With the initial craze of free agency now behind us, it is time to look forward to the 2022 NFL Draft. The Baltimore Ravens currently have 10 picks, including the No. 14 overall pick — their highest since drafting All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley with the No. 6 overall pick in 2016.
Even though they brought back Michael Pierce on a three-year deal, the Ravens still might want to address the nose tackle position in the draft. Given Pierce has only played eight games since he left Baltimore for the Minnesota Vikings, and that veteran Justin Ellis followed Don ‘Wink’ Martindale to the New York Giants this offseason, adding an athletic prospect like Travis Jones out of the University of Connecticut makes sense.
The former Huskie isn’t the short, stocky nose tackle/one/zero-technique that the Ravens have had anchoring the middle of their defensive line in the past. He contrasts with Pierce and Brandon Williams, who remains unsigned on the free-agent market. He possesses a well-built 6-foot-4 and 325-pound frame and is just as stout against the run while offering more upside as an interior pass rusher.
On a UConn defense devoid of stars, Jones shined bright and recorded 40+ tackles and five tackles for loss in each of his three seasons. His junior season was canceled due to the pandemic but in his last two seasons, Jones recorded a combined eight sacks — including a career-high 4.5 sacks as a senior.
He got invited to the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl and demonstrated that his impressive production wasn’t a fluke. He also showed it wasn’t a reflection of the lesser talent he predominantly played against, even though he did stand out in the games against the notable competition.
One of his best career games came against Clemson, where he flashed his every-down potential.
#UConn IDL Travis Jones (DT #57):— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) February 26, 2022
Massive A gap presence that has a lot of twitch overall. This is a three-down player that has some standout reps as a pass rusher and his presence frees others on the second and third levels of the defense. pic.twitter.com/3d5pdtCYyl
He dominated the week of practice down in Mobile, Alabama and followed it up with a strong showing in the senior all-star game, as well. Jones displayed his incredible strength, power, violent hands, and leg drive as he bullied and bulldozed his way into the backfield on his way to quarterbacks and ball carriers.
UCONN DT Travis Jones has that "I can do whatever the hell I want" strength@seniorbowl pic.twitter.com/tOPF0bCNSe— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) February 4, 2022
All Senior Bowl week UConn’s Travis Jones bullied offensive linemen and he just did it again in the game. Pure power on this bull just shoving the center into the QB for a sack. pic.twitter.com/BgkQ5S2bD0— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) February 5, 2022
He doesn’t have the most explosive get-off and isn’t the most twitched-up but is a gifted athlete nonetheless. His scouting combine performance showed he will consistently be a handful for centers at the next level. Pad level and foot speed are two areas of improvement, as he sometimes got too high in his pass rush and needs to show more quickness with his footwork.
Jones has the functional strength in his upper/lower body and the anchor to execute gap control responsibilities, as well as handle double teams. He keeps his eyes in the backfield and makes good counter adjustments to cross the face of and shed blockers.
His skills make him a fit in any scheme, for any team in need of an upper-echelon run stopper that can also generate consistent pressure and collapse the pocket up the middle. The Ravens need all of the above, even with Pierce back in the fold. Pierce may not be their long-term solution at the nose tackle position and they historically like to rotate their defensive linemen to preserve their veterans for the grind of a long season.
Jones is viewed as a fringe first-round pick that could come off the board in the last four or five picks on the opening night of the draft. If he is still around when the Ravens are on the clock at No. 45 overall, or if they trade back to accumulate more picks, he’ll likely be near the top of their draft board.