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2019 Broncos roster review: Linebacker Joseph Jones

Could the third-year pro emerge as a surprise starter for the Denver Broncos?

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos
Joseph Jones could be a sleeper in the new system.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It was just this time last year that Jones was locked in a fierce battle to make the Broncos roster behind Todd Davis and Brandon Marshall. With a new coaching staff, he’s at it again, though this time he appears to be the top dog behind Josey Jewell and Davis entering Vic Fangio’s first training camp.

Jones has had one of the more interesting, roundabout journeys to the Broncos. He’s already been a member of four different teams after he didn’t hear his name during the 2017 NFL Draft. He originally signed with the Dallas Cowboys, but was waived his first September with the team. Two days later, he signed with the Los Angeles Chargers practice squad for two days before they released him. A little over two weeks after that, he signed with the Seattle Seahawks practice squad to make it three different uniforms in his first September in the NFL.

After two months on the Seahawks practice squad, the Vance Joseph Broncos signed him to replace linebacker Kevin Snyder. He played 159 special teams snaps across the last 7 games of the season. He more than doubled that number in 2018, threw in 25 defensive snaps, and finished the year with 16 tackles and a punt block.

Jones with the 2018 Broncos’ most exciting special teams play.

The good

  • Very good athlete for the position.
  • Extensive special teams experience.
  • Good in space.
  • Solid in man coverage.

He definitely brings the physical measurements you’d hope for from a Fangio linebacker. His 40 yard dash time, 3-Cone, Vertical Jump, and Short Shuttle all come in above the 50th percentile for the measurable baselines of most NFL teams. He was also a special teams standout last year, which matters a great deal with only 46 suiting up on game days. The other thing he brings to the table players like Josh Watson, Joe Dineen, Alexander Johnson, and Justin Hollins don’t is real snaps on defense in the league. To get a better idea of what he could bring to the table behind Jewell and Davis, I took a long look at his one game on defense in the NFL.

Jones’ first NFL snap on defense.

It didn’t take long for a few things to stand out about his performance against the Bengals. First, it appears he’s fully capable of reading his keys and getting to the ball. There was one snap on the second series where he over-pursued outside zone, but he did a solid job of holding up as the second backer in base personnel after Josey Jewell left the game with an injury. He does seem to bring the same range to D that he shows on special teams, as well.

Jones’ ability to change direction as well as open up and run caught my eye.

One other area where Jones showed flashes of real promise that should carry over into 2019 is his ability to mirror his assignment in coverage. I was skeptical of that part of his game, as it’s something he didn’t show in his special teams work, but he came through in a big way on C.J. Uzomah.

On the snaps Jones had to cover, he looked like a natural.

The bad

  • Very limited experience on defense.
  • His ability to hold up at the POA is a question.
  • Dealt with injuries in 2018 training camp.
  • Light weight, shorter arms.

For all of his good to great pre-draft measurables, there are a couple that don’t help Jones. He’s undersized for an inside backer at a shade under 6 feet and 240 lbs. Additionally, his arm length is on the shorter side for a starting inside backer (25th percentile). All those issues aren’t as noticeable on special teams where Jones has a running start and a chance to slip most blocks, but if he’s forced to play defense for an extended period of time, it could cause him problems at both the point of attack and when trying to separate from blockers who can get their hands onto his frame. It didn’t appear to be a noticeable issue in the Bengals game, but Jones played 24 total snaps. For context, I normally study at least 3 games before I come to any sort of real conclusion on a player and usually closer to 5 at minimum.

24 snaps is a very small sample size and the Broncos coaching staff took him off the field for anything outside of the base personnel package. Sua Cravens, Will Parks, or Shane Ray came in for him on passing downs. So it’s hard to know with real certainty if what I saw is indicative of what he could do with more playing time, or just flashes of brilliance.

Joseph Jones roster status with the Broncos

Based upon his special teams play, his athletic ability, and what looks like real promise as a rangier alternative to the current expected starters, Jones has a good chance to stick to the Broncos roster. Even if it’s only minicamp, it’s notable that he served as the starting linebacker when Todd Davis missed practice for the birth of his son at the beginning of June. He’s a dark horse contender for Jewell’s starting spot, and my bet for the number 1 backer off the bench, at least until Justin Hollins comes on.

Don’t sleep on Jones.