NFL Draft Report Super Sleeper: OLB Jones

Shepherd's Howard Jones is a potential fit at outside linebacker because of his athleticism and outrageous pass-rushing production. Nobody is more in touch with Jones' game than lead NFL scout Dave-Te' Thomas, who provides this in-depth scouting report.

It will be interesting to see where Shepherd's Howard Jones ends up playing in the National Football League. Teams are highly interested in this Division II standout pass rusher, but most concede that at 235 pounds, he does not appear to be a defensive end candidate and will have to adjust to playing linebacker in the pro ranks.

With his athleticism, Jones appears a possibly fit for playing the weak-side outside linebacker position, if he proves capable of handling pass coverage assignments. Size issues might prevent him from being a strong-side linebacker, as that position is usually occupied by the tight end and offensive tackle and usually requires that player to have much more bulk than Jones' frame carries.

As a weak-side linebacker, Jones has the speed to handle pass coverage responsibilities, as his 4.60-second 40-yard dash at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine was the fifth-best for all down linemen and linebackers (third among ‘backers) in attendance. He has proven he has the range (7.16-second three-cone drill was fifth-best in his group at Indianapolis) and strength (21 reps at the 225-pound bench press test) that is also usually associated when chasing the play from the backside (led all active Division II players with 69.5 tackles-for-loss during his career and placed in a sixth-place tie on the NCAA all-time record list).

The weak-side linebacker is also required to have the ability to maneuver through traffic, and Jones' 65 solo stops behind the line of scrimmage (also made eight assists) led all of the players that competed at the Division II level last season. Jones has the retreat skills and lateral agility to be more effective at weak-side linebacker, as he will usually align off the line of scrimmage at that position, thus preventing him from being engulfed by the much bigger offensive linemen he would have faced as a defensive end.

It will be in pass coverage where Jones will have to prove he can handle assignments. Used more as a blitzer than in pass coverage, he has just one interception and four pass deflections during 47 games as a member of the Rams. Still, he is an inviting third-day draft prospect who could contribute immediately in the sub-package, similar to how the Seahawks use Bruce Irvin. He also has excellent leaping ability that translates well for special team coverage chores, as he's blocked four kicks during his career.

Jones' leaping skills were also featured while he attended the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. His 40 ?-inch vertical jump was the best for all down linemen at the event and would place him second in the linebacker group. Only nine linebackers in the previous 10 Combines had a better vertical jump performance. His broad jump measurement of 10'04" ranked fourth-best among the 2014 group of linebackers.

Jones started his final 46 games at Shepherd, including 35 at weak-side defensive end and 11 at strong-side tackle, appearing in a total of 47 contests as he registered 139 tackles (106 solos) with 35.0 sacks for minus 245 yards and 69.5 stops for losses of 350 yards. He deflected four passes and had one interception, in addition to causing eight fumbles and returning one of two fumble recoveries for a score.

Jones would also join Bob Palmer (1986) and Jamie Cutler (1991) as the only Shepherd defensive linemen to ever earn All-American honors. The rush end and running back Damian Beane (1997-99) are the only Rams to receive All-American recognition three times during a career.

Howard Jones

Shepherd University Rams

Body Structure

Jones has an ideal frame you look for in a weak-side linebacker or as a possible sub-package rush end, but will need to add more bulk if a team plans to play him as a down lineman at the next level. He can carry another 10 pounds of bulk without the additional weight impacting his impressive timed speed. He has a well-built frame with good overall muscle tone, a tight abdomen (six-pack), and good thickness in his thighs and calves. Despite measuring in at 6:02.4, he has exceptional arm length (34 1/8-inches) and wing span (82-inches) for a player of that size.

Athletic Ability

Jones demonstrates outstanding explosion coming off the snap and gets most of his backside success due to his quickness, as he will generally surprise a lethargic offensive tackle. He carries his weight well, showing very good balance and body control working his way down the line and has the second gear to generate long pursuit (see 2013 Fairmont State and West Virginia State games). When playing on the edge, he keeps his pads down and head on a swivel, as he compensates for a lack of ideal bulk with very active hands to deliver counter moves and slip off blocks. He is very shifty on the move, with the stop-and-go agility to immediately change direction. He has the vision to locate the crease and does an excellent job of using his burst to close and pressure the pocket (see 2013 Shippensburg and West Virginia State games).

Football Sense

Jones shows good intelligence, great vision and solid alertness to the action around him. He has a good feel for blocking pressure and is quick to digest the playbook. His ability to close on the ball is the result of his decisive moves when flashing into the backfield. He does not get fooled by play action or misdirection, as he has allowed just nine first downs on 197 running plays during his career. His field awareness allows him to play with good discipline and he remains focused throughout.


Jones's intensity is well-known, as he takes a "search and destroy" attitude into the trenches, but he is also a disciplined player who won't get reckless and take himself out of the play. He might lack the bulk and strength to face up to the bigger offensive linemen, but with his hand technique, placement and array of moves, he will generally make the play and not get washed out at the line of scrimmage. He hustles and competes until the whistle and will play with injuries that would sideline most. He also has special teams experience (four blocked kicks) and will not hesitate to stick his hat into the pile to make the play. There is simply no back-down to this kid when taking on an opponent. He has that type of work ethic the coaching staff hopes the younger players emulate. He is the first to enter and the last to leave the training room and takes well to hard coaching. He is a vocal type on the field and when he wants to get his point across, his teammates immediately listen. He has a lot of similarities to Jason Taylor (ex-Dolphins) for the way he prepares for a game.


Jones gets a lot of his success penetrating the backfield with his sudden burst off the snap. He has the acceleration to take a wide loop around the corner and still pressure the pocket. He stays low in his pads and has the loose hips to redirect, also displaying the second gear needed to excel in long pursuit (see 2013 Shippensburg, West Virginia Wesleyan, West Virginia State and Concord games). He is a quick twitch type with very active hands and good balance, keeping his feet on the move while doing a nice job of avoiding low blocks.

Strength at Point

As a down lineman, Jones lacks the bulk to combat NFL-type offensive tackles on a regular basis and must compensate with his quick hands and feet in attempts to escape. However, even the bigger blockers have had little or no success executing reach blocks on him, as he has those long arms and counter moves to defeat those blocks, along with the power needed when splitting double-team activity. When isolated on the edge or playing off the line, he is a solid wrap-up tackler who hits with a thud. He is much better playing on the move than when working in-line, making him a better fit as a weak-side linebacker in a 3-4 alignment than by keeping his hand down on the ground. Still, he works hard when taking on the offensive tackle, he uses his hands well, playing with good leverage. He compensates for his lack of bulk by using his hands and long reach to keep blockers from getting into his body. He is an athletic runner with the savvy to avoid trash and while he might get stuck on the bigger people up front, he uses his hands effectively to keep separation.

Use of Hands

This is one of his better assets, as Jones constantly keeps his hands active in attempts to shed and play off the blocks. He has the hand punch to shock and push back the lead blocker when trying to clog the rush lanes (see 2013 Fairmont State and West Virginia State games) and while he is a solid wrap-up tackler, once he grabs a ball-carrier on an outside run, he locks on and does a good job of taking down his opponent. His hands are very effective for him keeping separation on the run. He has a good array of moves and cross-over action to slip off the shoulder of a blocker and pursue the quarterback (see 2013 Notre Dame College and Concord games).

Lateral Pursuit/Effort

Jones looks very fluid playing down the line. He has that sudden burst to close and pressure the pocket and is quick to get a shoulder on a lethargic blocker. He is very effective closing on the ball in long pursuit, showing the cat-quick moves you expect from a linebacker (7.16-second three-cone drill and 4.60 in the 40-yard dash). He plays the game on his feet and is much more effective disengaging on the move than when stationary in the trenches. He is very good at running down plays along the perimeter and opponents have averaged just 0.9 yards per rushing attempt vs. him throughout his career.

Tackling Ability

Jones is a classic collision-type tackler with enough hand strength to lock on and drag the ball-carrier down in the open field. He hits with good thud upon contact and shows very good balance making plays on the move. His body control lets him stay low in his pads and his loose hips are evident by the way he fluidly changes direction. When he wraps up an opponent, he will generally make the tackle (see 2013 Notre Dame College game). He has the quickness and tackling form to generate explosive hits.

Run Defense

Jones might lack the bulk to split double teams or hold ground for long at the point of attack vs. NFL offensive linemen and is better suited for weak-side linebacker, where he can play off the line alongside the middle linebacker, rather than perform with his hand down as a defensive end or line up vs. multiple blockers as a strong-side ‘backer. However, he moves well to make plays in pursuit and with his impressive hand usage, he generally gets off blocks quickly to make the play. With his closing burst and overall speed, he is best served playing off the line. He has become a good leverage player who read and pursuit skills make him relentless getting to the ball. (see 2013 Shippensburg, Fairmont State and West Virginia State games).

Pass Rush

Speed is his best rush move, but Jones has great hand placement to slip out and avoid blocks on the move. He comes off the edge with a sudden burst and when asked to shoot the gaps (often aligns inside at strong-side defensive tackle on the bull rush), blockers are often surprised by his explosion through the holes (see 2013 Fairmont State and Concord games). The thing you see on film since his junior year is that he combines his speed with efficient inside counter moves to pressure the pocket. He has also developed swim and rip moves working inside, but is better at getting to the quarter-back when playing off the edge.

Closing on the Quarterback

While Jones does not have a ton of QB pressures (two), he is very effective at getting to the quarterback and sealing the deal, as his 35.0 sacks are tied for seventh on the Division II career-record chart. With his speed and second gear, he bears down on the pocket and has the acceleration to get to the quarterback, even when he has to take a wide loop. He has the explosive burst to flush the passer out and stays in control when closing. Perhaps the reason for so few pressures compared to his sack numbers is the fact that when he takes aim on the passer, he will get there in an instant. You can see his athletic agility when he flexes and bends his knees to get down the line of scrimmage.


Few college defensive players at his level of competition has the field awareness and feel for the flow of the ball that Jones possesses. He is quick to react and diagnose the play and shows suddenness tracking down the ball after locating it. He just has that great ability for playing off blocks and knows what to do when he gets to the ball.

Compares To

JUNIOR GALETTE, New Orleans: Some teams feel that Jones lacks the bulk to face up to the bigger offensive tackles at the next level, but, like Galette, Jones is blessed with excellent quickness, good balance and body control and very active hands to counter. He is best playing on the move, as his bulk issues do come into play when trying to combat double teams, but he has that lateral agility and closing burst to get serious consideration as a weak-side linebacker or edge rusher.

Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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