Dawand Jones wasn’t surprised with the NFL draft grade he received after the 2021 season, but he wasn’t satisfied with it, either.
Despite having just one year of starting experience under his belt at Ohio State, Jones has his eyes firmly set on the next level. But the 6-foot-8 force of nature at offensive tackle won’t make the leap to the NFL until he climbs up the ladder a few more rungs and becomes the player he has the potential – and innate physical tools – to be, given more time and development in Columbus.
“At the end of the season you normally get a draft grade. I had seen mine, I definitely had seen that it was like fourth or fifth round,” Jones said Thursday. “I think after playing my season and just seeing my potential, I think coming back one more year could definitely do me some good. … I wasn’t surprised. I hadn’t really played much, first year as a starter. I wasn’t really expecting much. It’s almost like how NCAA basketball players test the waters almost. It was kind of similar to that.”
But while Jones said he was only dipping his toe into the process, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said there were talks behind the scenes about the possibility that his starting right tackle could depart for the draft. Fourth- or fifth-round projections weren’t good enough for Jones, though, as Day said Jones’ aspirations are to be a first- or second-day selection.
“There was conversation in the building, I know there was conversation outside the building. You just identify where you think you could go in the draft and you decide whether you think that makes sense for you and your future,” Day said last Tuesday. “He wanted to come back and be a first- or second-rounder, that’s his goal. And so he’s been challenged with a set of things that he needs to get done if he wants to get there.
“I don’t think there’s any question he has the ability and he has the talent to be one of the better tackles in the country. Now whether he is or not, there’s certain things that he’s gonna have to get accomplished here in the offseason, and then during next season, to get to that point. And consistency is gonna be one of them. But he’s done some good things and I think he knows what those things are that he wants to get done.”
Upon officially opting to return to the program, further conversations with the Buckeye coaching staff have helped enlighten Jones as to what will allow him to get where he wants to go at the next level.
While Jones had the eighth-best run blocking grade in the country (90.6) last season, per Pro Football Focus, his pass blocking grade (78.8) ranked 40th in the nation. Given those figures, it’s clear where Jones must improve over the offseason, and he made it plain in last week’s interview session.
“Just being consistent, making sure I can pass block. NFL is majority all pass game, so if you can’t pass block – or really run (block), but I feel like that comes naturally to me just with how big I am – but if you can’t pass block in the league, you’re not gonna last long,” Jones said. “I just gotta become consistent there and consistent in practice also as well.”
Jones has a new coach aiding him in that pursuit this season, as former UCLA offensive coordinator Justin Frye has taken over Greg Studrawa’s old post as Buckeye offensive line coach ahead of the 2022 season. Jones said he didn’t know about the coaching change when he had his initial conversations with Day about staying at Ohio State or leaving for the NFL, but Day eventually told him he was “bringing in the best.”
So far this spring, all indications from Jones are that the pairing with Frye – a fellow Indiana native – has gone swimmingly, to say the least.
“I bought in a lot. I listen to him. He’s like a mentor almost,” Jones said about Frye. “Every time I need something, he’s right there. He’s like my right-hand man right now, I’d say. I didn’t even know that (he was from Indiana) until he told us on the first day. And definitely you can get that connection with our new coach.”
Although Jones’ pass blocking grades weren’t among the top tackles in the country last season, he still had the top marks in that department of any Buckeye offensive lineman in 2021. At left tackle, Nicholas Petit-Frere’s PFF grade (60.0) ranked all the way down at No. 197 in the country.
Third-year lineman Paris Johnson Jr., the Buckeyes’ starting right guard last season, will now take over Petit-Frere’s post, even though Jones is the longer-tenured starting tackle at the college level. Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said “it's not like everybody's gotta play left,” and that the decision to keep Jones on the right side was made in part because Jones may be more comfortable in the role he started in for the duration of last season.
Wilson said both of the Buckeyes’ starting tackles must shore up their pass blocking this offseason, especially given the caliber of pass-rushers Ohio State anticipates it will face through the course of the season.
“As big as (Jones) is and as talented as he is, and same with Paris with the talent, their ability to handle one-on-one matchups, grown men on grown men one-on-one and be dominant, is a huge challenge,” Wilson said. “And the great players can do that. And the great quarterbacks have the ability to communicate, see, anticipate. And as a coach, the more we can make their jobs easier, the better you’re gonna be. … So Dawand and Paris both have to be guys that are great one-on-one against some of the premier matchups. And the best thing is we get those matchups in practice. So we get exposed to that on a daily basis.”
Jones’ return was crucial for an Ohio State offensive line that lacks the depth it has had in the past, and now his ability to fine-tune his craft this offseason will play a major role in the continued success of the Buckeye offense in 2022.
That, in turn, should get the 360-pound behemoth considerably closer to his NFL draft goals come this time next year.