Notre Dame received its 4th commitment in the 2016 recruiting class and third during Junior Day weekend when Florida running back Tony Jones Jr. committed to the Irish. Jones is listed at 6'0" and 212 pounds; the 247 Composite has him as the #366 overall player, #25 running back, and #54 player in Florida. Jones also holds offers from Miami, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Ole Miss, Pitt, and South Carolina, among others.
Tony's father, Tony Sr., has known Mike Denbrock for about 20 years, playing for him at Grand Valley State and with the Buffalo Destroyers of the Arena Football League. That connection probably helped Denbrock and Autry Denson get in the door with Tony Jr., but rest assured that the decision to commit to Notre Dame was completely up to the young man and he truly feels Notre Dame is the place for him.
Jones attends IMG Academy, the sports-centered prep school whose inaugural football team in 2012 was coached by former Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke. Notre Dame has tried to break into IMG several times over the last few years without any success; getting kids out of there to go anywhere other than tradition Southern power programs has proven nearly impossible. If Tony's commitment can open the door at IMG, double bonus for the Irish. Jones is an excellent baseball player also and will get his chance to patrol the outfield for Notre Dame as well.
And, of course, as a mid-90's NBA fan I have to say that his hightop fade is awesome.
S/O and Congrats to #TheOpening Finals Invitee Tony Jones on his commitment to #NotreDame. #ND #GOTOPEN pic.twitter.com/SYLYwRlLij— The Opening (@TheOpening) March 22, 2015
Recruiting Service Rankings
Rivals - 3 star (5.6 rating), NR overall, #29 position, #79 in Florida
247 - 4 star (90 rating), NR overall, #12 position, #37 in Florida
ESPN - 3 star (no rating), NR overall, NR position, NR in Florida
Scout - 4 star, #172 overall, #12 position, #15 in Florida
247 Composite - 3 star (0.8852 rating), #366 overall, #25 position, #21 in Florida
Note: Jones was invited to The Opening, which will take place this July and features roughly the top 150 prospects in the country as evaluated by Nike. It's a camp that features the absolute cream of the crop, so we'll get to see how Jones performs against top competition.
Jones shows exceptional cutback ability for a guy his size; it actually looks a little weird to see him change direction so easily. Despite the fact that he did have some long breakaway runs on this video, his top end speed looks good, not great. Then again, he won't be in the game at Notre Dame to run away from people. He's comfortable in the receiving game, which may help him get on the field earlier. One thing that really struck me is how built his lower body is; you can see here his legs are pretty thick and he reports a 525 pound squat. A lot of high school kids, even the ones that are more physically developed, will have spindly legs that don't let them generate the power necessary to match up physically with Division 1 athletes. Just on the eye test, Tony seem to be fine there. It can't be a lot of fun to tackle him.
The 2016 depth chart picture is a bit muddied at this point. Will Tarean Folston put up a monster 2015 and go pro? It's possible, but I think it's unlikely. Same for Greg Bryant. The possibility is very much out there, though, and if one or both leave early it could clear the path to some early playing time for Jones. I think the most likely scenario, though, is that Folston and Bryant will both return for 2016, and with Dexter Williams and Josh Adams as sophomores Tony will get the change to redshirt and develop.
Long Term / Career
Brian Kelly has never really used a feature back, so that role is never really available for a guy. I can imagine, though, that the staff is interested in Jones as a power/game icer runner, which is a role I think he can excel in. Somebody in a comment thread somewhere compared him to Eddie Lacy; that's a little over the top, but it's not a bad comparison either. He's a well-built kid who has deceptive quickness, but is more than happy to run straight at you. It'll be interesting to watch the path his development takes at Notre Dame.