Huge Preseason Putting Slimmed-Down Chiefs DL Chris Jones In DPOY Conversation

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystAugust 21, 2021

Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones (95) celebrates his sack against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half of an NFL football game, Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

The Kansas City Chiefs have a reputation as an offensive football team, a scoring juggernaut led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. That reputation is well-deserved.

However, they also have talent on a defense that quietly ranked inside the top half of the league in both points and yards allowed in 2020. The anchor of that sneaky-good defense is defensive lineman Chris Jones, who has amassed 32 sacks over the past three seasons and made the Pro Bowl in both 2019 and 2020.

In an effort to goose a pass rush that racked up a so-so 32 sacks as a team in 2020, the Chiefs changed things up with Jones this year. After spending the last two seasons as a 3-technique tackle in Steve Spagnuolo's four-man front, the plan was that Jones would kick outside more and get after the passer off the edge.

If the first two preseason games were any indication, that move was a stroke of genius. It could also move Jones past defensive centerpiece and Pro Bowl performer into a whole new stratosphere…

Defensive Player of the Year contender.

Tony Avelar/Associated Press

It's not an unprecedented move. Aaron Donald of the Rams is predominantly a 3-technique, but he sometimes kicks outside in base sets. There are also 3-4 ends like Cameron Heyward of the Steelers who move inside in subpackages. But in a four-man front, it's unusual to see a player move from tackle to end.

Back in June, Spagnuolo said that this idea carried with it at least some uncertainty, per ESPN's Adam Teicher:

"He is an imposing player inside. We all know that. ... Hopefully, we will gain something on the edge. When somebody changes a position, obviously the first part of it is the mental part of it. Chris is working through that. That's important when you change a position. It's just not that easy to pick up a whole new spot. There are some different things with a defensive end. He'll play out there a little bit. We'll move him back inside when we have to."

For Jones, it meant an offseason of working on new techniques. According to Teicher, he's done Pilates and yoga to increase his flexibility and dropped about 15-20 pounds of bulk.

Joshua Brisco @jbbrisco

Chris Jones says he started his offseason pilates earlier this offseason to improve his flexibility to bend around the edge. Also notes that he's 15-20 pounds lighter than usual. He's been preparing to play a significant amount of defensive end.

Jones does have some experience playing defensive end at Mississippi State. But as John Dillon reported for Chiefs Wire, Jones said there has been a learning curve with the new position:

"You can always get better at technique. I'm in a new position, so it's more of a learning phase to me now. Defensive end, I haven't played it since college, so just the whole position swap has been a learning phase to me. The play-calling is a little different for me, having to drop, having to understand the offensive formations to react off of different plays, so I'm still learning. Defensive end is a little different because you're more on an island. It's just you and the tackle, and you have so much space between you and the next guy on the field, so it's a little different, but I like it. It's not that bad."

You'd never know that Jones was getting used to a new position by watching him in the preseason.

In the Chiefs' opener, he notched a sack the old-fashioned way—by using his power and quickness up the middle to bull-rush his way past a hapless interior lineman:

DLineVids @dlinevids1

Chris Jones rushes with power & forklifts the blocker’s arm up. @StoneColdJones gets vertical & gets to the QB for the sack! #passrush #chiefskingdom https://t.co/jpNeHoFOM5

That's the Chris Jones we have seen the past couple of years.

However, it was another story in Friday's win over the Cardinals. In the first quarter, he lined up on the edge, shot past the tackle on the inside with a quick arm move and was on quarterback Kyler Murray before he knew what hit him:

Arrowhead Pride @ArrowheadPride

Defensive end Chris Jones is the mayor of Sack Nation. (via @NFL) https://t.co/phj9LG0WQd

That's new and terrifying for opponents.

If this slimmer and quicker Jones can beat tackles off the edge that easily, he's going to be an absolute terror. The Chiefs can line him up all over the formation. Game-planning against him will become that much more difficult. So will double-teaming him.

The Chiefs need Jones more than ever this year too. The signing of tackle Jarran Reed will help the middle of the line, but edge-rusher Frank Clark's future is uncertain after he was arrested twice in the offseason on weapons charges. Never mind his injured hamstring.

There is a precedent for Jones posting ridiculous numbers. In 2018, he piled up 40 total tackles and 15.5 sacks. That he didn't make the Pro Bowl that season says more about the selection process for that game than Jones.

Now we have a lighter, quicker guy who is dominating. He's a player who could be on the verge of a career season as the leader of the defense for the two-time defending AFC champions.

Let's say, just for the sake of argument, that Jones doesn't quite set a career high in sacks (16 would be a lot) but comes close. Putting up 13.5 isn't an unreasonable number. We'll also presume that the move outside will bump his tackle numbers a bit to 45 or so.

Forty-five total tackles and 13.5 sacks were the numbers that propelled Donald to his third Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2020.

This isn't to say Jones is the favorite for the award. There's still Donald, Myles Garrett, T.J. Watt and Chase Young, among others.

But the ingredients for a run at the award are all there. The talent certainly is. So is the spotlight of playing for a high-profile team. If Jones hits the regular season with the tornadic force he has shown so far in the preseason, people are going to notice.

And Jones' 65-1 odds of being named Defensive Player of the Year at DraftKings are going to drop like a stone. You know, if you're into that sort of thing.