Florida linebacker Jonathan Jones gave the Irish a pleasant signing day surprise (sort of) when he signed with Notre Dame today and officially joined the 2016 recruiting class. The 247 Composite has the 6'0"/220 pound bruiser as the #449 overall player, #31 outside linebacker, and #61 player in Florida.
Michigan was in the driver's seat for Jones for quite some time, but the Irish made a big move during his official visit for the UMass game. There was very little direct indication from Jonathan himself, but it seems that over time the Notre Dame staff just chipped away to give itself a lead over the Wolverines. Interestingly, when the most recent dead period ended, Jim Harbaugh was on one of his Peter Pan sleepovers with a kicker who was committed to Penn State, while Mike Elston was on his way to Orlando to visit the uncommitted Jones. I wouldn't imagine that tipped the scales, but it did seem like a bit of a curious decision on Harbaugh's part. For so many reasons.
Down the stretch momentum trended hard in Notre Dame's direction, which is why Jones's announcement today wasn't all that surprising. It is very welcome, though, and we could see evidence of why earlier than you might think.
Recruiting Service Rankings
Rivals - 3 star (5.7 rating), NR overall, #19 postion (ILB), #61 in Florida
247 - 4 star (92 rating), #220 overall, #18 position, #30 in Florida
ESPN - 3 star (78 rating), NR overall, #16 position (ILB), #96 in Florida
Scout - 3 star, NR overall, #17 position (ILB), #52 in Florida
247 Composite - 3 star (0.8745 rating), #449 overall, #31 position, #61 in Florida
In addition to Notre Dame, Jones holds offers from Duke, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, LSU, Michigan, Miami, Missouri, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, and Stanford, among others. Apparently college coaches have more faith in Jonathan than the recruiting services do.
What jumps out immediately on this highlight reel is his coverage ability - the first four plays on this reel are all examples of excellent zone coverage, knowing his responsibility and reading the quarterback and receivers to know where to be. And on top of that, the first two plays show Jones returning interceptions for touchdowns, one of which went for 100 yards. Not too shabby. He shows good recognition, knowing when to go downhill and when to scrape across the line. He fights off blocks well and is a physical hitter and tackler. You can see why some analysts said that whoever the Irish sign at linebacker in this class, Jones would be most likely to see the field first. You can even see him adjusting the defense pre-snap at the 1:45 mark. Not to go all Gruden on you, but this guy... He's a football player.
There's one major knock on Jones that he'll never be able to get away from - at 6'0", he lacks prototypical size for a linebacker, and there's no way around. Bobby Diaco would not recruit this kid. Sure, there have been plenty of successful middle linebackers around that size - Ray Lewis is probably the best example, and London Fletcher was even smaller. But until we see him in action at the next level, his ability to take on blocks from offensive linemen and cover tight ends across the middle will be in question. One other thing I saw is that, for all his solid fundamentals, he tends to tackle high pretty often - easy enough to work on with good coaching, which he'll get from Mike Elston.
Jones has a shot at seeing the field next year as a reserve. I'd expect Greer Martini and Nyles Morgan to be 1-2 on the Mike depth chart, Onwualu is obviously entrenched at Sam and Asmar Bilal is a good bet to back him up, and Te'Von Coney and Josh Barajas should make a good pair at Will. Nonetheless, as we all know, injuries and fatigue create opportunities beyond the two-deep, and I could see Jones being that next guy who gets called. I also expect him to get plenty of time on special teams, just like Morgan did as a freshman.
Long Term / Career
It's a little hard to predict exactly where he'll land in the big picture, but I wouldn't at all be surprised to see him become a multi-year starter and even possibly a captain - the kid has a great make-up and work ethic, and I think he'll be a leader in the program.
Welcome to the family, Jonathan!