In the film room...Tony Jones
• Statistics: Approximately 900 yards rushing for an 11.7-yard average and 13 touchdowns as a junior at IMG Academy.
• Assets: An energetic, enthusiastic football player whose body language screams out just how much he loves carrying the football and playing the game. A nice combination of size, quickness and open-field assets. Has the ability to beat you between the tackles or outside and up the sideline. Outstanding foot-speed/footwork. A darting ball carrier.
An elusive power back, which sounds like a contradiction, but is applicable. Excellent cutback runner with the vision to spot the slightest opening. The proverbial “foot in the ground” running back who makes quick, sharp cuts. Because of that darting ability, he makes you defend the width of the field, but also willingly drops the pad level and plays a physical brand of football.
Shows the ability to burst out of the backfield and catch passes. A willing blocker with superior pad level upon contact. Plays fast every snap. Will switch the football to his outside hand and use a stiff arm as a battering ram. Nice forward lean coming through the hole.
• Room for improvement: A tendency to “over-probe” a little bit as he strings the play outside the tackles. Perhaps a bit too much weaving through traffic at times. Pad level can be better as a blocker than it is as a runner. Slight backwards lean in breakaway mode. More quick and darting than fast, although he seems to run away from the IMG competition. Had a lot of room to maneuver behind IMG offensive line; not as effective in small spaces.
• Scholarship offers: Notre Dame. Pac 12: None; ACC: Miami, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Wake Forest; Big Ten: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin Big 12: None; SEC: Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt; Other: Central Florida, Florida Atlantic, South Florida; Interest: Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Louisville, LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma
• Early line: Jones has indicated that he would like to make a decision before the start of the summer, and he wants to enroll early at his school of choice.
His top choices at this point appear to be Notre Dame, Florida, Kentucky, Miami and Mississippi, although he has made visits to South Florida and South Carolina, in addition to Miami and Florida.
Notre Dame is up next for Junior Day on March 21. Scout’s Anna Hickey indicated that Jones will arrive in South Bend next weekend on “commit watch.”
“It’s such a prestigious school,” said Jones’ father, Tony Jones, Sr. “I have Midwest ties having grown up in Chicago and having attended Illinois State. Notre Dame is a great school that speaks for itself.
“The biggest thing is having the chance to compete right away. He also wants a place that feels like home with good people. We have talked about education, too, and having a Notre Dame degree would be huge. So would being able to create those relationships at Notre Dame that would carry over after graduation.”
• ND’s 2015 running back recruiting: The highest-rated running back on Notre Dame’s 12-man running back offer list is 121st-ranked Chris Evans (Indianapolis, Ind.).
Other running back offers have gone to four-star prospects Chase Lucas (Chandler, Ariz.), Robert Washington (Huntersville, N.C.), Devwah Whaley (Beaumont, Texas) and Elijah Holyfield (College Park, Ga.), in addition to Jones, who is awfully low (259th overall) for the No. 1 running back in Florida.
• ND’s 2016 running back depth chart: Tarean Folston will be a senior in 2016, as would Greg Bryant, although Bryant would have two years of eligibility remaining. Dexter Williams and Josh Adams – incoming freshmen this summer – will be sophomores with either three or four years of eligibility remaining.
• Summary: Seeing Tony Jones ranked as the No. 1 running back in the state of Florida, No. 21 running back in the country, and No. 259 overall prospect is incongruous. Florida usually is overflowing with top running backs, and who knows, that may prove to be more visible as the 2015 season progresses. The verdict is still out on Jones as he maneuvers behind that IMG Academy offensive line with plenty of space with which to work.
And yet Jones takes full advantage of that working space. He’s a versatile, well-rounded running back who offers size with elusiveness and quickness. He’ll hurt you between the tackles or he’ll probe, bounce it outside, and hurt you out there. His pad level is exceptional as a blocker, but could use a little improvement as a runner, particularly when those running lanes are a bit more clogged.
There’s no denying, however, that Jones looks as if he’s filled with joy to be on the football field. He plays the game “optimistically” with superior body language. He bounces around the gridiron as if he’s the happiest guy on the field. That doesn’t mean he isn’t ferocious because he attacks his opponent, plays hard and uses every snap as an opportunity to do something positive. You’ve got to like his mindset.
It will be interesting to interpret Notre Dame’s offers moving forward with the changing of the guard on the assistant coaching staff. Jones was not offered when Tony Alford was still the running backs coach; the offer came under new RB coach Autry Denson, whose honesty toward Jones’ father early in the process impressed him.
On one hand, it seems early in the process for Jones because there would appear to be many more offers to be had out there and the recruiting intensity for his services hasn’t reached a peak. Yet Jones wants to make a pre-summer decision and enroll by the spring semester of ’16, and signs are pointing to an enthusiastic visit coming up at Notre Dame’s Junior Day.
One can’t help but have a moment of pause when Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Louisville, LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma have expressed interest, but have yet to pull the trigger on an offer. We’ve seen some of the greatest high school backs never reach high-end productivity on the college level, so when you see tempered evaluations elsewhere, it makes one pause. We don’t see every unproductive run, and something is preventing most of the top-level schools from extending a scholarship.
What’s available to us, however, is a pretty powerful package of talent as well as the body language that says he’s having the time of his life running the football in game competition. This will be one of the more interesting prospects to evaluate as he takes his game to the next level of competition.