This is the fifth and final of my “Five Players That Have to be Good” for the Green Bay Packers. My fifth choice is rookie defensive lineman Datone Jones.
I understand that having the team’s 1st round pick as the fifth and final subject of this series might seem a little bit obvious. Bear with me though as Datone’s success could have more of an effect on both this season and the long term success of the Green Bay Packers than one might think. The 6’4” 285 lb. Jones not only played in a pro-style 3-4 defense at UCLA, but was a read-option disrupting monster. The Packers hope that Datone is finally the answer to the question “Who replaces Cullen Jenkins?” First I’ll address how Jones could be an impact player this season and then how his selection affects the 2014 plan and beyond.
Datone Jones has the potential to make an impact in both the base 3-4 defense that Dom Capers employs as well as the sub packages (with 2 down linemen) that Capers utilizes a league high 66.8% of the time. I was a big proponent of the Packers moving to the 3-4 defense in the mid 2000’s. It was my opinion that Cullen Jenkins, Aaron Kampman, Johnny Jolly and Corey Williams could make for a nice DE rotation and that Grady Jackson/Ryan Pickett could hold up as NTs. I thought KGB was an ideal fit for a 3-4 OLB and that Hawk and Barnett could coexist nicely inside. It turned out that I was partially right. The Packers hired Dom capers and made the switch to the 3-4 but KGB said in an interview with Packers.com recently that he wouldn’t have enjoyed playing OLB. Kampman was moved to OLB instead of bulking up and playing DE, and Corey Williams was traded.
My thought was that DE/DT tweeners (Jenkins, Williams) and strong side DEs that could play the run well (Kampman) would make good 3-4 defensive ends. I didn’t really understand the “5 technique”. You see, the elite 3-4 DEs, the real difference makers (and they are few) tend to be taller, athletic players. JJ Watt (the prototype) is 6’5” 290. Calais Campbell is 6’8” 300. Richard Seymour is 6’6” 310. What the Packers have now are 2 NT body types, a bunch of shorter nickel pass rushers, CJ Wilson (who can’t rush the passer) and Datone Jones. Jerel Worthy is 6’2”. Mike Neal is barely 6’3” and possibly being moved to OLB. Mike Daniels is 6 feet flat.
Datone Jones is 6’4” and could possibly offer the Packers the longer type of athlete that can hold up against the run and be disruptive in the base defense. Jones also had 19 tackles for loss with 6.5 sacks as a senior. That kind of “wiggle” would project him as an effective player inside during nickel pass rush situations. He could be the interior rusher on a regular basis that Clay Matthews has been needing to team with since Cullen Jenkins signed with Philadelphia. A nickel rush group of Matthews, Mike Neal, Datone Jones and a healthy Nick Perry is a pretty fearsome foursome. If all four players live up to their vast potential (DPOY, 2 1st round picks and a 2nd), the blitz happy Capers could actually start playing more 7 man coverages or 6 man coverages with a spy (read: Kaepernick and Wilson) while still getting to the QB on a regular basis.
Where I think the successful development of Datone Jones matters the most however, is in the plan for 2014 and beyond. Ryan Pickett, BJ Raji, Mike Neal, Johnny Jolly and CJ Wilson are all free agents after the 2013 campaign. The Packers just gave Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews $200.3 million (DAYUM!). They also have Randall Cobb, James Jones, and Sam Shields among others that they have to consider extensions for. If Jones can prove this season that is going to be an above average player for many years to come it gives the packers financial flexibility for the future. For example: if the Packers re-signed only Raji and Neal and let everyone else walk, they could have a 6 man DL rotation of Raji, Jones, Neal, Worthy, Mike Daniels and Josh Boyd/Jordan Miller/2014 draft pick. If Jones is good (and Worthy comes back healthy), that’s not bad. It’s also not very expensive. Having that kind of limited money tied up in the DL could allow the Packers to keep one more of their key pieces in Green and Gold down the road.
I would caution Packers fans to be patient with Datone Jones. Defensive Linemen, especially big ones, sometimes take time to develop. Watt had 2/3 of the tackles, ¼ of the sacks and ¼ of the pass deflections he had as a sophomore, as a rookie. BJ Raji’s rookie year was pretty non-descript. Mario Williams only had 4.5 sacks as a rookie. It takes these guys a little bit longer than say, ILBs or RBs to make an impact in the NFL. Datone Jones could make a big impact this year, but it’s critical to the long term success of the Packers that he becomes someone they can rely on for the long haul.
Datone Jones has to be good.