The LSU Tigers are already returning a lot of starters from last year’s team, but they got a boost they couldn’t have anticipated when standout linebacker Mike Jones Jr. left Clemson for Baton Rouge.
Citing the opportunity to tackle a new role, the superior challenge of the SEC to the ACC and even the competition at the linebacker position as reasons, Jones provided plenty of viable reasons for his decision in speaking to the media, per Julie Boudwin of Rivals:
“I left Clemson to try and find a new role in a (new) system. I wanted to play more in the box and it’s been great here. Louisiana, I’ve really enjoyed it. One of my big reasons for coming here is to challenge myself being in the SEC West. The SEC in general, you can’t really take anything for granted. It’s been a challenge. I’m glad to be here. I have great teammates, great coaching and I’m very appreciative for the opportunity. […] It’s a lot of competition in the linebacker room, so trying not to get left behind.”
Jones was deployed more often as a coverage specialist in his prior stop, and during the 2020 campaign, he recorded two interceptions and two passes defensed. While those ball skills should serve him well moving forward, it’s clear Jones was looking for more of a traditional linebacker gig.
All this is great news for LSU, of course, and the Tigers have the personnel to give Jones plenty of freedom to roam all over the field and make plays.
Between Derek Stingley Jr. and Eli Ricks, it’s hard to find a better cornerback tandem in college football. That duo alone makes life so difficult on the opposing offense, so teams are probably going to be more inclined to run the ball, which is where Jones can capitalize on his range and athleticism to stuff ball-carriers.
On a team that already returns 19 of 22 starters on offense and defense, Jones seems very comfortable in his new surroundings leading into the season.
With this expanded role comes the expectation that Jones could be better positioning himself to shine on Sundays. Although he didn’t make the cut in our latest first-round 2022 NFL Mock Draft, the ceiling for Jones is high, and if he lives up to his projected forecast this year, he could work himself into a Day 1 prospect.
Pro Football Focus rates Jones as the 26th overall player on its early big board, and the top-ranked linebacker.