While Dre’Mont Jones has already been a key player on Ohio State’s interior defensive line for the past two seasons, he could be in line for an even bigger role in 2018.
Until Thursday, it wasn’t certain whether Jones would even be back with the Buckeyes for another season, given that he was projected to be an early-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft. Instead of going pro, however, Jones – who will be a fourth-year junior next season – decided to stay at Ohio State for at least one more year, stating in a tweet that he believed remaining in school would improve his chances of successfully achieving his NFL dream.
Although Jones was ranked as the 35th-best prospect for the 2018 draft by Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, there’s no guarantee that he would have been selected that high if he actually entered the draft, and it’s more than possible that he could elevate his draft stock with another strong season at Ohio State.
Add Ohio State's Dre'Mont Jones to what could be a historic class of interior DL in the 2019 #NFLDraft. Sky's the limit for him, and another year of development should help his draft stock in a big way.— Luke Easterling (@LukeEasterling) January 13, 2018
One reason why another season as a Buckeye could help him impress NFL teams is because he is likely to play an expanded role that enables him to demonstrate more of his skill set in 2018.
While Jones led all Ohio State defensive tackles with 441 snaps played in 2017, he didn’t get to stay on the field often in pass-rushing situations, as the Buckeyes utilized their four-defensive end "Rushmen" package almost every time they put their nickel defense on the field. That was no indictment on Jones’ ability, but simply a reflection of the talent the Buckeyes had at defensive end, a position where Ohio State had four standouts in Nick Bosa, Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes.
With Hubbard, Lewis and Holmes all on their way to the NFL, however, Jones could get the opportunity to be a true three-down defensive tackle in 2018. While Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper should take two of the open spots in the Rushmen package next season, the Buckeyes have only three returning scholarship defensive ends, opening the door for Jones – as the best athlete and interior penetrator among the Buckeyes’ defensive tackles – to take the other spot in that package.
Bosa, who correctly predicted before the Cotton Bowl that Jones would return for another season, also predicted that Jones will not only become part of the Rushmen package, but make a big impact as part of it.
"Dre’Mont is going to finally get some third-down reps in the nickel package, and he’s one of the best pass-rushers I’ve ever seen in practice, so people haven’t really haven’t seen that aspect of his game," Bosa said. "He hasn’t been able to showcase his pass-rush yet. And when he does the nation is going to be, like … 'All right, we’re taking him.'"
It’s also possible that Jones, because of the aforementioned lack of depth at defensive end, could see some playing time at the defensive end position himself in the Buckeyes’ base defense in 2018.
While Ohio State appears thin on depth at defensive end, the Buckeyes are loaded with depth at defensive tackle, where Robert Landers will likely move into the starting lineup alongside Jones but Jashon Cornell, Davon Hamilton, Haskell Garrett, Jerron Cage, Malik Barrow, junior college transfer Antwuan Jackson and incoming freshmen Tommy Togiai and Taron Vincent could also all be candidates to see playing time in the rotation. That could enable the Buckeyes to play Jones, who was recruited to Ohio State as a defensive end out of St. Ignatius High School (Cleveland), on the outside of the defensive line in some situations.
Lewis said in December that he believed Jones would be "really good at defensive end" if the Buckeyes chose to play him at that position.
"He’s a freak athlete. Twitchy guy," Lewis said. "He’s just so like fast off the ball and things, so he’d definitely create problems."
“He’s one of the best pass-rushers I’ve ever seen in practice, so people haven’t really haven’t seen that aspect of his game.”– Nick Bosa on Dre'Mont Jones
Regardless of which spots Jones ultimately lines up and in which packages he plays – which could depend in part on whether Greg Schiano sticks around as defensive coordinator, or if Schiano leaves for the NFL and Alex Grinch takes over as defensive coordinator – the one thing that's for sure is that his role will be significant, and that will be expected to step up as a leader on a unit that is losing four captains (Holmes, Hubbard, Lewis and defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle) from the 2017 season.
By choosing to remain in Columbus for another season, Jones should be one of the Buckeyes’ most valuable defensive players in 2018, help Larry Johnson’s defensive line continue to perform at an elite level and provide a significant boost to Ohio State’s defense as a whole.
If Jones, who had a quiet 2017 season statistically (20 total tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack) but made many impacts on plays that didn’t show up on the box score, can take advantage of an expanded role and make more plays of his own in 2018, his decision to stay in school for another year could certainly also pay huge dividends for his stock in the 2019 NFL draft.