When Dre’Mont Jones was asked on Dec. 2 whether he would play for Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, the redshirt junior defensive tackle left the door open to potentially skip the game, responding only with a two-word answer: “We’ll see.”
Ten days later, Jones was again asked whether he would play in Ohio State’s final game of the season, and he gave a much more affirmative answer.
“I’m playing,” Jones said Wednesday. “I want to finish what I started. With everything we’ve been through, I kind of just don’t want to leave and just do my own thing just yet, because I still have another game to play.”
Had Jones made the decision not to play in the Rose Bowl, it probably wouldn’t have come as a huge surprise to many. It has become increasingly common over the past couple years for projected early-round draft picks to sit out non-playoff bowl games – including former Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward, who sat out last year’s Cotton Bowl – and Jones is widely projected to be a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Jones said Wednesday, however, that he never actually considered not playing in the Buckeyes’ Jan. 1 season finale against Washington.
“When I said I wasn’t sure, I was just talking,” Jones said. “I was playing regardless.”
The Rose Bowl will be Jones’ final game in an Ohio State uniform, though. He confirmed Wednesday that he will be entering the 2019 draft. While Jones still has one remaining season of eligibility, the fourth-year junior defensive tackle is on track to graduate with a degree in sociology in December, and has already done enough to establish himself as a top NFL prospect.
Jones probably could have been an early round NFL draft pick even if he had made the decision to leave after last season, since he was eligible to enter the 2018 draft as a redshirt sophomore. Jones said Wednesday, though, that he never spent any time second-guessing his decision, and that he is glad he made the decision to stay in Columbus for one more year.
“I feel like I had a very successful year. I feel like I did everything I needed to do, and I’m going to try to enhance on that next game,” Jones said. “I think it was a great decision to come back. I feel like I kind of proved myself. Instead of it just being talk and either having (former Ohio State defensive end) Nick (Bosa) say or other players saying that I’m talented and me not showing it, instead of me actually just showing it myself, I feel like I had a successful year.
“Once I decided I was coming back, I was fully locked into being here and not thinking about ‘What if that, what if this, I could have got paid that much money;’ it doesn’t matter, because I’m here,” Jones added. “So I wanted to play with everything I have. And once I made the decision, I kind of locked everything out and gave my all into the Buckeyes.”
Jones became the star and leader of Ohio State’s defensive line after the third game of the season, when Bosa suffered a groin injury that would ultimately end his career with the Buckeyes, and had the most productive season of his career to date, recording 40 total tackles – most among all Ohio State defensive linemen – with 13 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Jones also scored two touchdowns, returning an interception 28 yards to the end zone against TCU and recovering a fumble in the end zone against Michigan State.
He was a first-team All-Big Ten selection.
Ultimately, Jones expects that to pay off on April 25, when he’ll hope to hear his name called in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft.
“I feel like I had a complete year,” Jones said. “I think my numbers show that I can be more than capable to do everything in one, not just be isolated to just rushing or just run-stopping. But I had a goal this year, and I think I set it.”
Before he turns his attention to preparing for the next step of his career, though, Jones will wear the scarlet and gray one more time – and he believes a strong showing against Washington can help him elevate his draft stock even higher.
“I don’t take Washington lightly,” Jones said. “They’re an extremely good team, they look good on film and I expect nothing less.”
Jones acknowledged that there were people close to him who suggested that he shouldn’t play in the Rose Bowl, but he wasn’t going to let anyone else’s opinion influence his decision.
“There was no outside factors to weigh my options. I was going to play regardless,” Jones said. “I mean, people that I know gave me their opinion saying I shouldn’t play, but at the end of the day, it’s my decision. So I’m going to play.”
“I want to finish what I started. With everything we’ve been through, I kind of just don’t want to leave and just do my own thing just yet, because I still have another game to play.”– Dre'Mont Jones
Jones wanted to play one more game as a Buckeye and finish out the season with his team, and he wasn’t going to let the risk of injury – which is why many other NFL prospects have made the decision not to play in non-playoff bowl games – stop him.
“People always give the stigma of injuries, but I feel like you can get injured doing anything,” Jones said. “You can get injured walking outside. I can get injured driving home in my car. I can get injured doing anything. So injury is going to be there. I can’t really just avoid that. So I’m going to play. I love the game of football, so why not play?”
Several other Ohio State players who could consider entering the 2019 NFL draft despite having remaining eligibility also met with the media on Wednesday, including fourth-year junior running back Mike Weber, third-year junior safety Jordan Fuller and linebacker Malik Harrison and third-year sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins. Each of them said they have not yet decided whether they will leave after this season, but all of them are planning to play in the Rose Bowl.