Evaluating high school running backs can be a little tricky at times. What can make it even trickier is if a player comes from a school that has a ton of talent around him, especially on the offensive line.
Notre Dame's most recent running back commitment, Tony Jones Jr., plays at IMG Academy down in Brandenton, Florida. There is no doubt that he got to experience playing against great competition at the high school level, but the level of talent he had surrounding him was kind of ridiculous. There aren't many other running backs that can say that they ran behind an offensive line that produced four prospects that signed with FBS schools.
It's certainly not Jones' fault that he got to play with other talented football players, but seeing him run through some holes that anyone could drive a truck through on some plays made it look almost too easy at times. It's what Jones did after breaking through the line that really sold me on what he can do as a runner though. He can make defenders miss at the second level.
Because Jones is a bigger back (6'0" 212), I think some people have confused that with him being a power back like former Notre Dame runner Robert Hughes. I really don't think they are that similar though. The big reason why is because of Jones' feet. He shows exceptional lateral agility that doesn't really fit with how big he is at his age.
Here's a perfect example of what I'm referring to:
I think you can see by the formation where the ball is going on this play.
Jones has a massive hole to run through. Before you start saying to yourself "I could get five yards a carry running behind this o-line", check out what he does when he gets to the second level.
That giant hole is no longer there because the guard whiffed on his block. You can see Jones adjust and is about to make a cut.
That linebacker that was poised to make the tackle? He's now hugging air after Jones made that cut.
He's not done avoiding tackles. Check out the body lean as he is about to make his next cut.
Jones makes one more final cut before he is able to walk in for six.
Here's what it looks like put together.
This is no plodding, big back. Jones can cut and accelerate like a much smaller player. That's not to say he can't run with power though. When making a play calls for him to run someone over, he's more than capable of doing that as well.
Just like this:
That's kind of run I love to see in short yardage. He lowers his pad level and runs right over the defender for the touchdown. Jones has that in his repertoire as well along with many other skills. He blocks well. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He really has the tools to be a three down back at Notre Dame.
(For more on him you can check out my scouting report)
I understand that there are some questions about Jones and what kind of player he'll grow into for the Irish. How big is he going to get? If he gets too big, can he maintain that same kind of lateral agility he shows right now? Is he ever going to have enough speed to hit homeruns or is the best ND fans can hope for a bunch of doubles?
These will all have to be answered over the next few years, but what I see from Jones now has me excited for what he can do. He is a different back than any of the other backs the Irish will have on their roster in 2015 and I think that's a great thing that sets him apart from the guys he will be competing with.
One thing he'll have in common with every other back on Notre Dame's roster: he will be running behind an offensive line that's filled with talented players. That's something that he'll already be familiar with and I'm sure it's something he'll be glad to keep doing once he gets to the college level.