With second-year man Tony Jones Jr.’s star-turn for the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night in Baltimore, the timing seems right to turn back the clock and take a peek at Jones as a collegiate prospect. While he arrived in the Big Easy as an undrafted free agent, there was plenty on display from Jones’ time at Notre Dame to point to his potential at the next level.
A reliable multi-year contributor in South Bend, Jones emerged as the team’s go-to runner in his senior season of 2019, in which he amassed over 850 rushing yards from scrimmage at an uber-impressive six yards per carry.
A bruising runner at the college level, Jones made a habit of brutalizing conflicted tacklers. While more than capable of moving a pile of would-be defenders, he tended to display more open-field elusiveness than one might expect.
However, the aspect of Jones’ collegiate game that was/is most translatable to the NFL is likely his vision from the backfield and the decisive nature with which he runs forward through the line of scrimmage. Not one to dance in the backfield, the former golden-domer hits the hole with authority, content to capitalize on the efforts of his blockers upfront.
Could Saints RB Tony Jones be better suited for the NFL than the college game?
Further examining Jones’ collegiate film, another aspect of his game that appeared pro-ready was his ability to pick up incoming blitzers in the passing game. Here his vision once again shines through, as does his preparedness as he appears to be consistently on the same page pre-snap with his linemen and quarterback (coincidentally, New Orleans third-teamer Ian Book).
Coming from a sophisticated system like that of coach Brian Kelly at Notre Dame is clearly an asset as well, as Jones did not have the option of simply looking at a signal or a cue card from the sideline to glean his assignment in pass protection.
Though it was not a huge part of the Irish offense, Jones nonetheless displayed some big-play ability in the screen game. While this alone can call to mind the days of Pierre Thomas, the former Saint back is actually a good comparator for Jones.
Thomas and Jones are near-identical not only in terms of size, speed, and athletic traits but also in terms of their collegiate production. Specifically, Thomas rushed for 755 yards as a senior at Illinois, averaging 5.8 yards per carry, whereas Jones ran for 857 yards at 6 yards per attempt.
While it is wise not to overreact to a single preseason contest, one does not have to look that hard to see an emerging path for Jones to the Saints’ 53 man roster.