Versatile athlete are a commodity. The importance of landing top-ranked players at every position is not lost on any who follow college football. By now, it's fairly well understood that winning in college football directly correlates to how well you recruit (note: This is not exclusive to star ranking, but there is a strong correlation there as well). We can fascinate over pulling the top ranked safety or linebacker or quarterback, as well we should. But building a strong recruiting class is a dynamic process. Things happen which are outside of your control. Not every prospect becomes what you envision when you extended their offer. Some fail to qualify, some hit legal trouble, some simply just don't really care about football all that much and are more interested in getting the free ride to college. These types of things can be difficult to anticipate.
I'd also like to add to the mix the importance of how you recruit players. As I was driving to St. Louis this weekend, the local sports radio station brought on Gerry Dinardo (of all people) to talk a little Big 10 football. They asked him about redshirting and Gerry relayed a funny quip about how he wasn't sure what the rules are today, but his day they had an awful lot of guys turning ankles in game five. He then went on to say it's really more about what is discussed with the player and his family during the recruiting process.
Let's be clear here: every college football coach lies. You can debate the moral implications of this if you'd like to waste your time, but the reality is, when you are sitting in the living room with a kid and his parents, "We see you starting as a Junior" isn't likely a strong recruiting pitch. So you dress it up. "If you do the right things, you could compete for playing time right away." Realistically the coach knows that kid has no chance. He's 30 pounds too light and not strong enough. Only a handful of guys on a year-to-year basis are ready to step into college football and play right away.
A segment of our fanbase still loves to criticize Les for "promising Shepard a chance at QB" that he never really got a chance for. If you believe Shepard's twitter, he actually made the decision for himself. Les let that reality play out for Shepard. He knew he wasn't going to start at QB anytime soon. It was probably pretty evident to him that he didn't have the skills to play that position at the college level, too. So move him somewhere where he does have the skills to contribute and go from there. It happens every year at every school.
Which is why it becomes oh so important to recruit versatile athletes. Sure, in HS you were a 245 lb. TE, but the fact is you can't really catch, so we like you at DE. That's great that you were a 280 lb. TE in HS, but your future is OT, so let's not waste any time with that. Obviously some positions translate better than others, but as football continues to evolve away from set in stone starters to more role-specific players, it becomes less and less important that a playe rmeet every criteria. Tyrann Mathieu is a fine example of this. As an outside corner, he's not likely long for pro football career. He's too short and too light. But we can't completely write off his ability because of that. Get creative and put him in a position to succeed. That's what every college football coach should be trying to do anyhow.
So thus we have Melvin Jones, the type of versatile, jumbo athlete that doesn't garner major recruiting hype, but could be one of the most valuable members in this recruiting class.
Melvin Jones never really accumulated much recruiting hype. When he committed last summer it was met with a pretty big, "meh." Rivals eventually knocked him down to 3-star status. 247 kept him at a solid 4-star and inside their top 200, but the rest of the sites held him outside the top 250. In other words, he was thought to be basically a bottom rung AQ conference type.
Part of this is that Jones' future position remained unclear. At 6'3" 245 pounds, he could project all over the defense. That'd make him a large LB (likely a big thumper inside) or potentially a DE. If they slapped a RS on him and gave him time, he could probably even project to DT, considering his frame.
On offense, he's tailor made for TE, but could be a Brandon Jacobs-style jumbo RB, a FB and again, possibly even an OL with a RS and time. You don't get much more versatile than that. But for recruiting analysts, it's difficult to evaluate someone like that. Where do you project him? Those sites aim to project guys to the next two levels and if you can't have any idea of what position he's going to play, it's difficult for them to justify a high ranking (not saying it's fair, just that I see their logic). So, in some respect, I think Jones falls victim to that.
What we know now is that Jones got to LSU, got a shot at LB then was subsequently moved to FB. This makes a lot of sense. J.C. Copeland is a SR who will be moving on. So too will his backup, Connor Neighbors. Which means, as it stands, the 2014 roster would be fullback-less, outside of a few walkons. Athlete of requisite size + position of need = gain for Jones.
Jones is not without accomplishment on the field. He's not just a talented, jumbo athlete that doesn't know how to play ball. He garnered All-State selections in 4A. He racked up 125 tackles as a Senior. So there is production. Did I mention he played QB for his team, too? Additionally, his father signed with Texas A&M before transferring out to McNeese.
All of Jones' tape have him at QB or LB, so there is no direct tape of him playing FB, but there are certainly transferable skills here. Considering the lack of depth at FB, I think there's a slim chance he gets moved, but it's worth noting to consider that the coaches may believe he's better suited elsewhere. Additional note: Jones is 17 in the tape. He can be hard to locate.
Now the first thing that stands out is his outstanding size. He's got quite the build. Tall, broad-shouldered and well put together. While he may carry a little bad weight, his composition isn't terrible either. If you've seen any practice pictures of him, that supports this. He's just a big, thick kid.
Let's talk about that athleticism. At the :58 mark we get to see a little bit of his special ability. It's just a draw play, but we can see his vision, quickness and then open field speed. Impressive attributes for a big boy.
Now jump to 1:11. This is a strong example of his natural strength. He stiff arms one guy, runs through an arm tackle of another and then plows over a third on his way to the end zone. I love seeing that physical nature to his game, especially considering he's likely our FB in 2014.
Jump to 1:30. Here we see his physical nature. He comes in like a missile and delivers a big blow. I love that closing speed and the force that he hits with. Those attributes will really help him as a FB.
At 2:43 I love the look of his footwork. He's able to sort through traffic, keep chopping his feet and wind up with a long run. His offensive skill set tells me he's a FB we can be more versatile with than guys like Copeland or Quinn Johnson.
Overall, I'm very intrigued by the total package Jones brings to the table. He's big and naturally strong. The most impressive thing is that he moves really well for a guy his size.
If you asked me in March if Melvin Jones would play this year, I would have said no. Now that fall practice is sorted out and we have a better picture of his future... I think there's a possibility here.
Obviously J.C. Copeland is the starter and will play the bulk of the minutes. Connor Neighbors is good to give him a blow for true running plays, but he's hardly dynamic. Jones is a little bit different player that Cameron may be able to get creative with (more on that in a minute).
My guess is Jones will redshirt and be in line to be a multi-year starter at FB for LSU.
LSU has never had a FB like Melvin Jones. Under Miles and Saban we typically featured bruising types that can pick up a few yards here and there, maybe catch a ball or two, but nothing you'd really engineer into your offense other than to keep the defense guessing now and again. Jones is a guy that I think profiles really well to the en vogue H-back position.
The Eagles spent a decent amount of money this offseason signing James Casey, despite having a solid TE in Brent Celek and drafting another in the 2nd round. Why? Because Casey is a very different player than either of those two. He's 6'3", 240 pounds. Not really big enough to be the typical inline TE, or an every down FB. But he's too big to be split out wide too. So the Eagles will likely deploy him all over. In the slot. As a FB (unlikely they even keep a FB on the roster). As an inline TE.
I could see Jones as that same type of player, though he's already the same size as Casey. Jones could grow into his frame and be a legit 260, but does he sacrifice speed? It's hard to know. I'm not even sure it would behoove the LSU coaches to make that shift for him with the presence of DeSean Smith. Playing an H-back type of role will allow more opportunities for Jones to get on the field.
High End: 4-year starter at FB and versatile offensive weapon.
Low End: Never sees the field.
Realistic: Multi-year spot starter.