The Mock Monitor continues to be sprinkled with names from a variety of positions that may fill needs for the Falcons in this year's draft. Many mock draft websites continue to target offensive lineman for Atlanta in the second round, specifically left tackle, although one name that has sprung up lately is that of Georgia center Ben Jones.
To get a better handle on Jones' game we again turn this week to Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, the website's lead NFL Draft scout for help in our spotlight.
Despite Jones' common name, he's a popular player at an undervalued position among scouts. Because of a lack of stats, its sometimes hard to evaluate offensive lineman, especially centers, but a quick look at what Jones was responsible for and his results show a player Miller says is capable of stepping in and starting from Day One and not be a liability.
Historically, the SEC produces big, physical linemen who faced some of the nation's top defensive linemen routinely and Jones fits the bill. At 6-foot-3, 316 pounds Jones looks the part and his durability can't be questioned. He has started 49 games at center while at Georgia and at the conclusion of his senior season was named to the Georgia Team of the Decade. Of the 29 sacks Georgia's offensive line allowed in 2011, none were attributed to Jones.
"There is a lot to like when looking at Ben Jones from Georgia," Miller said. "Being in a true pro-style offense, something very few offensive linemen are exposed to these days, Jones is NFL-ready as a pass protector and run blocker. Teams hoping to find a Day One starter will find this very important when evaluating Jones' game."
Most scouts consider Jones the No. 2 center prospect in the draft behind Wisconsin's Peter Konz. Despite that status, many grade Jones as a second or third round prospect. Miller considers him in the third round category however, the drop in talent after Jones could mean he'll be selected in the second by a center-needy team. Historically, centers come from all rounds, from the first (recently Alex Mack, Nick Mangold and Eric Wood) to the seventh, like Atlanta's Todd McClure.
McClure's been a fixture in Atlanta since 1999 but his future with the franchise is up in the air due to his free agent status entering this offseason. Should the need be there, Jones is a player who can pick up the torch of longevity and leadership that McClure has provided the Falcons. Jones was named Georgia's overall team captain for the 2011 season.
Scouts rave about Jones' intelligence with making line calls and his initial quickness out of the snap. His pass blocking is described as superior to his run blocking, but his size and strength still make him capable in that discipline.
"Jones can struggle getting lateral and will need work to play in a zone scheme," Miller said. "At this point, he is a much better fit in a man blocking scheme that asks him to fire out and attack the defender. There are also concerns when viewing film about his ability to project to the second level to block linebackers in the run game."
Miller says the player currently in the NFL that closest resembles Jones is the Chargers' Nick Hardwick. He sees Jones as a fit in Atlanta because of his short-area blocking ability, but is concerned about his ability in the second level as a blocker, specifically in the screen game. Despite the concerns, Jones' progression through his college career and his smart play and dedication show a player capable of continuing to improve with coaching.
Jones had a solid Senior Bowl showing and with the NFL Combine starting this week, the center will continue to show what many believe he is: a starting center in the NFL. He plays with an edge that most NFL coaches like and his decorated career in the SEC make him a quality second- or third-round pick. Should the Falcons consider center a need as they enter this year's draft, they could do a lot worse than Jones.
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