Despite drafting Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones last year, New England's pass rush was not on the level that the team would like it to be. Sacks don't tell the whole story, but it's worth noting that the Pats were tied for 27th in the NFL last season with only 27 sacks. In today's "Possible Patriots" series, we'll take a look at UCLA's versatile defensive end, Datone Jones.
Position: Defensive End/Tackle
Datone Jones is a versatile defensive lineman that can play on the interior or exterior of the defensive line. He's an excellent run-defender that spends a lot of time in the backfield; when playing end, he does a great job of setting the edge as well. Datone establishes good leverage at the line of scrimmage and rarely is overpowered due to his size and strength. Jones isn't a sack machine but does push the pocket back when playing inside at the 3-technique. He's explosive when the ball is snapped which gives him the upper hand on offensive lineman. It's impressive that even after putting on muscle in college, he manages to retain his speed. He still has the frame to add even more weight, which could make him more of a force.
While his versatility is a positive, it can also be viewed as a negative. He doesn't have the size to play fulltime as a 4-3 defensive tackle but he also doesn't have the speed to turn the corner as a 4-3 defensive end. As a tweener, Jones might be better suited for a 3-4 defense where he would play 5 or 7-technique defensive end fulltime. Despite Datone's strength, he sometimes struggles to get off blocks due to his lack of advanced pass rushing moves. Jones could also improve his tackling technique and he sometimes is inconsistent throughout portions of a single game so that may lead to some questions based on his conditioning.
Datone Jones exploded onto the scene his senior year at UCLA. With 62 total tackles, 5.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss, Jones stated his case to be a mid-to-late first round draft pick in the NFL draft. The first thing that pops out about Jones is his ability to play different positions on the defensive line. At UCLA he spent time playing defensive tackle at the 3-technique and defensive end at both the 5-technique and 7-technique. He showed the ability to be a disruptive player no matter where he lined up. (Make sure to take notice throughout the article for the hyperlinks, timestamps, "click here" mentions for video clip references of Datone Jones.)
When playing the 3-technique, he is able to beat an offensive guard in a number of ways using not only his brute strength, but his speed as well. Jones is able to utilize his speed to his advantage against guards. When the ball is snapped, his initial burst off the line of scrimmage typically gives him the advantage over a guard. He uses his hands and forearms well and often uses a swim move to get penetration. Examples of that that can be seen at the 1:56 mark of this clip and the 1:35 mark of this one. If he doesn't get into the backfield he tends to hold his ground and rarely gets pushed back, so it's rare that he's ever removed entirely from a play.
Coming out of the 5 or 7-technique off the edge Datone is able to utilize an effective bull rush to push back the pocket, but he lacks the advanced pass rushing moves needed to become elite getting to the quarterback. Here is a clip of Eric Fisher just manhandling Datone Jones at the Senior Bowl practices. (To be fair, Fisher dominated almost everyone that week.) Against high-level players like Fisher, it's possible that Jones won't have enough speed to get past them coming off the edge. This could be a problem for Datone in the NFL; since he lacks the quickness when turning the corner, he may have to rely solely on bull rush techniques.
When it comes to defending the run, Datone Jones is very good no matter where he lines up. He has had some consistency problems when it comes to his technique establishing leverage, but more often than not he comes out low and puts the offensive lineman on his heels. He spends a lot of time in the backfield like in the 1:18 mark of the clip above. Datone Jones is an effective, powerful tackler but he sometimes gets penetration and fails to make a tackle, like at the 2:22 mark.
From NFL Draft combine interviews, Jones has said that he wants to be the first person on the practice field and the last one to leave. He proved his work ethic by taking the most reps in the one-on-one drills during the Senior Bowl practice. It's likely that scouts had concerns of his conditioning due to his inconsistency late in some UCLA games, so Jones went out to improve on it and wants to impress scouts.
Jones is probably best suited as a defensive end in the 3-4 defense but in the right system his flexibility to switch between defensive end and defensive tackle would be valuable in a 4-3 defense.
In terms of former Patriots players, Datone Jones' ability to set the edge is very reminiscent of Richard Seymour. Jones is the type of player that might not fill up the stat sheets but will be a difference maker each and every game. He makes an impact defending the run by being disruptive in the backfield. Seymour was never really a player to pick up a lot of sacks but was invaluable to the Patriots' great Super Bowl defenses. He's also a flexible player like "Big Sey" was, with the ability to play both defensive tackle and defensive end; they both can play in the 3-4 or 4-3 as well.
If Datone Jones reaches his full potential he could become another Justin Smith. Aldon Smith gets all the glory on the San Francisco 49ers but more credit should be given to Justin. He draws double teams and creates a lot of space for other pass rushers to get to the quarterback. For UCLA, Anthony Barr was often the beneficiary of the problems Jones created. Players like Barr and Aldon Smith might get all the credit, but players like Datone Jones and Justin Smith are who do a lot of the dirty work. However, Datone Jones has a long way to go to be on the level of Justin Smith. He must
How He Fits
Datone Jones would be a perfect fit on the New England Patriots due to his flexibility. He would solidify New England's depth by giving them the ability to move players around depending on the situation.
For one, last year the Patriots tried to use a package similar to the New York Giants' "NASCAR" package. (The NASCAR package is named as such because of the amount of speed on the defensive line. Four defensive ends tend to be on the field at the same time to create pressure on the offensive line.) In this package, Jermaine Cunningham substituted inside for the defensive tackle (Kyle Love or Brandon Deaderick) in pass rushing situations.
This package wasn't a total failure for the Patriots as it did generate some pressure, but it wasn't nearly as effective as Bill Belichick would've hoped for which may be one reason New England brought in Armond Armstead.
With Datone Jones, New England could potentially go with a "NASCAR" package of Chandler Jones, Datone Jones, Tommy Kelly and Armond Armstead. That would be a lot of speed and strength for an offensive line to block.
Not only that, Datone Jones is good enough at defensive end that the Patriots could stand Rob Ninkovich up in situations when Brandon Spikes is sent to the bench. Considering the hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense the Patriots play, this would be especially valuable. Last year we even saw Chandler Jones stand up at times. Regardless of a decreased role or not for some of these players, you can never have enough depth on the defensive line. To have the ability to rotate players in and out but not lose talent on the field makes your team tough to play against, especially down the stretch of the season.
If Datone Jones is drafted, New England is getting a four-year senior with loads of experience playing in different schemes. Jones would give the Patriots another player with potential and the flexibility to play different positions based on the down and distance. Belichick loves versatility so it could come as no surprise if he is drafted by New England this Thursday night in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.