The Green Bay Packers saw their right tackle of the last decade leave in free agency this offseason. Bryan Bulaga departed, and although the Packers signed Rick Wagner to help ease the loss, the time is right to find a young tackle in the NFL Draft to groom for that spot.
The Packers have not been shy about drafting offensive linemen early, using multiple first-round picks on that unit in the last decade — including Bulaga himself. This year, they may be in line to do that once again with the 30th overall pick. If they Packers do use a first-rounder on a tackle, however, there are some reasons to be hesitant about one name that has been gaining steam of late.
Joshua Jones, OT, Houston
Jones is reasonably quick off the ball and has a fair first step. His hip flexibility and foot speed are roughly average so his kick step covers roughly an average amount of ground. Generally, this was enough to prevent speed rushers from stressing the edge too much. Jones was also usually very well balanced during his kick slide and consequently was able to quickly react to counter moves, quick inside moves, and stunts with a fair amount of aplomb.
Jones’ overwhelming strength in pass protection is his punch. Jones has a quick, accurate, and exceedingly stiff punch that can stop linemen in their tracks and prevent defensive lineman from properly utilizing hand skills. Once Jones had his hands on a defender, they weren’t coming off no matter if the defender tried swipes, chops, or anything else to try to disengage.
Jones did have some technique flaws that he’ll need to clean up to be effective at the next level; Jones tended to narrow his base too much during his kick slide to the point where he sometimes crossed his feet. There were also occasional false steps off the line and a general inefficiency when it came to economy of movement. Jones also occasionally hinged immediately off the snap and his kick slide basically became a shuffle at that point. If Jones can’t clean up these technique flaws once he gets to the NFL he’s going be in for a serious struggle, but if he can the rest of his pass protection qualities are good enough that he should be able to at least get by.
Jones has an average get-off, accelerating off the ball at a solid if unspectacular pace. Jones tends to fire off a little high and usually doesn’t have the best leverage. He also doesn’t really extend/roll his hips through contact so he doesn’t really generate force quickly and never really jolts defensive linemen. Jones tends to make up for these shortcomings through raw strength. Jones has amazing leg drive and upper body strength so even without leverage or good initial contact he consistently was able to drive his opponent off the ball for two or three yards. There were instances against stronger defensive lineman where Jones would be forced into a stalemate, but he almost never lost a snap. Obviously, defensive linemen in the NFL are going to be stronger and more powerful on average than what Jones faced in the NFL, so his technique is going to need to improve. That said, if Jones can fire out a little lower and extend his hips into contact to get a little more jolt, I have no doubt that he’d be able to manhandle many defensive linemen off the snap in the NFL like he did in college.
An area where Jones struggled in the run game is getting to the second level, either off the snap or off of a combo block. While Jones gets off the ball okay, once he’s moving in space he really looks a little lumbering and slow and often times he also looks unsure and timid. Once Jones has lined up a target, he tends to slow down and very deliberately try to engage his target. This gives the linebacker or defensive back and opportunity to slash past Jones and attack the ball carrier. Jones’ tape is littered with missed opportunities where the Houston running back could have broken off much longer gains if not for Jones being a beat late to a key block up field. Of course, in the instances where Jones actually managed to get his hands on someone at the second level, he absolutely mauled them.
Jones ran into similar problems on traps, pulls, and when he tried to seal off the edge on stretch plays. He just always seemed a step slow and didn’t get his to his assignment fast enough to neutralize them.
40-yard dash: 5.21 seconds (1.81 10-yard split)
Bench press: 24 reps
Vertical: 28.5 inches
Broad jump: 109 inches
3-cone: Did not participate
Shuttle: Did not participate
While he certainly has athletic limitations and technique flaws as both a pass protector and as a run blocker, the building blocks are there for Jones to end up as a solid starter at the next level. Jones will probably start as an average pass protector and a slightly below average run blocker with his ceiling being above average in both areas. I do think it would help Jones if he ended up on a team with less zone blocking concepts as his lack of mobility in open space really seems like it would hamper him. He might be able to get by in zone concepts after a while, but he’d have to become extremely efficient and confident in his movement to get to his spot.
In a “standard” class I’m tempted to put Jones as a late third round or early fourth round pick, but considering the absolute dearth of quality line play in the NFL today it’s more likely that Jones’ value is more like a late second rounder. From what I’ve read online it seems as though Jones had a great Senior Bowl week and that some teams may view Jones as a first rounder. While the Packers could very well select Jones in the first round, but I’m not sure the value would be quite right.