Jones received attention from Virginia, Virginia Tech and a few other FBS-level programs out of high school, but he didn?t qualify academically to go the Division-I route so instead looked at Division-II schools, choosing Shepherd over Mercyhurst and West Virginia State. He arrived at Shepherd in 2008 as a 185-pound wide receiver, but redshirted and was academically ineligible, not seeing the field until 2010 when he transitioned to the defensive side of the ball. Jones started all but two games the last four seasons, recording consistent production each year, leaving Shepherd with several career marks, including sacks (34.5). He became the first player from Shepherd to receive a NFL Combine invite and is attempting to be just the fourth draft pick in school history and first since 1979. Jones is skilled and offers intriguing athletic traits, but is still very unpolished with his technique and football instincts ? skilled, but raw. He offers intriguing upside as a developmental prospect who can make plays on special teams coverage, but is still a year or two away from having a consistent role on defense.
STRENGTHS: Athletic build with length and growth potential. Excellent pursuit speed with instant acceleration and impressive quickness for his size. Raw explosion to attack the backfield before blockers can set up. Generates some natural power when he?s able to stay low and burst through his hips. Nice job extending his long arms to engage and force the issue. Very good body control and natural flexibility to dip, sink and flatten. Physical tackler and strikes with purpose through his target. NFL motor and effort with a developed work ethic ? added 50 pounds during his time in college. Confident, tough and durable. Mature and the consummate teammate. Four-year starter (46 career starts) with versatile experience rushing from a two and three point stance off the edge. Consistent and above average production the last four years, leaving college with 71.0 tackles for loss, 8 forced fumbles, 4 blocked kicks and a school-record 34.5 sacks ? finalist for Cliff Harris Award in 2013 (top small college defender).
WEAKNESSES: Lacks ideal strength and will struggle to disengage blocks, lacking much pop in his hands at the point of attack. Lean build and needs to dedicate himself in a NFL weight room to continue and fill out his frame. Streaky snap reaction and can be a tick late off the line of scrimmage (due to awareness, not natural burst). Inconsistent tracking skills and will lose sight of the ball too easily. Undeveloped pass rush moves, lacking much creativity or depth. Overaggressive and plays too fast, overpursuing and struggling to collect himself on the move to properly finish targets in motion. Extremely raw mentally with immature anticipation and recognition skills. Lacks a clear mean streak and needs to show more grit on the field ? soft-spoken and lacks an authoritative voice in the huddle. Has had trouble with academics throughout his career and might have some issues adjusting to a NFL playbook. All of his experience has come against a lower level of competition at the Division-II level. Overaged prospect.
04/29/2014 - Five players who should be on Arizona's draft radar: LB Howard Jones, Shepherd: Despite the loss of Karlos Dansby, the Cardinals still have a deep group at linebacker. But there is always room to add depth, especially promising prospects who need to sit and learn like Jones. He arrived at Shepherd as a 185-pound wide receiver and slowly transitioned to the 235-pound linebacker that he is today. Jones is undeveloped with his technique and ballskills, but offers intriguing athletic traits and a solid resume despite starring at the Division-II level (holds the school record for career sacks, 34.5). He will likely require a patient coaching staff and is at least a year away from meaningful snaps, but there is a good chance Jones becomes the first Shepherd player to be drafted since 1979, possibly to Arizona in the later rounds. - Dane Brugler, NFLDraftScout.com