers a runway to build up speed (a smart switch, whether instituted by Jones or the OSU coaching staff). And he showed his football intellect, effortlessly passing off a barrage of tackle-end stunts and twists:
That is such a subtly gorgeous play.
Jones shows as good mental awareness as any tackle I’ve evaluated in recent years. There a bunch of pre-snap checks in the Buckeyes offense. Everything is a box RPO (kill one play or the other pre-snap, depending on the count in the box). It’s relatively straight-forward. Still: college guys – even the very best – routinely mess up that stuff multiple times a year.
Jones was one of the few linemen who never flubbed his lines; he never seemed to misunderstand a check or outright blow an assignment. In college, at least, that more than made up for any perceived (or empirical) athletic defects.
The Position Question
The question of how you view Jones’ athleticism inevitably leads to the follow-up of “Where does he play?”
If you think his lack of initial explosiveness limits him at tackle, he can’t play outside.
Kick him inside, is the typical pseudo-analysis. But he would likely be worse off there. His lack of fluidity when pulling would stymie elements of the playbook (Brian Schottenheimer uses more gap-scheme concepts – pulling and moving linemen – than his predecessor); his inability to dip and sink would give him trouble inside; and those long levers attached to his shoulders, that are so useful on the outside, become problematic in the close quarters hand-to-hand fight of the interior line.
And so, he’d seem to be a player without a home, stuck in a positional purgatory. Too long and stiff to play inside, not enough hops to lineup outside. Which is likely how most decision-makers across the league viewed him pre-draft, including Pete Carroll and John Schneider. After all, Jones was the teams seventh draft pick, taken after a punter. Fine! If you won’t take him, I guess we will.
Given Seattle’s recent swings on high-upside athletic guys, including taking defensive lineman and switching them to the offensive side, it’s nice for this team to face a different problem.
The Seahawks’ line needs all the help it can get.
You know the figures by now. I bet you can recite them by heart. Seattle finished 31st in run-blocking DVOA and 25th in adjusted sack rate in 2017. Worse, the Seahawks’ conceded a pressure on 36.9% of snaps, tied for the very worst mark in the league, per Football Outsiders.
But heading into 2018, the line has a glimmer of hope. The team is hoping to squeeze the last drops out of former All-Pro left tackle Duane Brown. Ethan Pocic is a multi-positional player with all kinds of potential (I will die alone on Pocic Hill if I must). Center Justin Britt was the best of an apocalyptic bunch in 2017. DJ Fluker is solid, if not a game-changer. Germain Ifedi has NFL athleticism, if little else. And Tom Cable is gone. Hallelujah.
Rarely are coaches as good or bad as they seem in the moment. Cable marshalled a rotating door of bad. When was the last time a player significantly improved, and sustained, under his watch? Cable’s time with Seattle was objectively awful. His departing is good news for the hopes of everyone above.
Then there’s Jones, who will enter training camp in competition with Ifedi and Rees Odhiambo for the starting right tackle spot. Ifedi is the polar opposite of Jones: a stud athletic tester who’s shown little knowhow for this whole blocking people thing. And Odhiambo stunk so bad at left tackle in 2017, it started to feel like bullying. The team cannot harbor much confidence in him at any spot moving forward.
All of which means Jones has a shot to win the right tackle job out of camp.
It may sound churlish, but I’d expect Jones to either be a quality contributor early on, or out of the league before passing go. And I’m willing to bet on the former.
Worst case scenario: the athletic thresholds are right. He’s just a big dude who dominated good college players who were stiffer and less agile, but who struggled against the kind of athletic freaks he will see in the NFL; players who could match his size but had swifter feet and looser hips. In that case, there’s no reason to keep him around. He’s not going to magically get quicker feet (though Mark Ingram somehow did).
But if you strip away those thresholds and concentrate solely on the tape, you get a different impression: Jones is going to be really, really good. The good far, far outweighed the bad.
He’s a super smart player, with a refined skill-set at a position of immense value. Those players are hard to come by, let alone in the fifth-round. Seattle grabbed an early Day Two player in the middle of Day Three at the position of need. It’s ultimate definition of a draft steal.