Some great players are fantastic technicians. Jerry Rice’s his attention to detail on his route running was unparalleled. He took technical precision to a level that had never before been seen in the NFL.
Some great players establish a whole new position. Taylor became the first “rush linebacker” in the history of the league. In doing so he created a whole new set of pass rushing moves that are still emulated today. Taylor used the “speed rush” to accentuate his up and under or rip moves to get to, then envelop the quarterback or running back.
Other great players used their size to their advantage. Willie Rolf was 6’ 5” 320 lbs which is an average offensive tackle today. Back in 1993 he was an outlier, someone who was huge, quick, strong, and a devastating blocker. Like him, Orlando Pace had monster size but was also agile with power. These players didn’t need to rely on technique as much.
Of course Jim Brown was the quintessential size, power player. A running back who was 6’ 2” 230 lbs back in 1957 was an oddity. This helps to explain why he is considered by many to be the greatest player of all time. Sorry, Tommy Brady, Jim Brown is the GOAT. Brown was fast but also stronger and bigger than some defensive linemen. He ran almost straight up, but his power was so great that he was nearly impossible to be take down with one man.
For their times these players were a phenomenon as well as an anomaly.
Many players in today’s NFL are huge, powerful men who are also fast and quick. They are a load to handle. This is why technique is so vital for players in 2020.
This brings me to our featured player in this article. I call him an enigma. An enigma is defined as a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand.
This player is Josh Jones, an offensive tackle from the Houston Cougars, who is a big man (6’ 7” 310 lbs) but very light on his feet with some of the worst technique I have ever seen for a player who is likely to be drafted in the first 45 picks of the NFL Draft.
Jones is great height for the position (6’ 5 1/8”), but his arm length is barely within acceptable levels for a left tackle (33 5/8”). Despite his size he is as mobile as any lineman in this class. He lacks power in the run game but is very stout, with strong hands and arms to control defenders once he gets his hands on them.
So as Warner Wolf would say,”Let’s go to the videotape.”
Josh Jones is the left tackle in these clips. He is #74. This first clip shows some very good movement skills on the part of Jones. Remember, this guy is 6’ 5 1/8”. He is able to give a cursory block on the defensive end who is slanting left on the play already. He heads to the second level of the defense to hunt down then block the left inside linebacker who is slow on his run fit.
The backside pulling tackle misses his block. The corner blitz goes undetected so the corner is free to grab the QB as well. Jones makes an unspectacular yet effective block on his man, but the play is stopped for a 3 yard gain. Jones gets to the second level with ease on nearly every play that calls for him to do so. Not only does he do that, but he has an astonishing connect rate with his intended target. A 300+ lbs 6’ 5” man doing so is highly unusual. Most players his size struggle mightily to make their blocks.
This next play is first and 10 inside the red zone with the Cougars running a read option play. This play is designed to run off Jones’ backside so he needs to create as much of an opening for the running back that he can. His man is the outside contain man in this case. It’s Justus Rogers, a 6’ 2” 230 lbs outside linebacker.
With no one over his nose and a clear view in front of him, Jones has a great presnap read on the play. At the snap he takes an initial step back then turns his entire frame towards his defender. Rogers obviously has the speed/quickness advantage in this battle so Jones shows patience by allowing Rogers to come to him. Once Rogers has chosen his point of attack, Jones then goes out to meet him. The result is a gaping hole for the running back with a play that ends up as a first down inside the 5 yard line.
Jones had the highest overall PFF grade of any Draft eligible offensive tackle during the regular season at 93.2. Yet even with that high grade, the folks at PFF realize that Jones needs retooling in his pass sets. He has some of the most irregular sets I have ever seen from an offensive tackle who is so touted as a prospect.
Here he is early in the year against Washington State, the third game of the year for the Cougars. I mention this because we will look for improvement as the year progresses.
His stance is fine, but at the snap he takes a couple of steps backwards before he turns to the side to cut off the edge. This works fine here against Brandy Okeke, a freshman rush linebacker, but you can see that he may have trouble against a Von Miller or any of a 100 edge players with a quick first step in the NFL.
Here he is later in the same game this time against Nnamdi Oguayo a 6’ 3” 260 lbs defensive end who is more of an edge defender than an edge rusher. Oguayo lacks any first step quickness to challenge Jones.
This is a quick bunny hop backwards again before he turns to the outside. This method protects against an inside rush, but that usually happens after the defender threatens the outside left shoulder of the offensive tackle. He keeps his hands inside well, and his punch can be very effective when he is on target. This is often hit or miss. With Jones’ technique, a crafty player will quickly force a move outside which will cause him to rapidly overset to the outside. This will give the defender free access inside.
This view gives you a better look at Josh Jones’ footwork. If you watch closely, you will see a small false first step forward then 3 steps straight back before the turn to protect the edge.
I am not here to belabor the point, but this is a major technical flaw in Jones’ footwork. Jones started a total of 45 games for the Cougars at left tackle. It just astounds me that no one has bothered to fix this obvious defect in one of the most important facets of his sets.
It is not a hard fix. Most players can pick up the proper footwork right away. The problem lies in how quickly you can cover the ground to protect the outside edge. With Jones’ long stride along with his nimble feet you would think it would take just some instruction then some practice. This game above was played in early November so he did not show any true advancement in his technique in almost two months.
I do believe a decent NFL offensive line coach can work with Jones on this. Over time with a lot of practice and hard work, he could develop enough muscle memory to become at least proficient enough to play on the left side of the line in the NFL.
Let us look at some things Jones does really well for a change. I told you he is light on his feet so he a natural as a backside pulling tackle. This is an off tackle run that Jones comes from the far away to take out the left inside linebacker.
Jones is a fluid athlete with quickness, speed, and with agility. I don’t know if you could call a 6’ 5” 300+ lbs man nimble, but I guess Jones is as close as you can get. Again you see Jones come from the backside through the hole to find his target. Then easily dispatches him with a solid block.
You may be wondering on this next play why Jones is blocking down on the defensive tackle during a passing play. Well this is a RPO (run pass option) which works to perfection as Houston strikes for a 96 yard touchdown. If you watch closely you will see Jones come off the ball low. He gets great leverage on the play despite the fact he is 6’ 5”.
With the quality leverage, Jones pushes his man 3 gaps down despite not having great lower body power in the run game. Once the quarterback sees the right inside linebacker bite on the play fake then move up for a run fit he knows the inside slant is wide open.
(I know what you are thinking. Who is that blazing fast wide receiver? That is Marquez Stevenson who even though is a redshirt junior he has decided to go back to school to finish his degree. Stevenson is a huge big play receiver who should be highly sought after in 2021.)
These next few clips are from the Senior Bowl where Josh did quite well. Tackles are graded on wins, draws or loses during the practice sessions. Jones had a 54% win rate in the one on ones which was the highest of any tackle on either team. You will notice that Jones did display some improvement with his footwork during the week which was great to see. The week at the Senior Bowl probably moved Jones into the first round of the Draft.
First a note about the senior bowl practices.
When you watch one on ones at the Senior Bowl, remember that the defense has a bit of advantage because the players are not worried about run fits, only beating the man in front of them. At least the offensive linemen are aware that they are going to get the defender’s best effort every rep. They don’t get many opportunities so they need to make the most out of each one.
This first rep is against Kenny Willekes from Michigan State. There are rumors the Jets are high on him. I don’t know if that is true, but he is the antithesis of Jachai Polite (disaster) who they picked in the third round last year. Willekes always gives it his all. He is a nonstop bull with some wiggle and countermoves. In this first clip Willekes gets the best of Jones with a nice fake outside then back inside.
Remember how I said earlier that when Jones has to get out fast to protect the outside edge he leaves the inside open? This is what Willekes takes advantage of.
This is always a hard drill, and you can see Jones is actually using a slide step which he probably is not 100% used to doing yet. It will take time to adjust, but I am confident he will be just fine.
This next rep is against Alton Robinson from Syracuse, a 6’ 3” 259 lbs edge rusher. This is a good test because Robinson has some good power plus he is 2” shorter than Jones which gives him a nice leverage advantage to begin with.
Robinson comes off really fast with an overpowering bull rush on his mind. Jones again uses his new abbreviated slide step. He catches Robinson perfectly square, but since he is still adjusting to his new slide step he is not as stout as he would like to be. That is to be expected. Jones retaliates by keeping his hands low and free as he gets inside Robinson’s chest then moves up to his shoulders. By doing so he lifts Robinson slightly thus taking away his leverage. Jones is then able to reassert his dominance by stopping Robinson then tossing his aside. Jones gets pushed a little too far towards his non-existent QB, but this is a work in progress,. I call it a win for Jones.
This next rep is against a player who was a player who was said to of had a great week of practice, turning some heads in the process. Jason Strowbridge is a 6’ 4 1/4” 267 lbs edge rusher from UNC. He didn’t have that kind of success against Jones.
First Jones is working this time on the right side which is something totally foreign to him. Like I said earlier, he started 45 games on the left side of the line so this is uncharted territory for him. He is also trying his new abbreviated slide step which doesn’t help either. If you don’t watch the crazy feet, this is an excellent rep by Jones. First watch how low a 6’ 5” man can get with great knee bend and hands poised to attack. Strowbridge tries a weak slap attempt at the hands but comes up empty which is a shame because it allows Jones to get superior hand placement inside the pads. Jones controls this rep.
Jones was asked if he is only a left tackle prospect, “I’ve only played left so far. I’ve never been asked to play right, so if I’m asked to switch sides then I will learn how to do it,” he said.
Let’s look at another go with Willekes guy. The last time Willekes jumped inside to make Jones look bad. This time Jones is ready for that inside jump, but can he handle the outside move?
At the snap Willekes tries the outside as Jones uses his slide step which is still a work in progress. A slide step from a tall man like Jones should gain major depth, eating up huge patches of turf with each step. Jones’s doesn’t. He also is coming too far to his left. He needs diagonal depth, not away from his quarterback. It’s more of a 45% angle. Jones is way too flat in his slide, but at least he is working on it.
He still shows awesome movement skills and gets his hands in perfect position against Willekes who feels this then wisely tries a spin move back inside. Willekes disengages from Jones with the spin, but as he moves towards the QB Jones is able to put him on his backside with a two handed push. This was a win for Jones as the fake QB made it look worse than it was by moving up then into the path of the pass rush.
Let’s see another rep against Robinson from Syracuse who got too much penetration the first time. Jones’ slide is still a little too flat, but most everything else is spot on.
This is really nice work by Jones as he comes off the snap with great knee bend again. He is not too far out over his toes. With is hands low ready to do workm he takes the initial thrust. At the same time he uses his hands to go low to high as he literally pushes Robinson back. This totally stalls his momentum. Robinson tries a spin move of his own, but Jones waits him out. He then reestablishes his hands inside to regain control. That keeps him at bay until the rep is over. Nice job.
This last clip is against Jason Strowbridge again who makes a huge mistake this time by coming out high against a man who has shown great knee bend and the ability to use leverage and his hands.
Remember again this is not Jones’ natural side so he is not used to moving this way. I believe Strowbridge realizes this too as at the snap he jumps out of his stance to the left in an attempt to turn the corner on Jones. This is what happens when you are too high in your rush. As Strowbridge tries to go back inside, he is taken to the ground totally dominated on the play by Jones. You can see by Strowbridge’s reaction he was not pleased at being dumped on the play.
Jones was asked recently what separates an average offensive tackle from a Pro Bowl caliber one. “It’s a mindset and experience. It’s a battle every single play and you can’t allow your opponent to think that he can beat you at any time. You have to get it into his head that you know you are dominating him, and he knows there is nothing he can do to change that,” he said.
When I first began to work on scouting Josh Jones I thought this would be an easy gig. I saw the poor technique and figured he was a player without an NFL future. I was totally wrong in that assessment. Jones needs coaching, but he has one of if not the best skillsets in this class of any offensive tackle. That is not to say he is a finished product.
Jones needs some serious coaching and some hard work to become close to proficient enough to protect his quarterback’s blind side. That said, Jones may have the highest upside of any of the offensive linemen in the 2020 NFL Draft. His movement ability, fluidity, balance, and the ease of his motion are rare in a man of his size. His hand usage is superb. His punch is moderately strong when on target, and his knee bend is near elite. Jones’ pass protection grades got higher every year at Houston.
Jones needs to work on his slide step. That is a given. He also can work to fortify his anchor with his strength coach. He could also use better accuracy with his punch. This will take a lot of work, but it is a small amount compared to most NFL hopefuls. Jones also only missed two games to injury in four years in college so he has shown durability.
When you listen to Jones talk you can tell right away he is a smart kid, well spoken with insights into the entire team, not just the offense. Houston had a lot of new faces this year plus a new coach in Dana Holgorsen. When asked how that affected him and the entire team he said, “It’s making us work hard and brings us closer together.”
A selection of Josh Jones show great respect and confidence in your offensive line coach to straighten out the wrinkles in his game. If this can be accomplished, you will have an All-Pro talent who could man the left side of your line for a decade or more. Jones should fit seamlessly into any locker room and be a positive voice in the room once there. He has a super high ceiling who can be a better pro than even Tyron Smith of Dallas. His floor is equally low if he cannot fix his pass protection sets.
I currently have a mid to low first round grade on Jones because he is a work in progress. I believe though he will be taken (and rightfully so) in the first round. He has the ability to be special, very special, a once in a decade type talent. I grade on the player he is now, not on what he could be. The job of the scout is to give a GM his assessment of the player. The GM’s job is to determine what that player could become after four years. Jones’ future will be determined by how hard he works and how quickly he can retool himself with NFL coaching. That’s pretty good for an enigma.
What do you think?