When Les Snead selected Ernest Jones with the 104th pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, it changed course for the Los Angeles Rams GM in several ways. For one, Jones is Snead’s highest-drafted inside linebacker since Alec Ogletree in 2013. And second, Jones is the youngest linebacker who Snead has ever drafted, and the only other one who was 21 as a rookie was also Ogletree.
Now the Rams may need Ernest Jones to play like Ogletree.
LA traded inside linebacker Kenny Young to the Denver Broncos on Monday and Sean McVay noted to the media that the team would need Jones and Troy Reeder to step up following the move. Young was second on the team in tackles, but there doesn’t seem to be any attribute that couldn’t be filled by a replacement and McVay said the team was looking for “financial flexibility” more than anything else.
But during any decision like this, one obvious variable is that we know what Kenny Young can do and we don’t know what Ernest Jones can do but we do know that the Rams have a bad run defense. Jones won’t be held responsible for fixing the run defense or pass coverage issues, he’s just a less expensive option who everybody wants to see on the field anyway.
A junior at South Carolina last year, Ernest Jones was mocked to the LA Rams at pick 57 by Mel Kiper, Jr. at one point but fell to them all the way down at 103. Similar to Ogletree, Jones played sparingly as a rookie, then saw his production ramp up as a sophomore and junior, while also missing a few games.
Ok, Ernest Jones hits people. We have a gap filler ladies and gents. Oklahoma Drill starts in 5. pic.twitter.com/ZUUErhr8pm— Matt Alkire (@mattalkire) March 28, 2021
Ernest Jones’ comp at NFL.com by Lance Zierlein was Micah Kiser, a player selected by Snead in the fifth round three years earlier and also traded to the Broncos in 2021:
Two-down linebackers with limited speed and below-average athleticism aren’t exactly in vogue these days, but Jones has the field IQ and interior toughness to warrant consideration. He’s a blue-collar linebacker capable of handling the physical duties required of his position, but he will always have limitations in pursuit speed and coverage talent. He has a good feel for diagnosing blocking schemes and finding runners between the tackles, so a role as a backup inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense might be his best fit early on in his career.
NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said “This is one of my guys” of Jones.
And while Jones is a bit smaller than Alec Ogletree, he might also be a slightly better athlete. Even if he’s not the same caliber of prospect overall, and that would also be fair to say of Ernest Jones. There are some surface level similarities to Alec Ogletree’s situation but that is a bar too high for what to expect over the next 10 games and hopefully more.
In a Turf Show Times fanpost by Ferragamo15, he was compared not to Ogletree or Kiser, but Roman Phifer:
Roman Phifer (2nd round 1991, Rams, UCLA)
I would not have drafted Ernest Jones before the late rounds. I think Derrick Barnes, who was pick 113 by Detroit, was a better prospect. I thought Kiser was a better prospect (which is how Zierlein had them graded) and Kiser was a 5th round pick. Why did Snead draft Jones so early?
CBSSports ranked all of the NFL teams in terms of how their drafts compared to their board and the Rams were in last place, ranked 32nd. So, this is more than just normal post draft Monday morning quarterbacking by disgruntled fans. There is an objective basis from which to conclude that the Rams reached with their selections. Do Snead and McVay see something in these players that most experts don’t see?
Will Ernest Jones be able to match Kenny Young’s play at inside linebacker at a lower price?