Is Texas football back? This has been the question mark of the Longhorns team for nearly a decade. Whether or not they are “back,” the 2019 Longhorns will be relying on the stellar play of a rising senior – safety Brandon Jones. As we lead up to the 2020 NFL Draft, Jones will be looking to build a name for himself.
Texas has produced several defensive backs into the NFL, most notably Earl Thomas. Thomas is one of three players Texas has had drafted in the first round since 2010.
Brandon Jones can make that four. He’s the most decorated recruit former head coach Charlie Strong brought into the program. Jones was the High School Defensive Player of the Year in Texas and was the number one safety in the 2016 recruiting class. Highly ranked recruits tend to get noted by the NFL for future reference, and Jones checked off quite a few boxes.
What stands out
Jones was used as a swiss-army knife by the Longhorns last season. They played him at the line of scrimmage, used him as a blitzer, dropped him into the box, and played him deep. He posted 70 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, one interception, and 2 recovered fumbles. His high level of play was a highlight for a defense that was largely inconsistent last season. His goal-line stand in the USC game changed the momentum in favor of Texas and the Longhorns coasted to a win afterward.
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Jones athleticism is his best trait at the moment. A former track star in high school, his start and stop speed is almost “don’t blink or you’ll miss it” level. One moment he isn’t on the screen at all, and the next he’s blown up the ball carrier or receiver. He flies downhill and is not afraid to stick his nose into traffic and make the hit.
He has excellent timing and technique with his hits too. Last year, first round safety Johnathan Abram was viewed as a hard-hitting player, but he was too reckless as a tackler with poor technique. Jones on the other hand, while aggressive, knows how to hit and how to wrap up a tackle. Even on passing plays where he isn’t directly in coverage, he times his hits well to cause a disruption of the pass without a penalty.
Jones was used as a punt returner for the Longhorns, albeit sparingly. Every little bit of versatility counts and Jones has been used all over.
Areas of Improvement
While Jones is good, he isn’t great or elite yet. He needs to become a more complete player at the safety position if he wants to be a first-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft.
To do that, Jones first needs to stay healthy. He battled an ankle injury down the stretch of last season, was on the questionable list with a head injury, and missed all of spring ball this season for ankle surgery. As his health declined, so did Jones’ play. The conference championship against Oklahoma and the Sugar Bowl against Georgia weren’t pretty.
Jones also must improve in coverage. While Jones has the athleticism and range to play man coverage or deep zone, he doesn’t yet have the discipline or technique. His best plays on the ball were the quarterback just throwing an awful throw right to him. Jones got too aggressive in coverage as the season went on, over-pursuing the target or biting on a fake.
If Jones can prove that he can stay healthy for a season, his athleticism and tackling skills will guarantee him a shot to go in the first two days of the 2020 NFL draft. However, if he wants to help prove Texas is indeed “back” and be a first-round selection, he has to improve his skills all around.
Jones’s high level of play at the beginning of last season is something for Jones to hang his hat on as a player. It provides a foundation for him to grow from and scouts to take note of. He received good responses on his feedback from the NFL Draft Advisory Board but elected to come back for one more season to help the Longhorns. If he continues to grow, that could pay off in a big way this upcoming season and in the draft.