It’s difficult some times to quantify the effect injuries have on a career. Is a player a bust? Is that player just hurt a lot? Is that player not playing well because he’s playing hurt? Is that player just not good? If this player ever got healthy and was allowed to develop, will he be a good player? These questions have defined the careers of the Packers 1st round picks in 2012 and 2013, Nick Perry and Datone Jones.
Nick Perry was selected 28th overall (one selection before Pro Bowl S Harrison Smith) to be the edge defender across from Clay Matthews. Perry was an interesting selection at the time. He played defensive end in college at USC. At 6’3″ and 271 pounds Perry actually made a plea to teams at the combine to draft him to play defensive end, not to switch him to an outside linebacker. Perry was a player with an upside, but not a perfect fit.
Datone Jones was the exact opposite. Jones was a perfect fit for Dom Capers defense straight out of UCLA. Head Coach Jim Mora, Jr. ran a 3-4 system similar to the one run in Green Bay by Dom Capers. As a Senior Jones put it all together, matching his tremendous potential to real production. In his final season Jones compiled 19 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, tremendous numbers for a defensive lineman in a 3-4 scheme.
Ever player drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the first round since 2006 has been either an offensive tackle or a defender. This philosophy is easy to understand. Aaron Rodgers is good enough to make the offense Super Bowl worthy every year. Therefore there are two main goals: protect Aaron Rodgers and be good enough on defense to win a championship. This strategy has provided mixed results. For every Clay Matthews, BJ Raji and HaHa Clinton-Dix it seems like there has been a Justin Harrell, Derek Sherrod and well…Perry and Jones.
So are Nick Perry and Datone Jones bad picks or have they just been hurt? Perry has only played in 36 of a possible 52 career games. Many of those games Perry has played hurt. Datone Jones has technically fared better as far as games played, but injuries have defined his professional career as well. He played all 16 games as a rookie but was admittedly affected by an ankle injury that limited his production all year long. Jones also missed time in 2014 to the same ankle.
2015 seems to be the season that it all might be coming together. The Packers are rotating up front more than they ever have before. Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, Nick Perry and Jayrone Elliot are all taking at least 22% of the defensive snaps. It should come as no surprise that players being kept that fresh are also productive. Each of those linebackers has at least 1.5 sacks through 4 games.
Perry is a big part of that. Through 4 games Perry has 3 sacks and is setting the edge effectively against the run. With his snap count hovering around 45% Perry has been very effective. One of the biggest criticisms of Perry throughout his career has been the lack of a different move beside the bull rush.
Not only has Perry improved his repertoire, but at the same time other pass rushers for the Packers are giving offensive linemen other looks on passing downs. No pass rusher for the Packers is the same, and because of that they are all more effective.
Datone Jones’ success is more on film than in the box score at this point, but he is absolutely playing well. As a part of the Packers dime package, Jones is being used exclusively to rush the passer. While the sack numbers aren’t quite there the pressure that he is causing is undeniable when you go back and watch. His work against San Francisco and Seattle has been particularly useful. Other teams are noticing as well. Jones is being consistently double teamed.
These two players are in a very important position this season. Not only are Nick Perry and Datone Jones important and talented players for the Packers defense but both players need to secure their futures in the league, whether it’s with the Packers or not. Perry had a 5th year team option on his rookie deal that was not picked up. Jones is playing for that option this year. It will be interesting to see how much of the Packers future these two players contribute to.