Jonathan Jones, the three-star linebacker from Florida, became the key to Brain Kelly’s 2016 recruiting class. I doubt that
anyone who followed this class would’ve have said that before Signing Day. But given that Caleb Kelly committed to Oklahoma – despite the Irish pushing hard until the end – and Ben Davis signing with Alabama, Jones “saved” the class, at least on the defensive side of the ball.
Daelin Hayes, a 247sports composite four-star OLB and early enrollee, is certainly the player with higher expectations but it’s not yet clear what position he’ll end up at. So it’s Jones who will give the Irish depth at a position group that has lots of uncertainty heading into spring practice. Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith were the top two tacklers on the team. Te’Von Coney is recovering from injury. And Nyles Morgan – the only five-star linebacker on the roster – hasn’t been heard from in quite some time.
Jones, who was recruited primarily by Autry Denson, played at Oak Ridge High in Orlando. He appeared in The Opening, and is a 247sports composite .8745 rated player. For some context, Hayes is rated at .9371 and Caleb Kelly comes in at .9835.
Let’s be clear: Jones would be a developmental guy, probably heading towards a redshirt freshman season in more favorable roster scenarios. But where the linebacker group is with James Onwualu, Greer Martini, Morgan and Coney – and with Hayes’ injury history and position questions – Jones getting meaningful reps next season is a real possibility.
Jamir Jones, the other linebacker in this class, could show up in spring practice and push Jonathan Jones on the depth chart, but most analysts have Jamir as longer term prospect, and there is some talk of moving him to defensive end, which is why he factors less in this discussion at this point.
So, Jonathan Jones is the guy who fills the gap in the depth chart. At least until Brian Kelly decides to convert a running back or safety.