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LSU breakout candidates: What can linebacker Mike Jones Jr. be this year?

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Recently, we took a look at Garrett Dellinger and John Emery, two guys who LSU could be counting on to breakout.

Today, we’ll take a look at linebacker Mike Jones Jr., who could also be critical to the Tigers’ efforts in 2022.

Jones transferred to LSU in the summer of 2021, and it seemed like a perfect match. LSU needed help after a dreadful 2020 on defense that saw some of its worst play at safety and linebacker in years. Jones was seen as a guy that could aid the team in both places.

In 2020 at Clemson, he was named to the All-ACC list by Pro Football Focus. As a redshirt freshman in 2020, he saw action in all 15 games, including special teams snaps against LSU in the national championship game.

When Jones only played one snap in the opener against UCLA, many were surprised. The next three games presented more snaps for Jones, but against Auburn, he was back down to just two snaps. A couple of weeks later against Florida, just one again.

It wasn’t until after the bye week, against Alabama, that Jones saw more time. That bye week is also the period in which LSU almost entirely reinvented its defense, resulting in it looking like one of the best units in the country down the stretch.

In that Alabama game, Jones lined up all over the place, much like people thought he would when he first joined LSU. Playing a role in its new blitz packages, Jones recorded three pressures and a sack.

Jones saw a healthy amount of playing time the next week against Arkansas, where LSU held the Razorbacks to just one touchdown all night. Against ULM the next week, Jones added three more pressures.

While he never became a dominant or All-SEC player with LSU in 2021, he found a role, starting the final five games, something that wasn’t close to guaranteed when he was riding the bench against UCLA.

Jones is a former four-star recruit and was ranked as the 210th best player in 2018 on the 247Sports Composite. He’s talented and versatile, a combination defensive coordinators love to see.

With the loss of Damone Clark, a linebacker whose speed allowed him to have an effect in the passing game, LSU needs Jones to step up. The opportunity is there with a new staff and some open spots on that defense.

In a conference where speed is the name of the game, and a sport where defense is more about making plays than trying to play consistently from drive to drive, someone with Jones’ ability is invaluable.

Will he be one of the best defenders in the SEC? Probably not, but it is on the high end of probabilities. Can he be a real difference-maker for LSU? Yes, and the Tigers probably need him to be.

List

Pre-camp look at the LSU Tigers defensive depth chart projection

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