May 1—During the 2020 season when many college football players decided to stay on the sideline and opt out, Patrick Jones II opted in.
And the result surfaced Friday night when Jones, one of Pitt’s two consensus All-American defensive ends last season, was chosen in the third round (No. 90 overall) by the Minnesota Vikings.
Jones’ selection extends Pitt’s streak of having at least one player drafted to eight years. He will be reunited with former Pitt offensive tackle Brian O’Neill, who was the Vikings’ second-round choice in 2018.
Jones is the first Pitt defensive linemen to be drafted since Aaron Donald in 2014, and the first defensive end since Jabaal Sheard in 2011. The Vikings used the last of their four third-round selections to draft Jones.
“(Vikings coach Mike) Zimmer will like this guy because of how hard he plays,” ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick said Friday night. “He can do it all. He’s not the greatest athlete, but he’s a good football player and will play a lot of football for you.”
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said Jones fits his team’s “athletic profile.”
“When you see his length, his lean, long frame coming off the edge, we know as a scouting staff what (coaches) look for in those type of defensive ends.”
At 6-foot-4, 261 pounds, Jones is built similarly to Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl outside linebacker and sack artist T.J. Watt. Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi used Jones as a standup linebacker in the Florida State game, but he said Jones and teammate Rashad Weaver are pass-rush specialists.
“People would be crazy to drop either one of those guys (in pass coverage) very often because they have to go hit the guy who’s the most important player on the football team (the quarterback),” Narduzzi said.
Before forming a bookend duo with Weaver, also named consensus All-American, Jones graduated early from Grassfield (Va.) High School — where he was only a two-star prospect — and enrolled at Pitt as a 17-year-old in 2016.
He played in 48 games (24 starts) in four seasons, recording a total of 33 1/2 TFLs and 22 sacks. He was dominant last season against Boston College and Louisville, sacking the quarterbacks three times in each game. Overall, he led the ACC with nine sacks in 11 games.
Pitt defensive line coach Charlie Partridge is a big believer in Jones’ potential.
“I really think he’s getting better every week,” Patridge said early in the 2020 season. “I still think there’s room for him to grow. There are things we’re working on every day from a technique standpoint. I still think his ceiling is higher.
“I love how coachable he is, how he really strains to get better.”
Jones ran a 4.8-second 40 at Pitt’s Pro Day last month after tweeking his hamstring 30 yards into the dash.
“I wasn’t able to finish through full speed,” he said afterwards. “That wasn’t my best time at all. I’m way faster than that.”
Weaver was not among the first 105 players drafted Thursday and Friday over three rounds, but he had some fun with the situation on Twitter.
Weaver and safety Damar Hamlin (Central Catholic) are expected to be selected Saturday when the draft resumes and runs through the seventh round. Hamlin was mentioned among ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper’s best available players entering the fourth round.
Other Pitt draft hopefuls are defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman, safety Paris Ford (Steel Valley), center Jimmy Morrissey, guard Bryce Hargrove, cornerback Jason Pinnock and wide receiver D.J. Turner.
Twyman, a preseason All-American, opted out before the start of the season, and Ford, one of the ACC’s top safeties, left the team after the seventh game.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .