Ted Thompson is one of the best general managers in the NFL when it comes to drafting.
He knows the value of prospects and has a good idea of what kind of players fit his team. At the end of this year's first round, he selected Datone Jones, an athletic defensive lineman out of UCLA.
This was another great fit for the Green Bay Packers.
The selection of Jones was approved by defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who raved about the lineman's versatility following the draft (via Milwaukee Journal Sentinel):
As we watched Datone, you could see him do a lot of the things that we ask our defensive linemen to do. We feel he brings versatility from the standpoint that he has very good length. He has the ability to play either outside at defensive end and obviously we play an awful lot of sub packages today in defending the offenses that we have to defend. So, he can move inside and play inside.
Jones' versatility stands out to those who watched his games this past season. He was an integral part of UCLA's defensive front, a mixture of three and four linemen that were moved around like chess pieces.
When he wasn't lined up at five-technique defensive end, he was in at the three-technique. If he wasn't at the three-technique, he was at the zero-technique. And if he wasn't at the zero-technique, then he was just about at any other technique.
What's fascinating about his versatility is that he was very effective at all three positions he played. He didn't get bounced around like a pinball when he was at nose tackle nor was he useless on the edge.
Instead, he made an impact plays in all areas.
His impact is a result of a variety of skills he has, namely athleticism, burst and hand usage. The hand usage partly comes from his quality length, another trait Capers brings up in the same press conference mentioned earlier.
It’s important. If you’re drawing up a defensive end, you’d like to have a guy with his kind of height and length. It was one of the things that was appealing to us...I think he has a big frame. He’s a very lean guy when you see him.
Jones is 6'4" and has nearly 33" arms, though he seems to play longer than his arm length indicates. He showed that against Stanford, a powerful and dominant offensive line that he beat multiple times.
Prior to the play, he lined up at the four-technique across the right tackle in the team's "okie" front.
At the snap, he shot down the line of scrimmage and watched the running back take the hand off. It was a stretch play to the left by Stanford. Their offensive line crashed down in unison in order to find a cutback lane for the running back, who was expected to stretch the play left and then cut right.
Jones, however, wouldn't let that happen.
When Jones moved down the line, he kept his lower body square and his hands inside the blocker's chest plate. The former shaped a strong base at his feet while the latter allowed him to gain the leverage advantage.
The leverage advantage proved vital because it enabled him to extend his arms, disengage from the blocker and continue moving forward. As he pursued, the running back second-guessed his decision to cutback, shuffling his feet from right to left and eventually into the arms of Jones.
It wasn't just his run defense that impressed this past season; it was also his pass-rush ability.
Jones is a smooth rusher, slyly moving past blockers with low pad level, suddenness and burst. An example of that came a few plays later in the same game against Stanford.
He was lined up at left defensive end in a three-man front, only this time a pure 3-4 front from UCLA. His job was to stunt inside to the A-gap and flush the quarterback out of the pocket.
Once the play began, he set up his stunt by rushing directly at the right guard and then side-stepping to his right. There he compacted his frame by bending his knees and sinking his left shoulder under the blocker's pads. This was once again a move to gain the leverage advantage.
He then penetrated into the backfield and forced the quarterback to climb the pocket. This caused the quarterback to throw the ball in a hurry, which landed short of the first-down marker.
Jones has the potential to become a consistent run and pass defender for the Packers, provided he's used correctly.
Capers hinted that he could use the first-round selection at defensive end and then slide him inside to defensive tackle in sub-packages. That's not a bad idea considering Jones can play the strong-side five-technique alignment very well because of his length and strength (29 reps of 225 pounds). Those traits could make him an effective closed (tight end side) end.
And when lined up inside, he'll be matched up as a three-technique across from slow guards that may not be able to deal with his combination of burst and pad level.
If Jones develops his game and is used like Capers has implied, he will be another home run for Ted Thompson in the draft.