The last time the UConn football team had a player go in the first round of the National Football League draft was in 2015 when cornerback Byron Jones got selected by the Dallas Cowboys. Travis Jones is looking to become UConn’s highest-ever draft pick.
Despite going 1-11 and allowing 38.5 PPG last season, Jones served as one of the team’s best players. While Jackson Mitchell led the Huskies with 120 total tackles, it was Jones who tackled players for losses. In 11 games, Jones recorded career highs with 7.5 tackles for losses for 42 yards and 4.5 sacks for 34 yards. The 4.5 sacks may not sound like much, but Jones had over 35% of the team’s total sacks last season. Jones may not have recovered a fumble, but he forced seven QB hits and proves to be a dangerous threat up front.
While these numbers alone scream a third day draft selection, the 2021 campaign was only the beginning. For his strong season, Jones was invited to the Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, and was named the top defensive tackle by offensive linemen after pushing his way around them like a turnstile.
A month later, Jones attended the NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis. While he was there, he posted a prospect grade of 6.34 which gives him plus-starter potential, and he ranked among the Top 40 across all prospects. Unofficially, he posted a 4.92 40-yard dash time and a 28.5 vertical jump, giving him the potential to be a player that can quickly and efficiently get to the quarterback. It’s numbers like these that give him momentum heading into the draft.
Where does he need to improve? According to Lance Zierlein, his hands and feet aren’t quick enough and he inconsistently reads plays, leading to some early zone steps. Bleacher Report suggests that he doesn’t have a plan when going into a play, ultimately knocking him off his spot. If Jones adjusts his mechanics, then he will develop into a player with serious Pro Bowl considerations.
How do his numbers compare to other members of his draft class? As of yesterday, Jones ranks 27th on the Pro Football Fantasy Big Board, behind the University of Georgia’s Lewis Cine and ahead of Georgia’s George Pickens. He is also the No. 3 interior defenseman behind Georgia defensemen Devonte Wyatt and Jordan Davis. Jones’ season grade of 87.6 was higher than Davis (82.7), Kayvon Thibodeaux (83.2), Garrett Wilson (84.1) and Chris Olave (79.3) among several other prospects ranked ahead of him.
So far, scouts have compared Jones to long-term defensive stalwarts. Bleacher Report compares his style of play to Muhammad Wilkerson while NFL.com compares him to Jonathan Hankins. With the right skill set, Jones can exceed both player’s careers.
The NFL draft is a week away and most analysts have him going in the second round. With the way Jones trained in the offseason, I wouldn’t be surprised if a playoff-contending team like the Los Angeles Rams or the Buffalo Bills takes him in the first. I’ve mentioned the regular-season numbers and his offseason performances, but there’s still one essential question to ask:
Who should take Jones and why?
Thanks to the wildest offseason in recent memory (which is still ongoing), there are several teams in need of high-caliber talents. Here are some of the franchises that would benefit from having him as an instant starter.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The highest draft pick for a UConn player was the 27th overall pick. That currently belongs to the Buccaneers, who are looking to replace Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul. Jones could see snaps by week two and would cover for Vita Vea when he needs a breather. Having Jones not only gives the Buccaneers a chance to return to the Super Bowl, but he fits Todd Bowles’ gameplan perfectly.
Since winning the Super Bowl, the Eagles have snuck into the playoffs three out of the past four years. By getting Jones to work alongside Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, they will not sneak into the playoffs any longer. Instead, they would be beating out the Cowboys for the divisional title.
Baltimore was injured to hell and back last season, but even with everyone healthy, there are still some holes to fill. The Ravens need players that can sack the quarterback, especially since Za’Darius Smith is not coming after all. Having someone like Jones alongside Patrick Queen and Calais Campbell will give the Ravens a top 10 defense. Getting Jones could even help the team reach the 14-win milestone again.
Cleveland is upgrading their roster the same way they did two offseasons ago, but they need more defense because the AFC is going to be an animal. Getting Jones would do wonders to the Browns’ defense, and it would help Myles Garrett and Chase Winovich immensely. Jones can also stop the opposing run, which can ultimately lead to more tackles for losses as well as short offensive drives.
Las Vegas Raiders
Bright lights, even brighter names. The Raiders recently shored their defense by acquiring Chandler Jones, but if the Raiders want to get a sniff of the division title, they’ll need T. Jones. Both Jones’ and Maxx Crosby would create the most dangerous defensive tandem in the AFC West and cause problems for opposing quarterbacks. The Raiders have been known for reaching in the first round of the draft, but with a new GM and a revitalized locker room culture, picking Jones would be more of a steal.
Jones has the defensive abilities that NFL coaches want, and that alone would be enough to get drafted on day one. It would have been very cool to see Jones be a part of the Husky Revolution under Jim Mora, but getting selected in the first round changes UConn’s football reputation for the better.