"I'm excited to announce that I'm returning to Michigan State for my senior season," Jones said. "After the bowl game, I was leaning toward returning, but it was important for me to step back and do my homework in regards to the NFL Draft. The bottom line is that I greatly value the relationships that I have here with my coaches and teammates, and I'm not ready to let go of these Spartan family ties yet. My teammates and I have some unfinished business to take care of, and despite our final record of 6-7 from 2009, we're not that far away from being a championship contender. I have returned to help Michigan State compete for the Big Ten championship and a BCS bowl bid."
Greg Jones was a 1st Team All-American linebacker, an All-Big Ten selection, and probably the best Spartan defensive player since Julian Peterson. Finding himself projected lower than the first round of the 2010 NFL draft, Jones decided to come back for his senior year, citing his Spartan relationships, the lack of a first round guarantee, his want to win a BCS title, and the need to get his degree. Spartan fans were, needless to say, ecstatic.
What a foolish choice. This is a tricky article to write because all the things he mentioned are valuable (relationships, lack of contract guarantee, winning, education). So here is my thesis - Jones is taking a chance that his hype and talent, seemingly at a peak, will still be at the same level in exactly one year. I believe that's a risky move for the following reasons.
Not a first rounder this year...or next year. Jones proved, amidst the rubble that was the 2009 MSU defense, to be an incredible force. He can play ILB/OLB/DE at the college level because his superior speed, quickness, maturity, and toughness translates perfectly to those positions. This year, despite being part of one of the worst defenses in Spartan history (I only have those kind of stats back to '04, but it's not a stretch), Jones was one of the top 3 linebackers in the whole damn country. I don't remember him missing a single tackle all season and that's not even hyperbole.
How can he not be a first rounder? According to Mocking the Draft, linebacker isn't a big need this year for teams. Some of the top linebackers coming out are Rolando McClain (260 lbs), Sergio Kindle (255 lbs), Bowman (6'1, 232 lbs), Brandon Spikes (252 lbs). Each one is bigger than Jones, a 220 pounder sure to be moved to the outside. If one looks back on similar NFL drafts, no LB picked in the first round since Ernie Sims out of Florida State in 2006 has been Jones' size...And Sims was bigger than Jones.
This logically leads you to the following conclusion: Jones thinks that (another) exceptional year, along with needed weight gain and some Spartan success, will lead him to be a guaranteed first round pick. He'll be on every single preseason All-everything list, Butkus award watch, etc, and he'll get a chance to work on pass coverage, maybe the only slight weakness.
So now he's rolling the dice, thanks to MSU and Narduzzi. Greg Jones doesn't play for a Texas, Ohio State, or USC (he'd be driving a nicer car if he played for USC). His time on the national radar has been deserved, but surprising, due to the Spartans relative mediocrity in '09 and the defense's struggles. He also lacks a significant moment where people know him from, a Lavar Leap or a big-game pick 6. So again - it's amazing that he's so well-known, but these things are fleeting. What if MSU tanks in 2010? Jones' stock will plateau, at best, and the luster of another All-American season from him will be lesser. MSU was inches away from 10-3 this year, sure, but they were also inches away from 4-8. He's pinning a lot of hope on a rollercoaster program that lacks a substantial national impact.
Jones plays for a defensive coordinator at Michigan State who has shown an inability to adapt and make Jones look effective as a pass defender. Narduzzi has shown his cards and there will be plenty of opponents salivating to throw the ball around against what promises to be a 7-5, 8-4ish Spartan team. I doubt one year under the unchanging Narduzzi will push his stock any higher on draft boards.
His reasons are good, but not that good. All the talk about education, winning, and relationships being a factor? Not a lie, given Jones' honesty with the press and his generally positive attitude, but they would have been swept aside if a first round guarantee had been given. Is there something the Draft Advisory Board told him that was so cryptic that it pushed him right back to school? I doubt it. Jonesy was going to be picked in the 2nd through 4th rounds and looking at his attitude (great) and his quickness (really great, sure to impress at some of the combine quickness drills), I can't imagine him dropping below that. Rivals has him as the 2nd best Junior Inside Linebacker behind McClain. He's NFL ready.
In one of my articles written in early 2009, I advised Jones not to add weight this season because his greatest attribute was sideline-to-sideline tenacity and quickness. You can bet he won't be following that advice in the '10 offseason. GJ's return to East Lansing is built on adding weight and retaining the tremendous hype he created this year. That's going to take a lot of effort and some luck, but I wish the best for him. Considering I keep doubting him and he keeps proving me wrong, really wrong, I assume Jones is up to the challenge.
*And I didn't even mention the possibility of injury, because that's always a threat. But don't forget Jones could be sitting on the sidelines in October, out for a year with an injury and now labeled as an "injury risk", always a draft turnoff..."