Last Tuesday Jamir Jones became the latest undrafted free agent to win a job as an outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, following in the footsteps of Ola Adeniyi and James Harrison, among others. Like Harrison (who was waived three times by the Steelers, and once by the Baltimore Ravens), the Notre Dame product didn’t win a roster spot on his first try.
In fact, Jones—who is 6-foot-3, 255 pounds—finished his college career in 2019, only to go undrafted in the spring of 2020. He went on to sign with Houston as a free agent, but the Texans never gave him an opportunity to show what he could do.
“I didn’t get a chance to even put on a helmet,” said Jones when he met with the media earlier this week. “I was in Houston last year for about a week-and-a-half. The first whole week I was quarantined. And then I was there for like three days. We did workouts in the weight room and then they cut me.”
Escaping the 9-to-5 Grind
Fortunately for Jones, he got the opportunity to re-introduce himself to NFL brass at Notre Dame’s 2021 Pro Day, which was attended by both Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin.
“As soon as I got off the field, Mike T. and Mr. Colbert came right over and told me they were going to give me a shot. They said, ‘Could I be in Pittsburgh by Monday?’ And I said, ‘Hell, yeah,’” Jones recalled this past Wednesday.
Before then Jones had been working a series of odds jobs, including as a sales representative at Champs Sports and “content strategist” at a digital software company, also in Rochester, N.Y.
“I worked a few jobs when I was home and knew that was something I didn’t want to do,” said Jones, when he met with the media last month. It just made me go harder and push myself and not give up on my dream.”
Jones Had a Standout Preseason
Looking back on the preseason, it’s no surprise that Jones beat out 2021 sixth-round draft pick Quincy Roche and well-traveled veteran Cassius Marsh for the fourth and final OLB spot with the Steelers. His effort was outstanding, so much so that he led all NFL players with 8 total special teams tackles in the preseason (four solo). Meanwhile, he was responsible for 2.5 sacks, three tackles for loss and a league-leading nine quarterback hits.
And while he doesn’t figure to get a lot of snaps on defense this season—not with T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith and free agent acquisition Melvin Ingram in front of him—he has a golden opportunity to learn from that trio and establish himself as part of the long-term solution at the position.
If nothing else, he’s already beaten long odds. He’s one of five undrafted free agents from the 2020 class that the Steelers signed after a workout at a 2021 Pro Day. But none of the others—wide receivers Mathew Sexton and Tyler Simmons, plus linebacker Jarvis Miller and defensive lineman T.J. Carter—made the team or even the practice squad.
But it’s worth noting that Steelers coaches really like his upside potential.
“He’s just scratching the surface,” said special teams coordinator Danny Smith, per Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “His talent level and his understanding are very real and very natural, and a guy like that is easy to coach.”
And easy for fans to root for.
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