With the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland less than 10 days away, (beginning on Thursday April 29 and running through Saturday, May 1), we will continue to take a look at each draft prospect coming out of Michigan State. After examining Shakur Brown’s draft profile last week, the focus now shifts over to defensive tackle Naquan Jones for this particular article.
Jones had a fairly productive college career as a four-year letter-winner at Michigan State. He began his time in East Lansing as a rotational player on the interior of the defensive line and then eventually became a starter and key cog of the defense by his senior year. Below, let’s take a look at what Jones brings to the table for a potential NFL team.
Name: Naquan Jones
Position: Defensive Tackle
Weight: 313 pounds
Draft Projection: Day Three pick (between the fourth and seventh rounds) or priority undrafted free agent
Pro Day Measurables:
40-yard dash: 5.44 seconds
Bench press (225 pounds): 20 reps
Vertical jump: 25 inches
Broad jump: 8-feet-4-inches
Three-cone drill: N/A
20-yard shuttle: 4.80 seconds
The testing numbers don’t look too pretty for Jones when viewing Kent Lee Platte’s Relative Athletic Score (RAS) data — which grades each player’s pro day metrics on a zero-to-10 scale compared to their peer group. Jones’ lackluster performance grades him out at a score of just 1.21 out of a possible 10. With that said, testing numbers in the offseason do not always equate to performance in an actual game setting, and Jones has shown multiple times that he could be a dominate force in the defensive trenches, but he hasn’t always been able to do that on a consistent basis.
Jones has good size at 6-foot-3, and 313 pounds. He actually trimmed down quite a bit prior to Michigan State’s pro day on March 24, as his listed playing weight in 2020 was 340 pounds. Based on feedback he heard from NFL personnel, Jones said his goal weight was 315 pounds (or less) prior to the pro day, and he was able to hit that mark with two pounds to spare.
According to his RAS scores, Jones’ 20 bench press reps, 25-inch vertical jump and 8-feet-4-inch broad jump were all in the “poor” range. His slow 40-yard dash time and 20-yard shuttle were also considered poor, but for a man his size, nobody should be expecting speed, although he has shown decent mobility while on the field. What Jones does have is solid upper body strength (don’t let the bench press reps fool you), and a massive frame that allows him eat up gaps. He will also play a factor in stopping in the run.
Also, while the NFL Combine did not take place in 2021 as it normally would, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jones, along with Shakur Brown, received an official invite from the NFL to the event, which is a strong indicator that teams around the league have significant interest in him.
When speaking to the media about the pro day experience and opportunity to get to the next level, Jones had this to say:
“I’ve dreamt of this forever, for when I started playing football,” Jones said about the opportunity to play in the NFL. “It’s just one step closer. I set some goals for myself during this draft process, and I was able to meet many of them, and I’m still working toward meeting the rest of them.”
He also noted that he’s been leaning heavily on his former Michigan State teammates who went through the NFL Draft process last year — Kenny Willekes and Raequan Williams — about what to expect from the pre-draft process, and credits MSU defensive line coach Ron Burton for his development as both a player and a man.
Games Played: 46 games played (five starts)
Total Tackles: 78
Tackles For Loss: 12.5
Passes Defended: Three
Forced Fumbles: One
Fumble Recoveries: One
Jones projects as a Day Three pick, perhaps in the later rounds of the NFL Draft. If he isn’t drafted, he will receive a lot of calls as a priority undrafted free agent. With the right team. Jones can find a rotational role right away as a nose guard, playing as a zero-technique over the center on the opposing team’s offensive line, or as a one-technique on the shoulder of the center. That isn’t exactly a glamorous role as his responsibility is often to plug gaps and free up the linebackers to make plays, but it plays a vital part for a defense. Additionally, Jones has shown the ability to penetrate into the backfield to stuff the run, but scouts would like to see his consistency improve there, and he needs to work on his hand placement and balance.
Another area where Jones would like to see himself improve is as a pass rusher — and NFL scouts agree — which is a big reason he wanted to shed the weight that he did and play around 315 pounds in the professional ranks. Jones did play some three-technique (more of a pass rusher role who lines up in the B gap on the outside shoulder of the offensive guard) at Michigan State from time-to-time, but isn’t a big pass-rushing threat with just three career sacks with the Spartans. Playing at a lighter weight while maintaining his strength will hopefully allow him more mobility and pass-rushing prowess. He did show some of ability to get to the quarterback at the Hula Bowl all-star game in January as well.
In an interview with Zach Hicks of SB Nation’s Stampede Blue, Jones mentioned that pass-rushing is an aspect of his game he has been working on and that he wants to continue to improve there. He also mentioned his ability to play the three-technique.
Hicks: You showed off some of your pass rushing ability at the Hula Bowl this offseason. Is that something that you are trying to show teams that you can do at the next level?
Jones: Absolutely that. I don’t want to just be a run stopper or a two-down guy. Everybody that I have trained with has told me that the NFL is looking for pass rushers. They are looking for guys who can get to the quarterback and a guy who can make plays in the backfield. That is why I got down to 315 (pounds), I want to excel at rushing the passer. I think I do a great job at holding up at the point of attack and playing the run, but I need to develop a bit more as a pass rusher. Losing weight helps me show off more athleticism and quickness and that I have the potential to rush the passer.
Hicks: Do you feel like with dropping weight that you can do more one gapping now in the NFL?
Jones: Yes, I think so. It makes it easier but it all depends on the scheme. I feel like during college, I did a great job of playing the 1-Tech and 3-Tech. The 3-Tech is going to get most of the one on ones and he is going to be the guy being the pass rusher. If I get put into a situation like that, I just want to be in the best possible shape to do that
Jones has also really matured as a player throughout his time in East Lansing, and would be a solid addition both on the field and off of it for any NFL team.
What scouts and analysts are saying about Jones:
“Jones has trimmed down during his pre-draft preparations, but whether he is in the 320s or the 340s, he’s still going to be pigeonholed as a limited, two-gapping nose in an even or odd front. He has good strength that can be activated as a run stuffer against single blocks, but he’s often his own worst enemy with poor hand placement and below-average balance that lands him on the ground too often. There are flashes in his game, but inconsistency against double teams and a lack of rush potential could make him a late-round pick and a low-end backup. - NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein
“He’s an interesting one. I thought he carried a little bit of extra weight, but he was a block eater. I thought there was some upside there if he could lean out. I thought you have some more upside there as a pass rusher because he’s got quick feet, but he was on the ground a little bit too much getting cut. To me, I put him kind of in like the fifth-round range is where I have him. I’ll be curious to see at the pro day what he weighs and how he moves because I thought there was a little something there.” - NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah (via MLive)
“Naquan’s a big body inside who got some penetration. There were some games where he would get into that backfield. I think he’s a day-three pick.” - ESPN’s Mel Kiper (via MLive)
“A player who has flashed some upside despite his limited snap count, Jones is a big, well-built player who boasts a massive frame to go along with some brute strength. He is extremely powerful at the point of attack and uses his strong hands to move and shed oncoming blockers. He is a strictly two-gap player who has a solid floor as a great run defender who clogs up the hole for his linebackers and defensive ends to make plays. There is no doubt Jones needs to be accounted for with double-teams in these situations. While his overall production was not shown on the stat sheet, he has the athleticism to make plays on the ball-carrier. Jones will never be an elite level pass rusher as his speed and quickness off the ball is lacking, but he will fight on every snap with his relentless nature. His tenacity along the defensive line allows his teammates to shine when he is playing the right gap. Jones will get looks in the NFL as he projects as a two-down run defender whose ceiling is capped due to his limited pass-rush ability. Nevertheless, Jones is a safe floor prospect who could serve as a valuable rotational cog at the next level.” - Sports Illustrated/Fan Nation’s NFL Draft Bible.