Next offseason, the New England Patriots might acquire a run-stuffing defensive tackle to plug the porous run defense. As for an interior pass-rusher, the Patriots finally have one.
Initially discarded by the Houston Texans, New England signed rookie Chris Jones off waivers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with an eye toward development. But injuries to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly led to opportunities for Jones, and the Bowling Green product is making the most of it.
In just nine games (seven starts) Jones is tied for second on the team in sacks with five. It’s the highest sack total from the defensive tackle position since Mike Wright had 5.5 in 2010.
That’s a while to go without a consistent push up the middle. Since 2011, the Patriots have tried to fill Wright’s void. They got creative by using DE Jermaine Cunningham inside in passing situations. DTs Myron Pryor and Brandon Deaderick were tried. New England even stooped low enough to trade for Albert Haynesworth.
In the end, New England found the solution by sifting through the waiver wire, the NFL equivalent to shopping at Savers.
Jones was drafted 198th overall (sixth round) by the Texans but couldn’t make Houston’s defensive line rotation headlined by J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith. Jones was waived following training camp.
Meanwhile, the Patriots already signed Armond Armstead from the Canadian Football League, and Tommy Kelly, a nine-year veteran with the Oakland Raiders, was New England’s big-name free-agent signing. But the Patriots took a chance on Jones, and it paid off quickly.
In Jones’ second pro game, he had 1.5 sacks against the Cincinnati Bengals. In his second career start, Jones sacked New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith twice. A week later, the Miami Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill was victimized 1.5 times.
While many wondered where Jones came from, his pass-rush ability isn’t a surprise to those who knew about him. In four years at Bowling Green, Jones amassed 28 sacks, 8.5 as a junior and a whopping 12.5 as a senior.
But such eye-popping numbers might had been viewed with skepticism by NFL scouts. Despite dominating for the past two seasons, it was against Mid-Atlantic Conference competition.
Scouts believed in Jones’ less-than-ideal measurables and results at the NFL combine over the numbers produced from an overachiever with a nonstop motor. Once again, the science of scouting was proven fallible.
With time winding down and the Patriots holding on to a three-point lead, the Texans offense faced 4th-and-12. Quarterback Case Keenum dropped back to pass and quickly was under pressure. Jones was first to apply heat, but Keenum sidestepped him.
Soon afterward, DEs Rob Ninkovich and Andre Carter were draped all over Keenum. Keenum’s last ditch heave was swatted by Jones, who never gave up on the play. Jones didn’t add to his sack total, but he helped beat the team that he wasn’t good enough to play for.
The Patriots are thankful to Houston for Jones. Now New England should ask the Texans if they have anyone else they don’t need.
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