Quick, name the rookie with the most sacks in the NFL. Did you guess first-round selections Ezekiel Ansah, Barkevious Mingo or Dion Jordan? Perhaps a second-day pick like Corey Lemonier? A late-round sleeper like Cornelius Ingram, perhaps?
Most would not guess that the leader—New England Patriots defensive tackle Chris Jones—wasn't drafted until the sixth round and was subsequently released by the Houston Texans. The Patriots picked up Jones off of waivers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after Week 1. Despite playing in only five games, the Bowling Green graduate has already racked up 4.5 sacks—tying him with the likes of J.J. Watt and Jared Allen.
Jones' quickness and first step allow him to get off the ball and make plays in the backfield. Here is a look at the first defensive snap for the Patriots in their 27-17 win against the Miami Dolphins in Week 8.
Jones is lined up as the nose tackle in the Patriots 3-4 defensive front. Chandler Jones and Joe Vellano are lined up as 5-technique defensive ends, while Rob Ninkovich and Jamie Collins (not pictured) are lined up as outside linebackers.
The Dolphins center and guard both miss on their duties to block Jones. The center, who was to chip Jones and move to the second level, didn't get nearly enough of him. The guard, who is trying to reach-block Jones, didn't get there in time—partly due to the center's negligence.
Jones finishes the play with authority, dropping Lamar Miller for a two-yard loss to start the game. He was able to take advantage of a small miscue by the Dolphins by using his quick first step and some closing speed.
Unfortunately, a nose tackle isn't able to rely on his quickness on an every-down basis. Nose tackles need to be able to hold the point of attack.
This used to be Vince Wilfork's job. However, with Tommy Kelly injured and Wilfork on injured reserve, the job has fallen to Jones. Here is an illustration of why today's move by the Patriots—trading a 2014 draft choice for Eagles nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, via Chris Wesseling of NFL.com—was a great move.
Jones is again lined up as the nose tackle in the base 3-4 alignment, with Jones and Vellano at defensive end. Collins and Ninkovich are manning the outside linebacker spots, with Dont'a Hightower and Brandon Spikes inside. The Dolphins are in "21" personnel.
Jones is immediately buried by the double-team from the left guard and center. With Brandon Spikes stoned by the right guard, Daniel Thomas has a lot of holes to choose from.
Thomas cuts backside to his left and finds a gaping hole. Jones, meanwhile, is watching from the turf with two Dolphins hovering over him.
Far too often in the run game, Jones has found himself being pushed three yards or more back from the line of scrimmage or, worse yet, ending up on the turf.
Jones has proven that he has a place on the field. However, the Patriots needed to find a stopgap solution for a run defense that is ranked 31st in the league.
If the Patriots can use Sopoaga and Jones in a rotation, with Jones getting the snaps in obvious passing situations, you can hide Jones' weaknesses while accentuating his upside.
When Tommy Kelly returns to health and a full rotation of run-stoppers and pass-rushers is available, the Patriots interior line could regain its status as a strength, rather than a liability.
Chris Wesseling Chris Wesseling
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