X

Packers Defensive End Datone Jones: A Potential Star in the Making

Justis Mosqueda@justisfootballFeatured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2014

Green Bay Packers defensive end Datone Jones (95) takes a break before an NFL preseason football game against the Oakland Raiders Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Mike Roemer/Associated Press

Coming out of UCLA, Datone Jones was a solid, but not greatly regarded, prospect heading into the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. With hundreds of sets of eyes watching his every move for a week, his perception vaulted up draft boards. Here's what Bleacher Report's Sigmund Bloom had to say at the time.

Jones be a jack-of-all-trades for his NFL team. He can play end on run downs and move inside to generate pressure against guards and centers on passing down. Jones' best fit is probably in a 3-4 with his length and strength, but multiple front teams will also love his skill set and experience.

Too big to play base defensive end in a 4-3 but too small to play tackle, the Bruin was best situated in a penetrating 3-4 scheme like he played in college. First, though, he needed to prove to everyone that he was worthy of a selection.

As time passed in Mobile, Jones flashed his talent more and more. SB Nation's Behind the Steel Curtain noted that by the end of the week, he was known as the one guy who could beat Eric Fisher—whose stock was parlayed into the first overall pick after the week—and projected Jones to be at least a top-50 pick.

Top 50 was out of the question after his performance. The question became when in the first round he was going to come off the board. Sitting at pick No. 26, the Green Bay Packers took the Compton High School graduate to play in the penetrating 3-4 scheme that was tabbed as his best fit.

There was some concern about his early progress, though. At just a hair under 6'4" and coming in at 283 pounds at the combine, there were questions about what he could do on the field during his first two years in the NFL. While an NFL weight room is a big jump from a college lifting program, there's only so much one could do with a rookie. Jumping from 12 or 13 games to 16 games in 17 weeks means a rookie's weight to kick off the season will likely come off, as his body isn't adjusted to playing at a professional level.

Down the stretch, that's what seemed to happen to the defensive end. Easing into a contributor role, Jones only had one tackle in Green Bay's first seven games of 2013. After having two multiple-tackle games in Week 9 and Week 10, he finished the season with only one more multiple-tackle game.

The bright side of his rookie season was that despite only racking up 10 total tackles over 16 games, he had 3.5 sacks. His game wasn't impressively present, but it was defined. Even if he was too light to contribute as a starter early, he would still create interior pressure as penetrator.

In 2014, his game has improved; already, he has 11 tackles through three games. After flipping to a 4-3 defense to start the season, where he was a square peg to the round hole of defensive coordinator Dom Capers' new scheme, the squad went back to their 3-4 roots in their Week 3 matchup against the Detroit Lions.

His rising play wasn't unprojected in the preseason, either. Chris Wesseling of NFL.com projected that he and fellow defensive end Mike Daniels would step up in the preseason. Here's what Wesseling had to say about Jones in June.

I sat in the front row at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine when an unprompted Packers coach Mike McCarthy raved about Jones as a "very talented young man" ready to make a "huge jump" in his second season. Described as "nearly unblockable" early in training camp, the first-round draft pick ended up playing just 24.2 percent of the defensive snaps due to a high-ankle sprain sustained on the first snap of the preseason.

McCarthy emphasized, however, that Jones was ticketed for a major role prior to the nagging injury. At 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds, he carries his pads well with model size for a 3-4 defensive end. NFL Films guru Greg Cosell even compared Jones to a scaled-down version of Richard Seymour entering the 2013 NFL Draft.

Now he gets to learn the tricks of the trade from Julius Peppers, one of the NFL's premier defensive ends of the past decade. Cosell expressed the belief that Jones will develop into a better pass rusher in the NFL than he was at UCLA.

Mike Daniels has since fulfilled his projection, nearly taking over the line of scrimmage against the New York Jets in Week 2In that same match, Jones began to flash against the New York offensive line but never put it all together.

@jvstatus Here's Datone on a near-sack. Not sure how he didn't finish. pic.twitter.com/rXGy3zwZfZ

— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) September 16, 2014 

Against the Lions on Sunday, he was able to make a pronounced impact on the Detroit passing game.

2nd Quarter, 13:36

NFL Rewind

Jones was still being used mostly as a third-down pressure-creator against the Lions despite starting the game. Mostly playing the nickel or dime, Green Bay tends to want to keep a bigger defensive lineman out on the field with star Daniels in non-third-down situations. Here, in a third-down situation, Jones was lined up over the right guard Larry Warford, the first pick of the third round in 2013 who also was Pro Football Focus' Rookie of the Year last season.

He ended the season as our fourth ranked guard overall, second only to All-Pro Louis Vasquez at right guard and was one of only two starters with over 1,000 snaps not to surrender a single sack. In total, Warford surrendered just fifteen total pressures all season, fewer than one per game, and was third overall among guards in Pass Blocking Efficiency with a score of 98.3.

NFL Rewind

Winning the snap with quickness off the jump, Jones converted his speed into power as the guard attempted to anchor the pocket. While trying to solidify his base, Jones saw the opportunity to slip past the sophomore in pass protection by spilling over his momentum toward the outside shoulder of the former Kentucky Wildcat.

NFL Rewind

He was able to successfully finish the move, closing in on quarterback Matthew Stafford, who had a decision to make. Either he could throw an ill-advised pass late and off-balance, or he could take the sack. On third down, there was really no choice. While Jones couldn't get to Stafford for the sack, he absolutely caused the pressure that forced Stafford to throw off-balance.

NFL Rewind

About 50 yards from where Stafford threw the pass, Davon House, a cornerback who comes in during nickel situations, makes an interception that was intended for All-Universe wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Jones has no official statistics registered on this play, but he had the most significant impact on the rep. In the film room, he gets a huge positive score for the pressure.

2nd Quarter, 11:49

NFL Rewind

Again on third down, Green Bay came out with a similar look here. Jones had his hand in the dirt with another defensive lineman in an attempt to end Detroit's drive in its tracks. He also lined up over Warford on this play.

NFL Rewind

Winning at the snap of the ball, Jones converted speed into power again efficiently. Trying to anchor, Warford didn't get slipped past but was flipped backwards by the pure momentum that the Packer had generated on the play.

NFL Rewind

After throwing the second-year Lion to the ground, Jones was face-to-face with Stafford again, looking for the finish.

NFL Rewind

Panicked, but with a quick trigger, Stafford released the ball in the direction of Johnson, who was open running a crossing route. Stafford didn't get off the hook easily, however, as he took a shot from Jones while in the process of making the pass.

Final Thoughts

While Jones is still green, he's at least shown flashes of massive potential to get to the passer. Outside of his extended length, there's not too much of a difference between his and Daniels' early years in Green Bay. If the team should combine the two of them during their peaks, they could form a unit that could be built around on a defense that is looking for someone to step up.

In regard to undersized defensive linemen, you really need to give them until their third NFL season. The first season is a taste. The second season is when they have a full offseason to build on their bodies instead of working out for combine drills. Their third is when they have that experience under their belt.

Some don't need that third season. Coming out of Iowa, Daniels was an undersized interior pressure creator. After his second season, he was listed as the fourth overall 3-4 defensive end in the Bleacher Report NFL 1000. At this point, back in the 3-4 scheme, the Packers might be ready to add another defensive end on the list if Jones continues to cause disruptions and makes the jump to finishing plays.

The question then becomes whether he's there in 2014 or if he'll make the jump in 2015.

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.