Datone Jones is the one and only returner from last season’s list. The Packers’ 2013 1st round pick flashed his huge potential during camp and then suffered an ankle injury that, according to the coaching staff, limited his productivity all season long. I’m actually in favor of a “redshirt” year for defensive linemen, pass rushers and wide receivers so Jones’ lack of production doesn’t concern me. The local and national media does not agree.
I don’t think that Datone Jones is being labeled a “bust” yet, but I do think that he is being thrown in with Derek Sherrod and Nick Perry as one of the recent ineffective 1st round picks by Ted Thompson. Like both of those players, so far the case can be made that injuries and not lack of talent is the reason for Datone’s struggles. I happen to believe that both his injury and the adjustment that young defensive linemen are required to make are to blame. I illustrated in this piece the big jumps that interior defensive linemen JJ Watt and BJ Raji made in their second seasons.
All of the reasons that I gave here about why Datone’s success is closely tied to the Packers’ success still apply and I have a new one as well. As I predicted before last season the Packers were going to lose a big part of their defensive line. CJ Wilson, Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett are all indeed gone. BJ Raji has stayed and moved to nose tackle, but Jones has to be a good player so that that cupboard is not bare. His ability to play the run and pass next to Raji will be key, especially against the run. The Packers wide-bodied front of Raji Pickett and Jolly was not an elite run stopping unit by any stretch, and if slimming down to Jones and Daniels at the ends constitutes a big drop the defense might really struggle.
Where Jones was drafted to make his biggest impact and where he fits in the “disruption” part of the defense. His ability to penetrate to both disrupt the run game and more importantly rush the passer. His size and versatility could also allow for the Packers to continue playing “multiple” defenses if that really is something that happens on a regular basis this season. He needs to be able to make an impact, not just because of his draft position, but because of what he could mean to the defense if he is a successful player.
If Jones and Mike Daniels continue to progress, the defensive end position in this defense can be taken care of for a long time. If BJ Raji can earn himself a new deal this season (unlikely) the Packers could develop some continuity on the defensive line. If Jones is effective enough to require a double team, the Packers defensive front will be basically unblockable. Mike Daniels, Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers are all players that have required a double team in the past. It could only really be argued that Peppers is the only one that may have regressed (I don’t think so) to the point where he may only draw a single blocker. If offenses are going to single block all 4 of those players they are going to give up sacks. If they are going to keep more players in to block the back 7 will have to cover fewer players. Datone Jones needs to be part of the future of the football team.
Too many times has Ted Thompson selected a player in the first round that hasn’t made a big impact on the team. That has been mitigated by Thompson’s very impressive string of success in round 2 but I don’t believe that Jones is a bust. I believe that Jones is a very talented player that came in to the league at a position that’s difficult to make a splash at and moreover suffered an ankle injury. Datone Jones has to be good.