Micah Jones is the 10th recruiting commitment to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s class of 2018. He is also the first wide receiver commit and a very good start to filling this position of need.
When you watch Jones’ film, the first thing that catches your eye is his overall size. The 6-foot-5, 200 pound athlete is blessed with great size and terrific body control. You can definitely understand why the Irish staff offered the Gurnee, Ill. product a scholarship.
Although he has been given a three star rating by most of the recruiting services, it is easy to see this rating going up once his senior season gets going. Jones knows how to use his size to his advantage.
Most of Jones’ routes were a hitch or a slant into traffic, and he typically finds open spaces inside the defense’s coverage. The swarming defense caused Jones to develop good habits; he uses his hands well to snag passes while being harassed. He never lets the ball get to his body. It’s an invaluable skill and one that saves Irish fans from outbursts caused by dropped passes on perfectly thrown balls.
Jones is also skilled at using his body to block out the defensive back, which frees his hands for the pass. This is similar to a sound rebounder in basketball and Jones perfected this technique in shorter routes.
In the film I looked at, a high percentage of passes thrown Jones’ way were 10 yards or less. He predominately ran digs, slants and screens. Jones made his quarterback’s job easier by meeting the ball, which meant the pass didn’t have to be perfect. The receiver also seemed to have zero fear of being hit by a defender once the catch was made.
Jones plays with his head. In many of the highlights, he is using sight adjustment - along with his quarterback - to find the hole in the defense based on the coverage they’re showing. This will be a key element in Jones learning the Chip Long-style of run-pass option.
During Long’s Memphis tenure, a receiver isolated in man coverage with a defender playing five or more yards off the line ran an automatic hitch. If the cornerback was playing tight, a “go” route was called.
In Jones’ film, there was one play that showed how this can affect a defense. At the 10-yard line, Jones faked a quick hitch after the snap and then ran a fade as the corner lagged behind, caught flatfooted. This indicates to me that an RPO package similar to the one Chip Long is fond of had been run previously in this game.
This is a huge indication that the RPO package Chip Long is fond of, had been run in this particular game several times. The cornerback’s reaction to jump the hitch, was read by Jones and he adjusted to the fade. You can see this was intentional by how Jones used a head fake in the route technique to sell the corner on the short route. That’s smart football, and it shows an appreciation for detail. This will serve Jones well in college.
One of the big things about landing a wide receiver like Jones, is getting a guy with a good ability to block. In any read-option type of offense the receivers must be sound at blocking. Even if the offensive line is doing its job well, the wide-outs must body the corners and the dropped down safeties to allow for long running plays to develop.
Jones showed great technique in his blocking skills not, only in how he would engage the defender, but also in how he would stay engaged. You see this often when an inside-zone run is called. The run will initially start in the middle of the field, and spring wide if the receiver is able to shield the corner back inside to allow the running back open field down the sideline. Jones exhibited this instinctual quality as he would leverage on the outside shoulder of the defender to keep him in and away from the running back bursting outside. Again, just a heads up style of play that Jones shows.
The film on Jones suggests that he is still a step or two away from being in the 4-5 star level right now. He lacks an explosion off his first step and it takes a while for him to get up to speed on his longer routes. Jones route running is crisp for the most part, but you can see where he will have to work on rounding his routes better off his plant foot. This will be addressed more once he gets to the college level and the coaching is much more precise.
For the majority of passes that he caught, Jones was tackled by the first defender to attack him. It was almost like he was expecting the hit to come, and he was already anticipating going to the ground, rather than extending the play. This may result from two reasons.
The system Jones ran last year required a bunch of short routes, which lead to being surrounded quickly. Thus, the reason for the quick tackles. More importantly, when I was watching the film it quickly occurred to me that this kid is still growing into his body. This would explain the running style he shows in his routes and the lack of explosion. I had to remind myself that it was his junior year of highlights. In coaching, the biggest year in a change in physical development for a high school athlete is from his junior to senior year. I venture to guess that Jones’s senior film will show a much more dynamic athlete, and many of these weaknesses will become strengths. His evaluation will change as well as his star rating.
Jones’s commitment is a very good pickup for the Fighting Irish. He is the perfect match for the wide receiver that can flourish in a heavy themed RPO spread attack. The size and catching ability Jones has is what makes this such an important feature for Long’s offensive approach.
Jones has already shown an innate ability to feel coverage out and adjust to the pass dictated by the defense. This is very impressive for a kid entering his senior season in high school, and will allow for more focus on the physical side of his development. In securing Jones to the ’18 class, Notre Dame has its physical presence addressed at wide receiver.
Now the focus has to turn towards the speed in the Irish’s recruitment at wide receiver to make the 2018 a well-rounded class at the position.