The ‘will he, won’t he’ saga continues with Stephon Tuitt asking if he will he play in 2022 or not. Will Tyson Alualu at 35 continue to be able to play at the highest level after his season ending injury last season? As Steelers’ fans saw last season, the backups are good as backups but not good starters when it comes to run defense. That’s why the Steelers are likely to draft a defensive lineman in this draft.
Furthermore, consider this— the Steelers love building for the future through the draft. They have an aging defensive line as well. With the talent in this year’s draft, the Steelers could get a top player not only for now but for the future. While Devonte Wyatt and Jordan Davis appear to be the best options, there may still be excellent value in the second round as it is highly likely Jordan Davis will be taken before the Steelers pick at 20 and Wyatt is a wildcard based on an arrest from two years ago.
In my opinion, the best option in this year’s second round on the defensive line is Travis Jones out of the University of Connecticut. He’s 6’4 , 325 lbs, and a physical hulk of a man. Now while UConn is a smaller school, Jones turned down other options to stay home as he’s from New Haven. He was also the standout player on the UConn roster for all his three years playing for the Huskies. Consider also his performance at the Senior Bowl, both in practice and in the game, he out fought and mauled big school offensive lineman. Jones was one of the stars of the Senior Bowl.
Now I know having a draft crush may be a mistake, as when you have one they tend to end up in brown and orange or purple or black and that hideous tiger print. However, Jones is someone I have been a fan of since the beginning of this draft process. The more I watch his tape, the more effective I think he would be in black and gold.
Travis Jones’ stats show good progression throughout his time at the University of Connecticut. In his freshman year, Jones could not be ignored by the coaches as he started 10 of 12 games recording 46 total tackles, 5.5 for a loss, and 0.5 sacks. In his sophomore year there was no slump, he started 11 of 12 games and again was a standout: 40 tackles, 6 for a loss, 3.5 sacks and 4 passes defensed. It was during his sophomore year that he became much more effective at rushing the passer. In 2020, UConn didn’t play due to the Covid pandemic however in 2021, Jones was back. His 2021 stats again showed progression: 48 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. Jones was the one shining light on a pretty bad defense, not only did his play shine through but also his football intelligence.
Travis Jones has a great skillset to become a starter in the NFL in the future. He is primarily a nose tackle, who can play along the defensive line, he has a powerful rumbling playing style, which allow him to man-handle, bull rush, and throw defenders out of the way. Furthermore, his anchor and upper body power allow for excellent gap control. His gap control in the middle is excellent, which is something that would benefit the Steelers.
What makes Jones an even more attractive prospect for the Steelers is the fact that he is an excellent run defender. Given how poor the run defense was last year, someone like Jones could help improve that and eradicate the opposition’s ability to move the ball at will on the ground. Jones is a great run-plugger who helps snuff out run plays before they have time to develop.
Travis Jones draft stock continues to rise, and if he is there at pick 52 I honestly believe the Steelers should run to the podium to take him even though they didn’t have any representation at his Pro Day. Jones could be someone who is a long-term star for the Steelers defensive line and could be the start of a future generation of talent.
Whether it is Travis Jones or someone else, there is so much defensive line talent in this year’s draft I honestly believe the Steelers should take someone who could make an impact like Jordan Davis, Demarvin Leal, Devonte Wyatt, Travis Jones, Perrion Winfrey, or Phidarian Mathis. Whether or not the Steelers agree will have to wait until the conclusion of the 2022 NFL draft.