It just seems so unlikely that the Seahawks would draft Jarvis Jones if he made it to the #25 pick. Pete Carroll and other members of Seattle’s coaching staff were at USC when he was told by the school’s medical team that he should cease playing football to avoid life threatening injury. He has spinal stenosis, a condition that has cut short many promising careers. Although it’s highly unlikely a scrubbed up Carroll was the guy making that particular judgement, imagine that scenario for a moment. You’re part of an organisation that warns a player he should stop playing to avoid possible permanent and serious injury. Then when he turns pro, you offer him a contract? The ethics don’t add up there.
Having said that, someone is presumably going to give Jones the opportunity to play professional football — whether that’s as a first round pick or a seventh round pick. And that team will have to clear him to play, just like Georgia did and USC didn’t. The NFL teams will do their own tests. Their doctors will offer up their own take.
I’m not going to pretend I have any insight into the specifics of spinal stenosis, but Jones has argued that he only suffers from a mild case and it won’t be an issue. That might be wishful thinking. Yet since he started competing in the SEC, he’s not had any neck or back injuries. He’s been banged up and missed games (plus the combine), but there haven’t been any red flag moments where you start to fear that he’s putting his life at risk.
Some teams will possibly hear the word ‘stenosis’ and take his name immediately off their draft board. Others will take their chances based on the information they receive. It does seem a little crude to even use the words ‘take their chances’. We’re talking about a man who could be left with life-threatening injuries if this condition is as serious as USC suggested. And that’s why I keep coming back to whether Carroll would want to be the one to make the call. Him drafting Jarvis Jones just seems all the more risky. He’s the one who probably sat in a room with those doctors when the call was made to prevent him playing any more football for Southern Cal. If Jones did suffer a serious injury in Seattle due to the stenosis, how bad what that look?
I suppose if the Seahawks’ medical team see things differently and clear him physically, then it becomes somewhat of a moot point. After all, nobody is forcing Jones to play football. They’d be able to point to the tests and say they did their homework. Carroll would be well within his rights to explain he’s a coach not a doctor and that he was acting only on the information presented to him. You can see why things might get a little awkward though if something went wrong.
The stenosis is likely to drop Jones down the draft board, although it’s not the only reason why he probably won’t be a top-ten pick. As dynamic as he’s been in the SEC for the last two years, there’s still a lot of frustrating tape out there. You can’t help but watch the SEC Championship game against Alabama and scream, “Get off that tight end!” Get off the block and make a play. He couldn’t.
Even when he had a big impact (eg, Missouri), there are frustrating moments where he’s easily managed. I think he’s a naturally gifted football player and athlete with a nose for big plays, but he’s not necessarily the most natural edge rusher. I know that sounds strange given his sack numbers, but it’s difficult to explain. Look at the tape below and you’ll probably see what I mean.
There’s no getting away from his production in college. For the last two seasons, he’s been statistically one of the best players at any position. Only Whitney Mercilus topped him for sacks in 2011, but he led the country in 2012. That’s two solid years of pure production in the SEC. He had an astonishing 24.5 tackles for a loss in 2012, with a further 19.5 the previous year. Throw in nine forced fumbles and an interception and it’s easy to see why teams will be hoping he checks out medically.
It’s easy to rule Jones out at #25 due to the medical history involved with USC. But what about the argument that suggests it still remains a possibility?
Pete Carroll has been very open and honest when discussing the teams needs going into an off-season. In his end of season press conference in 2011, he singled out how important it was to improve the 31st ranked rushing offense. So what does he do? He goes out and drafts the left tackle from the best running team in college football — Alabama. The guy who created rushing lanes for Mark Ingram so that he could win a Heisman. James Carpenter was the teams first round pick. They then go back and add a road-grader type with their second choice in John Moffitt. The intent was very clear and with hindsight, both picks made absolute sense. Yet at the time nobody called it.
A year later and Carroll is speaking about the next batch of needs. He highlights speed among the front seven as a key focus. Then he goes out and selects the fastest defensive end in the draft — Bruce Irvin. He follows it up with one of the fastest linebackers — Bobby Wagner. Again, with hindsight if you took Carroll’s remarks literally both picks were fairly obvious. He did what he said he was going to do. By the book.
And now the focus is improving the pass rush. Carroll has spelled it out again, just like the last two years. It’s a safe bet that he’s going to draft for the defensive line to improve the pass rush. I sat down last night and looked at a long list of defensive ends and tackles. I could see a handful of likely options. But one name stood out. Carroll has been extremely literal with these hints, he’s made everything clear. He wants to improve the pass rush this off-season.
Statistically, who has been college football’s best pass rusher the last two years?
It’s Jarvis Jones.
Yet just when you think — hey — this makes perfect sense, you almost have to take a step back.
Let’s go back to 2009, when the stenosis was initially discovered. ESPN’s Jordan Conn takes us through events:
The injury occurred against Oregon on Halloween in 2009. By all accounts, it was a routine hit, but after staying on the turf for a few seconds, he was removed from the game. Within days, he found himself in the hospital, where a specialist told him he had a “mild” case of spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column. “I’ve seen this over and over again,” Jones remembers the doctor saying. “If you play the game long enough, things like this will happen.”
The doctor told Jones he would be fine and he could play again. But the Trojans’ team doctors thought the injury was much more serious and refused to clear him for contact; they eventually recommended that Jones retire from football. So the then-20-year-old spent his days wandering from class to the basketball gym to the weight room.
USC doesn’t just turn away top recruits on a whim. Could it be argued that the first doctor wasn’t speaking from a completely qualified position? That perhaps he didn’t have the full facts at the time? If you’re told everything will be fine one minute and then you need to retire the next, it’s harder to accept. You’re getting mixed message. Ultimately, USC made a difficult judgement. They were ending his dreams. You don’t take matters like that lightly. And yet I appreciate why Jones fought to continue.
Conn also spoke to Ken Norton Jr. — now linebackers coach in Seattle, but in 2009 he was the main reason Jones chose to play for the Trojans.
“A lot of guys have speed, but they’re not tough,” Norton says. “Then some guys are tough but slow. Then there are guys who have all of that but no football smarts or work ethic. Jarvis has it all. It’s not even fair.” Norton, like Jones, truly believed the Trojans had signed their next great linebacker. “It seemed like just a regular linebacker injury,” says Norton. “I don’t think any of us thought it’d be as serious as it turned out.”
The coaches were aware of the situation. Carroll and Norton left USC for Seattle a matter of weeks after the decision was made, but you have to believe they were right there — maybe even breaking the bad news to the player. For those same coaches to then offer him a pro-contract a few years later just seems unethical, doesn’t it?
Scott Schrader also spoke to Jones about his departure from USC and I’d recommend checking out his piece. There’s also an article courtesy of redandblack.com documenting his switch from inside linebacker to the WILL/outside rusher. “The switch to playing the weak outside linebacker, called ‘Will’ in the 3-4, allowed Jones to use the wide variety of skills that he possessed. Jones insisted he didn’t always view himself as a pass rusher and that he didn’t even know why he had so much success at getting to the quarterback.”
Would Jones play the WILL in Seattle? This isn’t a 3-4 scheme and the roles are different. Would he play the LEO? He doesn’t have the natural length that would make that an obvious fit.
And yet he’s been the most productive pass rusher in college football the last two years. Wouldn’t you just have to find a role for the guy if he is cleared medically? However big that if may be?
Stranger things have happened. The biggest priority will remain a defensive tackle for now, unless that matter is addressed in free agency. It’s one of only two positions on the roster (along with the WILL) where the Seahawks are scheduled to lose a starter. Yet this is a team that has taken risks. Trading for Marshawn Lynch, Charlie Whitehurst and Lendale White were risks. Drafting Bruce Irvin was seen as a risk. Drafting a 5-10 quarterback and making him the starter was a risk. Trying out Terrell Owens and Braylon Edwards was a risk. So was flirting with the idea of trading for Brandon Marshall in 2010.
This would be a completely different risk given the extremely serious consequences of it all going wrong. The question is, would this risk be too much even for the Seahawks?