The South Carolina Gamecocks have a trio of defensive players headed to the NFL this year. Although the group is headlined by cornerback Jaycee Horn, don’t overlook South Carolina junior linebacker Ernest Jones in this 2021 NFL Draft class.
Ernest Jones NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Linebacker
- School: South Carolina
- Current Year: Junior
- Height: 6’2″
- Weight: 230 pounds
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Tony Pauline’s Ernest Jones Scouting Report
Positives: Slightly undersized run-and-chase linebacker who stands out defending the run. Displays a terrific head for the ball and flows well laterally pursuing to the flanks. Feisty, plays with a nasty attitude, and attacks ball handlers. Breaks down well, uses his hands to protect himself, and nicely redirects to the action. Stays with assignments and displays a terrific head in run defense.
Negatives: Not smooth or quick in his hips dropping into coverage. Hesitant with assignments when the ball is in the air. Not forceful on the blitz and is easily slowed by blocks.
Analysis: Jones is a tough defender who displays a lot of suddenness in his game and plays well injured. He’s a bit one-dimensional as a run defender, yet would be very good on the inside of a 3-4 alignment.
Ernest Jones Player Profile
A highly productive linebacker at Ware County High School, Ernest Jones drew comparisons to 2017 NFL Draft first-rounder Jarrad Davis coming out of high school. Despite a lack of team success, he earned First Team All-State honors as a senior. Those honors followed a season where he racked up 112 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles.
A tough-tackling, physical presence, he attracted national attention. Offers came in from Tenessee, Auburn, Ole Miss, Oregon, and LSU, amongst others. A three-star recruit, he was the 62nd ranked outside linebacker in the class. As the 85th ranked player in the state of Georgia, there was also pressure on him to commit to Georgia Tech after an offer from the Yellow Jackets.
Although Georgia Tech made up one of his final four, Jones had other plans than following the crowd. He narrowed down his options to GT, Florida, South Carolina, and Duke.
Despite Duke recruiting him hard during the process, he committed to play linebacker at South Carolina. It made him the first player from Ware County to play for the Gamecocks. Meanwhile, it allowed him to create his own legacy instead of following others to Georgia Tech.
Ernest Jones’ college football career at South Carolina
The South Carolina linebacker gave Gamecocks fans a little taste of his physical brand of football as a freshman. During his debut against Coastal Carolina, Ernest Jones made his first career tackle. Then he followed that up with his first forced fumble against Chattanooga. Not content with displaying his skills against “Group of 5” opposition, he logged a season-high in tackles against Clemson.
Over the next two years, he would become the leader of the defense. A vocal as well as a physical one, he led the team in tackles as a sophomore and a junior.
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During his sophomore season, he started 12 games and tallied 97 tackles. Furthermore, he demonstrated his ability to disrupt the opposition with 5.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and a forced fumble. Jones also demonstrated decent coverage ability. In the season opener against North Carolina, he broke up two passes. Additionally, he secured interceptions against Kentucky and Appalachian State.
As a junior in 2020, Jones came within 11 tackles of his sophomore performance in three fewer games. He had four games with double-digit tackle figures. Included in those games was a career-high 19 tackles against LSU. Furthermore, an exceptional performance against Vanderbilt saw him rack up 3 tackles for loss.
Following the 2020 college football season, South Carolina linebacker Ernest Jones declared for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Ernest Jones’ best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
South Carolina linebacker Ernest Jones offers value to a team in the 2021 NFL Draft. After earning Most Improved Player honors as a special teams contributor, his experience in that area gives him excellent versatility. Even if he can’t carve out a full-time role as a starter at linebacker, there’s every reason to believe he can be a full-time special teams contributor.
As far as his positional projection, however, he would best fit as a weakside LB in a 4-3 system. As a result, some team and need fits include the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, and Detroit Lions.
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Oliver Hodgkinson is a staff writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.