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Draft Darlings: Truman Jones could be a late-round gem

The Harvard pass rusher brings athleticism and brains to the field.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 15 San Diego at Harvard Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NFL Draft is less than two weeks away, and while the sports networks and big draft sites have evaluated the top prospects through and through, several small-school players are still starting to make waves.

One of these small school players is Truman Jones, who played at the University of Harvard. While the Ivy League school is known more for its academics than athletics, they currently have nine players on NFL rosters, and Harvard has four of them.

Jones brings an exciting combination of pass-rush moves, athletic ability, and football IQ to the table, giving him a chance to get drafted.

Intangibles

Jones blew scouts away with his Pro Day in March, displaying explosion and athletic ability.

Listed at 6’3” and 250 pounds, Jones is on the smaller side for a defensive end prospect and almost fits better as a 3-4 defense outside linebacker or as a possible pass rush specialist in a 4-3 defense. His workout was effective and displayed that he has the athletic ability to compete in the NFL:

Jones excelled in the vertical and broad jump — both great tests for how explosive and fluid an athlete is, and his quick 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash show a player capable of short-area acceleration, which a speed rusher in the NFL would need.

His light frame could be a possible concern for some teams, but he still has room to add mass to his frame and continue developing his strength.

Pass rush

Jones finished with 6.0 sacks during the 2022 season and, in 30 career games, compiled 28.5 total. Although he was undersized, even by Ivy League standards, Jones often used his leverage to his advantage, bull rushing and quickness off the ball to his advantage.

Jones fires off the ball and goes from speed to power off the line. Using a long arm, he presses the tackle into the pocket. Using his leverage to push the pocket further back, he separates from the block once the quarterback starts to scramble.

He accelerates quickly once he is free off the block and uses his hand that he has worked free in his rush to knock the ball out of the quarterback’s hand and force a turnover for his team.

Jones used speed to power most frequently but also had plenty of flexibility to bend the arc and sometimes give quarterbacks trouble. Pass rush is king in the NFL, so any ability to get after the passer in college will be evaluated closely regardless of the level of competition.

Exposure to Jones was limited due to him playing in the Ivy League, but his knack for getting after quarterbacks will give him a chance to be a late-round draft pick.

Football IQ

It is no coincidence that a player who attended the University of Harvard would have a high IQ while on the football field. Jones frequently displayed his quick thinking and play recognition, diagnosing plays early and then straining to disrupt them.

Jones is lined up as the edge defender, but on the snap, he drops into coverage and appears to be looking for a short route around the line of scrimmage.

The running back sells that he is in pass protection but quickly breaks for the flat as a screen pass develops. Jones reads this quickly and recognizes that the back is the intended target, but the right guard attaches himself to Jones and looks to seal him inside.

Jones has seen the route develop and is tracking the back, but now he must find a way to get off the block because there is a lot of open field between the back and the next closest defender.

Instinct and his athletic ability take over, and he fights over the top of the block and meets the back for a big collision and a loss of yards on the play.

The athleticism shows up in this play, but without his quick reaction time and recognition skills, this play would not have been made.

This kind of mental processing will separate Jones from his peers, who could also be taken in the late rounds. Coaches in the NFL will need late-round rookies to figure the playbook out fast and do not have time to wait. Those that struggle with the mental processing required to play in the NFL will be cut, and that all comes with the initial ability to study and put together the complexities of the pro scheme.

The bottom line

With his combination of athletic ability, tape, football IQ, and smarts, Jones has drawn attention toward the end of this draft cycle.

The Kansas City Chiefs were among the teams interested in his skill set, hosting him on a top-30 visit.

While maybe not the physical fitness that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo looks for in edge defenders, his versatility to line up and rush or drop off the line of scrimmage could be valuable.

The man studying Biomedical Engineering at Harvard would likely also not have any issue picking up Spagnuolo’s scheme, which in the past has been more complicated and suited to more seasoned players.

Jones will still be a project in many regards, needing to continue to add size to play edge in the NFL, or

The Chiefs have had no issues playing late-round rookies on defense in the past, and with the skill and knowledge to excel in certain situations— pass rush downs, possible zone blitz and drop situations— Jones has a chance to come in and provide contributions immediately if he were to be drafted by the team.

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