In an era of football featuring so many specialists that can only do one thing really well, it is refreshing to see the stereotypical ‘football player’ that can be lined up almost anywhere and be productive. In addition, it is also a pleasure to highlight under-appreciated players that do not get the respect they should from both draftniks and the media who are focused on athletic long term projects that do not know how to play the game yet.
Enter Datone Jones, the versatile defensive lineman from UCLA. While Jones does have some decent stats, it is hard to appreciate how good Jones is unless it is on tape or live. No statistic accurately measures just how disruptive Jones is each and every week for the Bruins defense, often opening up plays for his teammates like an offensive lineman opening up holes for a running back.
Many UCLA fans may not appreciate what they are losing in Jones until next year when is no longer there. He is just a lunch-pail type defensive linemen that comes in and does his job consistently in order to help his team win football games. For teams that value versatility and are in search of a penetrating defensive lineman, Jones should be somewhere near the top of the list as a solid first-round pick.
Datone Jones: The Vitals
Height: 6’3 7/8”
Year: Redshirt Senior
Jones has been a consistently productive career, but drew notice after his sophomore season after racking up 11 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles, but a broken foot forced him to redshirt his junior season. He came back from the injury the following year, but did not have quite the season he did statistically. Jones not only came back and had his best season as a senior, but really made a name for himself in that talented Bruin defense recording 19 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 blocked kicks, and a fumble recovery he was able to score against The University of Houston.
The stats do not tell the whole story with Jones as while he was productive for UCLA, he also created opportunities for his teammates and allowed them to fill up their stat sheets for the betterment of their team that helped fuel a turnaround under first year head coach Jim Mora Jr.
It is easy to find Jones on a football field; he is always the defensive lineman lined up as close to the line of scrimmage as possible without being called for a neutral zone infraction. Jones lines up in such a low 3 point stance that it is a surprise when you see that he is almost 6-foot-4 and possesses the frame to continue developing. His off hand is almost scraping the ground giving the impression he is in a 4 point frog stance just waiting to explode off the snap. Jones consistently shows a quick first step able to get opponents off balance quickly. When he does this, he will slant past them, go right at them and jolt them with his punch, or he will go straight at them and use a swim technique to get into the backfield.
Occasionally, Jones will be so fast off the snap, he gets into the backfield before his opponent gets out of their stance. He will also periodically flash a quality spin move he should think about using more often. He plays low, with great pad level and body lean that allows him to get an advantage with leverage. When a lineman is able to neutralize Jones, it is not necessarily because the offensive lineman is able to keep Jones in front of them. Mostly, offensive linemen are neutralizing him by pinning him in between themselves and another lineman or by pushing him outside of the play entirely because he has gotten pressure and they are making the best of a bad situation.
Whatever Jones lacks as a pass rusher for himself and his own stats, he more than makes up because of how well he can collapse the pocket opening up opportunities for teammates. Not only does this allow teammates rushing wide to get to him to make the play (something Anthony Barr did often), but it also makes it difficult for quarterbacks to step into their throws comfortable impacting the passing game’s timing and accuracy which benefits defensive backs and linebackers in coverage.
When Jones is unable to get initial penetration against the pass, he will stop rushing forward, try to sit back and watch the quarterback’s eyes and try to deflect it or slide over and cover a check down receiver coming out of the backfield. While his effort in trying to deflect passes is admirable, he needs to keep working on it as he has not been able to deflect a single pass this year. And when he does try to knock down passes, his vertical leap did not look good.
Jones also does not do very well when he attacks as a pass rusher to the outside. He is able to get out there, but he does not have the speed or quickness to run the arc when he is out there and is washed out of the play almost every single time. If he can improve and he can find the ability to do this in the NFL, he could be borderline unstoppable as that is basically the only thing that keeps him from being a dynamic pass rusher on top of everything else he can do. He can get a pretty good head of steam going, but he is not a big threat to chase down mobile quarterbacks from behind.
Potential Landing Spots
The earliest spot for Jones may end up being the New York Giants, who may use this draft to continue investing in their defensive line to carrying on what has become a proud tradition. With players like Osi Umenyiora currently a free agent, they may want to add another defensive end that would be paired with Jason Pierre-Paul in the long run, but can also allow them to continue to run their NASCAR package with Justin Tuck able to contribute at both end and tackle. Jones would give them more options on ways to options to attack the opposing quarterbacks.
The next potential fit for Jones is the Indianapolis Colts. While fans will suggest the Colts like bigger defensive ends under Chuck Pagano, Jones plays stout, could add weight if they wanted, and can give them a defensive end in their 3-4 scheme that could also contribute as a pass rusher. If there is a player available on their board that contribute as a pass rushing outside linebacker or possibly safety, they might go that direction, but Jones appears to be a possibility to land there as well.
The Atlanta Falcons have an incredibly talented offense at this point and may try to add talent to help their defense catch up to put them over the top in pushing to the Super Bowl. Jones could be a great candidate to play the left defensive end spot and perhaps contribute as a rush tackle in certain situations, but Atlanta has big holes at defensive end and Jones could not only help with that, but give them added talent that can contribute now against both the pass and the run.
If he lasts that long, the San Francisco 49ers may love what Jones would bring to them in terms of value as well as upgrading their defensive line talent. The 49ers had some issues when Justin Smith suffered an injury that did not allow him to play at 100% and the 49ers did not have a great option to come in and help. Ray McDonald is a nice cog and is a productive run player. Jones would give the 49ers depth in their base 3-4, but also give them a player they could use at defensive tackle or end when they use a four man front.
Mid-Late First: Jones projects as a solid first rounder and could go as high as in the teens, but should not escape the first round as he is such a versatile player that he should be high on a lot of team boards, but it possible that he could slip to the top of the second round.
Jones’ game is reminiscent of Justin Tuck, the Giant defensive lineman that has been able to contribute as a power end as well as a defensive tackle at times as a pass rusher. Both of these guys can contribute against the run and the pass and allow teams to use them at a few different spots in the defense, increasing their value.