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2021 NFL Draft Prospect Interview: Naquan Jones, DT, Michigan State

Could Jones fill out the Colts’ DT group?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Pinstripe Bowl - Michigan State v Wake Forest Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A fan-favorite series is coming back to the site as it is officially prospect interview season. For anybody new to the site or for people who need a reminder, every draft season I sit down with prospects that are going to be in the upcoming NFL Draft to talk with them about their off-field accomplishments and some film aspects on the field. While I don’t always talk to star players, I have been able to talk to a few players who eventually ended up with the Colts such as Khari Willis, Marvell Tell III, and Rock Ya-Sin.

Our next prospect interview is with Michigan State defensive tackle Naquan Jones. We had a great conversation about his ability as an interior player, him dropping weight this offseason, and his potential to improve as a pass rusher.

Height: 6’3”

Weight: 313 pounds

40 Time (Pro Day): 5.44 seconds

Vertical Jump: 25 inches

Bench Reps: 20

Class: Senior

Jones was a four star recruit out of Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Illinois. After redshirting as a Freshman, Jones stepped up as a key contributor in 2017, playing 250 snaps on the Spartans’ defensive line. Over his four year career, he became a mainstay on the Spartans’ defensive line and was one of the better run stuffers in the Big Ten. He finished his career with 77 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss, 3 pass deflections, and 2 sacks.

After his impressive college career, Jones was invited to participate in the Hula Bowl in Hawaii this offseason.

ZH: I’ve interviewed quite a few Michigan State players over the years, and I feel like I always come away impressed. How big of an emphasis did Michigan State put on you all becoming more than just football players and being all around people in that program?

NJ: Honestly, when you come into college, you are a little immature. I want to speak for myself with that, I came into college immature. They implement maturity everyday in even the little things like “being early is to be on time.” Just so many things are instilled in you to get to where you want to be as a person and as a player. The things they teach just help you develop into a leader because you get so used to doing the right thing all the time.

ZH: You were able to go down to the Hula Bowl this year, which is a cool All Star game because you get to go to Hawaii. What was that experience like for you?

NJ: It was an amazing experience. There were a couple days where I would just sit on my balcony and look outside and... It was just unbelievable. Just unbelievable where the game of football has taken me. I’ve been to so many different states and areas, just because of the game of football. It was unreal. That week, it was a cool experience from the meetings and practicing with all those guys. I went out there with the mentality that it was a business trip— meeting with NFL teams, learning a new defense, getting it done for the coaches. I ultimately went out their to win a game and I did that and was able to enjoy myself in the process.

Size and Movement Ability

ZH: I believe I saw that you were listed at 340 pounds. Is that the weight you played at during your time at Michigan State?

NJ: Yeah, around that weight.

ZH: I’m always curious about this and love asking defensive tackles this question. In a game predicated on speed and quickness, how do you train to keep that weight and strength while also working on speed and quickness?

NJ: So, right now, I actually weighed in at 315. I set a goal for myself during this process to get down to 315, and I thought that would help me be a way better player and work on my quickness and lateral movement. It is just better on the body. I feel a lot better and it has really improved my conditioning and my stamina. It was definitely (laughs) by choice that I was 340. I was kind of doing my own thing and wasn’t eating as healthy as I should have. It wasn’t a plan for me to be at 340 but I got down to 315 and I am taking things serious about what I put into my body. I’m doing extra conditioning as well and I think it is very noticeable in how I’m running and moving.

Playing the 1-Tech Role

ZH: You played a lot of 1-Tech/0-Tech at Michigan State. That is one of those very unflattering roles where you aren’t necessarily the play-maker on a defense. What kind of mindset do you have to have to play in a role like that?

NJ: Coach Tressel did a great job of telling us to do our “1/11.” That stuck with me because you have to be able to trust the guys around you. If you go out there and try to make every play, it messes up the whole team. You have 11 guys out there and football is the ultimate team sport. Plays are going to come to you, you don’t have to go try and make every play because that causes holes in your defense. Obviously, you want to make plays and get sacks but winning is the most important thing to me. I’m a competitor that wants to win. I understand that I’m not going to make every play but if I can hold a gap and take on a double team, I feel like I’m helping the team.

ZH: What is the key for you to take on a double team and be successful on that play?

NJ: You always want to attack one person. It is always easier to split and cause separation if you attack one guy. You don’t want to attack two people. That’s like 600-700 pounds you have to go through which is just not a smart way to attack it. If you can strike one person and put them on two different levels, you will have a lot of success because it makes it harder for the other blocker to actually maintain that position. The most important part is getting that knock back and causing separation between the two guys.

ZH: That interior defensive tackle role seems to take forever in the NFL to break out, as guys don’t peak until their late 20’s or early 30’s. What is something that is underrated about playing the interior that may lead to that delayed breakout?

NJ: If you are in that position, you have to be stellar in the run but nowadays, that has to transition over to pass situations. I think that is why it takes guys so long that come out of that 0 and 1 Tech. A lot of guys get labeled as a two down guy and then they have to be subbed out on third downs because they can’t get to the quarterback. I feel like if you establish that mindset of being a pass rusher early, then you can play all three downs easy and breakout earlier in your career.

Pass Rush Ability

ZH: You showed off some of your pass rushing ability at the Hula Bowl this offseason. Is that something that you are trying to show teams that you can do at the next level?

NJ: Absolutely that. I don’t want to just be a run stopper or a two down guy. Everybody that I have trained with has told me that the NFL is looking for pass rushers. They are looking for guys who can get to the quarterback and a guy who can make plays in the backfield. That is why I got down to 315, I want to excel at rushing the passer. I think I do a great job at holding up at the point of attack and playing the run, but I need to develop a bit more as a pass rusher. Losing weight helps me show off more athleticism and quickness and that I have the potential to rush the passer.

ZH: Do you feel like with dropping weight that you can do more one gapping now in the NFL?

NJ: Yes, I think so. It makes it easier but it all depends on the scheme. I feel like during college, I did a great job of playing the 1-Tech and 3-Tech. The 3-Tech is going to get most of the one on ones and he is going to be the guy being the pass rusher. If I get put into a situation like that, I just want to be in the best possible shape to do that.

NFL Outlook

ZH: What is my NFL team getting if they draft Naquan Jones?

NJ: If a team drafts me, they are going to get a hardworking guy. A guy that loves football, a guy that is very competitive, a guy who is going to make people around him better. Even off the field, a good guy who is high character and you won’t have any issues off the field. A guy who is going to take things seriously. He values winning and it’s going to be easy to coach him because he loves football and loves to win. I feel like he’s going to be a great addition to a locker room and a team. A guy who really values people too. I lost my mom and I never experienced something like that. That is something that is going to be with me for the rest of my life and I really cherish people that are close to me. A locker room is very different. Those are people you spend time with every day and build that bond. You are getting a guy that you can call your brother and is accountable on and off the field.

Final Thoughts

Jones is an underrated and impressive defensive tackle in this class. Run defending is becoming a lost art in this league and players like him go a long way in making a defense viable against the run. I also love that he dropped down as much as he did because it is similar to the weight loss that Grover Stewart had prior to his breakout season in 2020.

Jones would be a solid late round addition to the Colts’ defensive line unit, as he could be another run defender added to the mix. He fits the culture of the team and would be great in an already stellar defensive tackle rotation.