Freshman Focus: Jarron Jones


(The third in a multi-part series profiling select members of the incoming class of 2012. The first installment was on wide receiver Chris Brown. The second on safety Elijah Shumate)

Once viewed as a luxury defensive item or a potential offensive lineman, the transfer of Aaron Lynch has moved blue-chip defensive lineman Jarron Jones up the depth chart by default. The Rochester native, who had given a verbal commitment to Penn State early (pre-Sandusky) before committing to the Irish over offers from schools like Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, and Ohio State, is the type of mold-breaking defensive linemen that only saw South Bend in a visitor’s uniform until recent years.

A good enough athlete to be one of the better basketball players in upstate New York, Jones will bring his 6-foot-6, 300-pound frame to the Irish defensive line, where he’ll at the very least give Stephon Tuitt a run for most imposing-looking guy getting off the bus.

Let’s circle the bases and take a closer look at Jones.

The Skinny: It’s worth covering Jones’ recruiting cohorts once more just for emphasis. His offer sheet might be the best looking of any member of the class of 2012, and any other year he’d be the bright shining defensive line recruit to surpass all others, but two guys named Lynch and Tuitt got Irish fans spoiled. With Lynch gone, it’ll be interesting to see if Jones is ready to push for a spot in the rotation at defensive end, or if he’s more likely to play on the interior as a defensive tackle.

How Ready is he? Probably the million-dollar question. Jones wasn’t all that impressive to recruitniks at the Army All-American bowl, sliding down the Rivals board and perhaps affirming the thoughts of analysts who thought his best position was along the offensive line. I’ll trust this coaching staff’s projection abilities more than the online recruiting services, but it does say that Jones wasn’t the physically dominating type that Lynch and Tuitt were.

You can’t teach Jones’ best asset — impressive size and great feet. The work he put in after his basketball season in the weight room — not to mention Paul Longo’s three months with him this summer — will determine whether or not he’s in the rotation or a prime candidate for a redshirt season.

Best Case Scenario: Jones walks in and adds another valuable swing player to the defensive line rotation. Nobody saw Chase Hounshell getting snaps along the defensive line last year and Jones already walks in with a better frame than Chase. With his length and athleticism, Jones could turn into a Stephon Tuitt-like freshman performer, but doing more without getting a one-game suspension and tackling a bout with mono.

Worst Case Scenario: Jones enjoys a season watching… the offensive line. After working with the defense early, Jones’ move to the offensive side of the ball shouldn’t be seen as a true “worst case scenario” but it does take away even more from a depth chart along the defensive line that started as a strength, but now could be surprisingly thin in 2014.

What Should Make People Happy: Just about anything. If Jones contributes next season, it’s going to be because he’s really good. Logically, Kelly is going to want to protect eligibility for 2014, when Stephon Tuitt might be on his way to greener pastures. A redshirt year didn’t mean the staff didn’t like Jarrett Grace or Ben Councell. It won’t mean they don’t like Jones either.

How Badly Does the Irish Need Him? On a scale of 1-10, short-term 3, long-term 8. He’s a great building block for Bob Diaco’s defensive line and guys that big certainly don’t grow on trees.

One Tidbit for the Road: A two-time first-team, All-State player, Jones wasn’t the state’s player of the year. His 5-foot-7 teammate was. Rochester Aquinas running back Billy Lombardi won that honor. He’ll play lacrosse at Penn State.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.



Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”