2014 Sleeper OLB: Howard Jones
There will be a great selection of pass rushers to choose from among the outside linebackers available in the 2014 NFL Draft, and they will be drafted very quickly. By my estimation, there could be almost a dozen outside linebackers selected in the first three rounds and it won't stop there. There are around 25 of these 3-4 linebackers who could be drafted -- a staggering amount. One guy who is still flying under the radar, even after a great Combine workout, is Howard Jones of Division II Shepherd University.
Jones measured in at 6-foot-2, 235 pounds at the Combine. He was a top-five performer with a 4.60 40 time and was also a top performer in the broad jump, vertical jump and 3-cone drill. Jones is an athletic linebacker who owns the school's all-time record with 35 career sacks.
He made 46 starts in four college seasons and earned himself first-team All-Mountain East Conference honors for his play in 2013, when more than one-third of Jones' tackles (12.5 of 35) were for a loss of yardage. He totaled 8 sacks for the season, leading Shepherd to an undefeated regular season.
Jones has a great body and is perfect for blitzing off the edge at the NFL level. He's very quick and agile when rushing the quarterback and has a great burst off the line of scrimmage. Jones' body isn't just very athletic, it's durable. He started all four years without a major injury; even though he played at the D-II level, it's excellent to have confidence in his ability to stay on the field. Jones doesn't have much experience dropping back in coverage but he shouldn't have to play that role right away in the NFL. He should be used solely for blitzing and special teams.
Even though Jones is extremely muscular, he will be rather small when going against NFL offensive linemen. He will need to use his speed, as he did at Shepherd, rather than try to overpower linemen at the point of attack. Spin moves and quick bursts between tackles have been his techniques and they will work in the NFL if he can continue to execute them. Jones is lacking in the area of play recognition and finding the ball at times so he will need to be coached on that. He has tremendous upside and can realistically make an impact right away in 2014 for an NFL team. He probably will spend most of his rookie season as a special teams player but that's not a bad thing. He can get down the field quickly and is explosive in his tackling.
All he needs is some NFL coaching and he will be able to step into a defense and blitz off the edge. Jones is a bit of a project but that's what makes him so intriguing to an NFL team. He has the ability to be a very good pass rusher and he will be given a chance in this year's draft. Look for him to go in the 5th round.
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