Lost amidst the uproar and ire over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ decision to place a pair of rookie draft selections on waivers is the fact that the team managed to upgrade their offensive line depth on the practice squad, releasing Reese Dismukes in order to make room for Barrett Jones.
Jones was a fourth-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2013 who was in competition this summer for the starting job at center. He spent his first two seasons on the Rams’ 53-man roster.
Jones, listed at 6’4” and 308 pounds, was an accomplished collegiate lineman, completing All-American seasons at guard, tackle, and center. He won national championships at each position at Alabama, and was recognized once at the best lineman in the country, and, as a senior, as the best center.
One half of the concern over Jones stems from his injury history, which has limited him throughout his career. He redshirted his freshman season in college due to a shoulder injury, and he also had two high ankle sprains in separate seasons. He missed the NFL Draft Combine in 2013 due to a Lisfranc injury and multiple ligament tears that he suffered during his third national championship run.
That injury forced Jones to miss the majority of his rookie offseason, beginning training camp on the PUP List and only being activated at the end of July. Last year during training camp, he underwent back surgery, and there was concern that he may miss the entire season. He was ultimately ready to play after the first six weeks of the season, and was active for seven games.
Clearly, a big component of Jones having any kind of meaningful playing career in the NFL will be his ability to simply stay on the field, which was an issue for his first two seasons, although he appears to be healthy now. But in spite of the fact that he had excellent position flexibility in college, the narrative is that that has not translated at this level.
Similar in that sense to the Steelers’ former fifth-round draft pick in 2014, Wesley Johnson, Jones was able to play tackle, guard, and center in college, but he is undersized in weight to play guard, and shorter than ideal to play tackle. Both players seem to have narrowed down their ideal professional position to center.
According to Nick Wagoner of ESPN, one of the reasons that Jones failed to stay on the Rams’ roster is because the team felt that he lacked flexibility due to his size and strength. But if you look at the Steelers’ roster, you see two interior linemen who are much better centers than they are guards, and one who isn’t particularly good at either position, with the latter referring to Chris Hubbard.
While the Steelers had the option of claiming Jones off waivers—31 teams elected not to do so, which does raise questions—the team is now not bound by his rookie contract. If Jones shows himself to be a capable interior lineman, particularly if he is able to work reasonably well at guard, it is possible that he displaces Hubbard on the roster in time. In the meantime, however, he has improved the team’s overall depth by inducing the omission of Dismukes.