Breaking Down What Makes Chandler Jones NFL's Top Defensive Rookie
In fact, Jones, drafted 21st overall out of Syracuse, already ranks among the most productive pass-rushers in the entire NFL so far this season.
According to Pro Football Focus, a football analytics site that grades players on every play of every game, Jones' production through the first six weeks ranks him in the upper tier of pass rushers.
Over 210 pass-rushing snaps, Jones has five sacks, six quarterback hits and 15 hurries, good for 26 total pressure plays. He had the best game of his NFL career on Sunday in Seattle, tallying two sacks, one quarterback hit, two hurries and two stops (tackles that constitute a negative play for the offense).
In terms of 4-3 defensive ends, Jones has graded out as the fifth-best player at the position.
The only names ahead of him on the report card are Cameron Wake, Chris Clemons, John Abraham and Chris Long, each an established NFL pass-rusher. Among those below Jones are Jason Pierre-Paul, Jared Allen, Trent Cole, Jason Babin and fellow rookie Bruce Irvin.
Jones has successfully placed himself into a worthy group of names.
The candidates to challenge Jones the title of best defensive rookie have been almost nonexistent.
Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Mike Martin has the next-highest overall grade among defensive rookies, contributing 15 total pressures and 15 stops in the run game in 2012. Behind Martin are Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner, Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith and Green Bay Packers cornerback Casey Hayward.
What has made Jones so good, so early? And so far ahead of the other defensive rookies?
Star-power. Consistent star-power.
With a 6'5" frame and a rare athleticism, Jones fits the mold of this generation's elite pass-rushers. He's looked like a star since his first NFL game.
Check out this well-done film breakdown by Ian Logue of Patsfans.com of Jones' sack of Jake Locker in Week 1.
As you can see in the frames Logue provides, Jones uses an inside-out move, combined with an NFL-caliber swim move, to finish off left tackle Michael Roos and strip-sack Locker.
Roos is one of the game's best left tackles, but Jones makes him look silly here by setting up a counter-move, then executing it perfectly. It's the kind of play you don't expect from rookie pass-rushers, especially in their first-ever NFL game.
His first sack wasn't just an aberration or fluke, either. Jones has continued using counter-moves, violent hands and explosive bursts off the edge to beat opposing tackles. Five sacks in six NFL games is the kind of production New England thought it was getting when Jones was drafted in the first round this April.
Who has been the best defensive rookie in 2012?
Also, consider that Jones has spent over 85 percent of his passing-rush snaps from the right side of the defense, or facing opposing left tackles. Generally, NFL left tackles are the best suited to handle pass-rushers like Jones. He's done very well against a number of the better left tackles (Roos, Ryan Clady, Cordy Glenn, Michael Oher) this season.
The overall defensive package from Jones has been better than expected, too.
There was worry pre-draft about Jones' ability to play the run, especially at just 260 pounds. That simply hasn't been the case through six games. PFF has graded Jones positively against the run overall, with 10 stops. Only against the Buffalo Bills in Week 4 has Jones received a negative grade defending the run.
Rarely do we see such a complete package like Jones come into the NFL, especially at a position that is so highly coveted at the professional level. Remember, it took Pierre-Paul—a player Jones has been compared to frequently since entering the league—a year to get his feet under him at this level. Jones hasn't needed that buffer time.
Jones tallied three sacks and two forced fumbles in his first four NFL games, and was rewarded with the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Month award for September.
Expect the awards to keep piling in for Jones. He's head and shoulders above any of the other defensive rookies in 2012, and closing in fast on the rest of the NFL's elite pass-rushers.
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