Versatility. For the New Orleans Saints. adding players to their roster with the versatility and required skill-set to fill multiple roles, has been the key to their notable improvement on both sides of the football; and it most certainly played a huge part during their recent success last season in 2017.
And as the 2018 NFL Free Agency signing period "officially" gets underway next Wednesday, New Orleans potentially could be looking at a young man who could bring some speed and tenacity to the one of their biggest team "needs" of the off-season at the LB position: Chicago Bears and former Florida State University linebacker Christian Jones — who is the focus of today's 2018 Saints Free Agency "target" profile for Saints News Network.
Jones, who's now an unrestricted free agent, has been an underrated, valuable and versatile utility linebacker and special-teamer in four years with Chicago. He's been durable (he's only missed just one career game) and has started a total of 31 times; both on the inside and also on the outside edge in a pass-rushing role, since going undrafted out of Florida State in 2014.
Since his arrival in the Windy City, the 27-year old Jones has shown that he possesses good sideline-to-sideline speed and can use his outstanding athleticism to provide solid coverage against opponents in the passing game, as well as his notably bigger size for the position (6-foot-3 inches, 240 pounds) to also capably defend against the run.
Jones has starter’s ability and likely will be pursued heavily in free agency as one of this year's true "bargains". If he were to sign with the Saints, Jones could potentially play ANY of the LB positions in New Orleans, either as a "Mike" / middle, "Will" / weakside, or "Sam" / strongside lineacker.
He's even capable of playing as a 9-technique / "stand-up" defensive end / edge rusher because of his size, though his pass-rushing skills aren't on par with his skills as an every-down defender in the box.
Unfortunately for Jones, he's been "stuck" in a back-up role for a majority of his time with the Bears; and it wasn't until last season that he truly got the chance to show the rest of the League just what he can do, when given the opportunity.
Chicago Tribune writer Brad Biggs says that Jones finally "settled in" during the 2017 season after moving from outside to inside linebacker. As Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio explained to Biggs: that was a difficult process because there was so much more happening on the interior last year while Chicago played through a "rebuilding" season.
Jones ended up being a warrior for Chicago at linebacker in 2017, while filling in for injuries to starters Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski, as well as the suspended Jerrell Freeman (who was eventually released). When it was all said and done: Jones was a key contributor for the Bears defense as the team’s 2nd leading tackler.
Biggs notes that with more experience, Jones improved in the middle, and while he still lacks the instinct you’d probably want, he has missed only one game in four seasons and for a team with so many durability issues, Jones’ health cannot be overstated. He was ranked 2nd at the Bears LB position during the 2017 regular season with 623 snaps (58.9 percent) and had 57 solo tackles with five tackles for loss, two sacks and two passes defensed.
In 4 total seasons from 2014 thru 2017, Jones has played 63 total games for the Bears; and has tallied 161 tackles (80 assisted), 4 QB sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 3 fumble recoveries.
And now as Jones hits Free Agency in just a few more days from now, he's hoping that a team who can use a further upgrade at the LB position (perhaps a team like the Saints),) will seek to add his services to their roster for the upcoming 2018 season and beyond.
One question that begs to be asked: why did Jones go undrafted after a very impressive college career at Florida State for the Seminoles?
There was a nice buzz about Jones heading into 2013. Many NFL scouts at that time believed that Jones was going to enter the 2013 NFL Draft early that year as a junior following the end of the 2012 season, even though he was getting feedback and estimates from a handful of draft observers who felt that he wouldn't be selected until Day 2 (the NFL Draft Advisory Committee at that time had given Jones a middle-round grade).
As a result, Jones decided to return to Tallahassee for his senior season in 2013, with the hope that it would lead to a much earlier selection (and therefore a much bigger rookie contract) in the 2014 NFL Draft.
However, Jones' production fell down significantly as Florida State moved him from linebacker to defensive end because of losses to the NFL. He contributed to the Seminoles' 2013 National Championship season, but was by no means a force.
A four-year contributor at Florida State, Jones started all 13 games at strongside linebacker as a sophomore in 2011, recording 56 tackles and three sacks. Then as a junior n 2012, he led the Seminoles with 95 tackles while starting all 14 games at weakside linebacker as he replaced Nigel Bradham (who just won the Super Bowl last month with the Philadelphia Eagles and is now also a Free Agent himself).
As a result, Jones was being touted as one of the premier talents at the LB position for the following year's 2014 NFL Draft.
But then as a senior in 2013, he started two games at middle linebacker and then split the final 10 games between the strongside position and even as a "stand-up" defensive end, while only compiling 56 tackles and two sacks. The shifting around the line-up clearly hurt Jones' production as a senior, and it essentially killed his draft "stock" as a result.
"Jones has played middle linebacker, on the strongside and also at weakside linebacker for Florida State. The son of former FSU All-American defensive end Willie Jones, Christian is strong at the point of attack and also very athletic as a pass rusher. But his ability to run the field really sticks out and we all know Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan loves versatility, toughness and all-out play. That is what you will get if you draft Jones; and he projects as a late second round pick or early third round selection in the May 2014 NFL Draft."
Jones only made $1.5 million last season after signing a 1-year contract extension to the original rookie deal he signed as an UDFA in 2014.
And while he obviously will be seeking a significant raise in pay, he still should be able to be signed at a reasonable price — making him one of this year's 2018 Free Agency "bargains".