We've seen time and time again that NFL prospect evaluation is no exact science.
Two words: Tom Brady. And Arian Foster, JaMarcus Russell—you could go on for days about hits and misses.
The NFL is a business, and businesses are ultimately successful not because of ideas or products but because of people. The NFL is a "people business."
Owners, managers, coaches, the NFLPA, team executives, vice presidents, agents—all of them conduct business in ways similar yet sometimes diametrically opposed to one another.
It's a sticky, political mess.
Great organizations are run like great corporations. You see, this is the part of NFL football that actually is a science. It's business, and humans have proven themselves much better at business than they have at evaluating NFL talent. You need a good product, but you will not survive without good people.
It's human capital.
We'll talk about the product Datone Jones is, but what is just as important is the person he is.
Jones is not short on confidence and loves football—it is all he talks about. It's always "J.J. Watt this" or "Geno Atkins that"; Jones is an avid NFL fan that loves the game of football. It's like being around a kid who won't stop talking about his obsession with dinosaurs or something.
In this video clip, for example, Jones lights up when asked who his favorite football player is and proceeds to suggest everyone Google "Strahan Hall of Fame move." That's just a small example of the kinds of things that are always coming out of his mouth.
Jones is so competitive that he hung out by our broadcast booth during his teammates' interviews. He wanted to size himself up against the other players who were interacting with the media.
In short, he wanted to win every aspect of the Senior Bowl.
Where will Datone Jones be taken in the 2013 NFL draft?
When his teammates in Mobile universally went from one media obligation to the next in sweatpants and workout gear, Jones wore a suit.
Jones does not have a Twitter account and does not sit around fiddling with a smart phone while waiting for "handlers" to tell him where to go next during these all-star events. He introduces himself to people and begins talking to them about football. He says he's thought about getting on Twitter, "but it seems like a distraction."
And good for him, seriously.
Businesses need people like Jones, and football teams need players like him, as well.
Jones was one of the most impressive physical specimens at Senior Bowl weigh-ins and a player many noted as a bit of a "weigh-in warrior." He just looked the part. The first thing you noticed was how ripped he was at 283 pounds. Like Star Lotulelei, he has broad shoulders that give his trunk a "V shape," but his shoulders slope downward. Evaluators look at this is because along the defensive line, you have to evaluate surface area.
An offensive lineman will look for any flash of space that crosses him or jets to his outside to latch onto and drive. The first thing any defensive lineman learns outside of a proper stance is to attack half a man, get positioned for your penetration move and then "get skinny" through your gap assignment. "Broad shoulders" are thought of as indicators of athletic prowess, but "broad" isn't always good through the shoulders of defensive linemen.
As long as we are talking strict physiology, let's take an extreme case in Dwight Howard to illustrate the point.
Howard has massive shoulders that seems to "dip" a bit through the lats, then protrude out at the rotator cuffs into bulbous areas of muscle. This type of physique in shoulder pads is no good along the defensive line because the musculature in the upward- and outward-sloping shoulders "box up" the player, creating more surface area through that base.
Datone Jones presents a package through his shoulder pads that is anchored by this powerful base yet does not expose the full surface area to opponents.
Jones will be a weapon in the 4-3 as a defensive end or tackle. It's easy to love how disruptive he is while lining up inside on passing downs and he likes playing from the 3-technique. As he says here, it is from the 3-tech where he can best expose guards.
Jones can line up anywhere and may even be best suited as a 3-4 DE. He's improving his hand moves greatly with MMA and yoga training and will be violent crossing a tackle's face. He always talks about catching people off guard with club-rips and exposing their feet as weaknesses. Jones told us at the Senior Bowl that Eric Fisher "was good, but he can be beat."
"He's my key to the first round."
Sure enough, Jones was the only player at the Senior Bowl to give consistent trouble to LT Eric Fisher, who saw his stock soar while manhandling other DE prospects.
If Datone Jones isn't currently on your 2013 NFL draft radar, he should be.