Chris Jones burst onto the scene as a high school senior and raised his stock from basically unknown to a hot commodity on the recruiting trail and the No. 2 ranked prospect in the country in the matter of one season.
After some suspense and more drama surrounding a recruit than we've seen at Mississippi State since, well ever, Jones pledged his commitment to the Bulldogs over rival Ole Miss to the delight of all of the maroon and white nation.
Like most five-star recruits, high expectations were placed on him as soon as he set foot on campus. While he only started a few games his freshman season, three to be exact, Jones was a heavy part of the rotation along the defensive line and made the most of his opportunities.
He tallied seven tackles for loss and three sacks and lived in opponents' backfields more often than not. The biggest accomplishment for Jones was probably his 10 quarterback hurries, which seemed like a low estimate after watching him chase qb's out of the pocket week after week.
And who could forget the LSU game? That game still stands as the best of his college career, due in part to a couple of jaw dropping plays that resulted in an LSU lineman on his butt. Jones was basically unblockable that night.
It was performances like that one that vaulted him to Freshman All-American honors by three different publications.
So it was no surprise when fans raised expectations even more going into 2014, but Jones simply didn't live up to the hype. He had a grand total of 26 tackles the entire season. He had just 3.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and eight quarterback hurries. It was far from the jump that he was expected to make from freshman to sophomore, and you can even say he regressed.
Jones looked overweight and a step too slow at times, which allowed quarterbacks to easily escape the pocket. He was overshadowed by other pass rushers on the team such as Preston Smith, Ryan Brown, and AJ Jefferson, who all had more tackles for loss and quarterback hurries.
The question now becomes whether or not Jones can put the sophomore slump behind him and become the type of consistently dominant player we all think he can be.
With Preston Smith, PJ Jones, and Kaleb Eulls all gone off last years' line, Jones has to produce if MSU wants to create a lot of negative yardage plays like Manny Diaz wants to do. The depth isn't there like it has been the past couple of seasons. There is a lot of young talent among the group, but they are unproven.
Jones has to be a force in the middle and not only blow up plays in the running game but get to the quarterback and finish sacks. He simply wasn't able to do that last season.
With struggles in the secondary likely, especially early in the season at safety, MSU's defensive line has to be better at rushing the quarterback than they were in 2014. The only way for that to happen is for #96 to make plays and free up space for his fellow big guys to get in the backfield.
This will be the most pressure-packed season so far for the big guy from Houston, Mississippi. Not only will his team's success depend on a breakout year from him, but so will his draft stock.
Mullen is building a good reputation of putting two and three-star players into the NFL. It will be a huge disappointment if the first five-star to come to Mississippi State in quite some time is not a high draft pick.
Jones has the character and work ethic to make sure that disappointment never happens. He just has to find a way to stay consistent over the course of an entire season.
One thing is for sure: If Jones goes undrafted next year, it's safe to say MSU's defense probably struggled for most of the season. If he does get drafted and especially if he goes in the top two rounds, Manny Diaz's unit was likely one of the best in the SEC.
The words potential and future should never be used in the same sentence as Chris Jones again. For the former five-star and No. 2 ranked player in the country in the 2013 class, the time is now.