This is the 27th in a series of articles counting down the most important players for Florida State in 2012. There are 31 days until FSU football, and that's how many are left on the list. That means no off days. Oh, and these are not in any specific order.
Christian Jones | 6'4, 240 | JR | Linebacker
Widely regarded as one of the nation's elite athletes not only at outside linebacker, but across the board...an FSU legacy player whose father Willie Jones, Sr. starred for the `Noles at defensive end, a position also played by his brother Willie Jones, Jr...carried a five-star rating by Rivals...Rivals ranked the Lake Howell star as the No. 2 outside linebacker in the country, the No. 2 prospect in Florida and the 20th-best player nationally...Scout.com listed him as a four-star prospect and the No. 5-rated outside linebacker in the country...ESPN ranked Jones as No. 2 outside linebacker and No. 27 prospect overall...MaxPreps gave him a No. 71 national ranking...SuperPrep All-America 290 had him listed as the No. 2 outside linebacker in the nation and No. 2 player in the state, bestowing the honor of SuperPrep Dixie Defensive Player of the Year...checked in at No. 20 on Sporting News' Top 100 list of players nationally...rolled up 126 tackles, including 12 for losses and four sacks as a senior...had 160 stops as a junior and finished three-year Lake Howell career with 326 tackles...No. 1 outside linebacker on Florida Super 75 by the Times-Union...rated No. 7 player overall on Bill Buchalter's Florida 100 and No. 2 linebacker...participated in the Under Armour All-Star Game...selected FSU over Alabama, Florida, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Tennessee, but also had offers from LSU, USC, Miami and Michigan...born February 18, 1991. (Courtesy school bio)
Career To Date
Jones played a decent bit on special teams and a little bit on defense in 2010 while learning the system.
And then he exploded.
In 2011, Jones, who had bulked up to 240 pounds to go with his great length, was a big piece of Florida State's defense. Jones didn't make a lot of highlight plays. Rather, he prevented a lot of plays. He set the edge and turned runs back to the waiting defenders. He tormented tight ends. Heck, in the bowl game against Notre Dame, FSU walked him out and he covered the Irish slot receiver. Normally, a defender with 60 pounds on the receiver is going to be exploited by the offense, but Jones held his own against a smaller player in the open field.
In total, Jones started all 13 games, 56 tackles, 6 TFLs, 3 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Because Jones was a tremendous cog in the defense, but wasn't playing the position that gets most of the tackles, many fans failed to realize just how good he is.
This Spring We Wrote
Next up is rising star junior Christian Jones. Jones had the opportunity to show why he was one of the most coveted players of his class. With elite size and good speed, Jones will be counted on just as much in 2012. Fisher mentioned that Jones will be playing the Will position. However, that may be out of necessity with the aforementioned Luc situation. Jones has the size to engage blockers, but also the ability to cover TEs and RBs in space. With players cross training on the defense, look for Jones to takes plenty of snaps at each position during spring ball (look for all the LBs to cross train. Telvin at MLB, OLB, Williams at MLB, OLB etc.). He put together an excellent season last year, especially considering he was a true sophomore taking a whole bunch of snaps. Many speculate that this will be the last year for Jones in an FSU uniform. Jones would need to build on his 2011 performance to make that a reality. If he can do so, Jones could put together a year's worth of production that would create the kind of hype necessary (read: huge payday) to make the leap early.
Jones did indeed stick at the Will/weak-side linebacker position, with Nick Moody bulking up to 240 pounds and moving from safety to SAM backer. I had the chance to speak with Fisher about the move for Tomahawk Nation during ACC media days. Fisher seemed quite confident in the move, and extolled the virtues of allowing Jones to use his huge frame more in the box against the run.
There is no guarantee that the move will be a resounding success. That's the case with any position change. But there's also little reason to think it won't work. And Jones did nothing in spring to indicate that it will be anything but a success. Jones will have fewer coverage responsibilities downfield and will play more in the box. The thought of him popping running backs unblocked as the defensive lineman have absorbed the opposing linemen is pretty cool. He's one of the bigger linebackers you'll see in college, and certainly a special combination of size and athleticism.
If Jones is to take the next step and become an All-American, he'll need to quickly master the mental side of the position.
Photo: Mike Erhmann, Getty Images