NEPD Editor: Doug Kyed
I shot out a tweet today asking for any questions because today is normally my mailbag day. Since the offseason can be a little slow, I’ll be dedicating this column for the next few weeks to one great question.
I was outspoken before the draft on Chandler Jones, and I haven’t yet given my full synopsis of where I think he fits in New England.
When the Patriots traded up to draft former Syracuse DE Chandler Jones, I was neither surprised nor overly excited.
There were reports all around that the Pats had interest, and when he started falling into the 20s, it was apparent when New England traded up, that Jones would be the pick.
From what I saw on tape, I don’t think that he’s a perfect fit for the defense. Yet.
Despite glowing combine workout numbers, his change of direction not only didn’t flash on tape, it looked like a weakness. He was rarely asked to stand up, either in pass coverage or in rushing the passer, and when he was playing in space, he played with his pad level far too high and looked awkward at times running.
But Jones was also struggling with a knee injury all last season, which obviously could have affected his mobility. His stellar workout numbers, especially in the 3 cone tell me that the knee injury could have been affecting him more than we could have thought.
With the concerns I have regarding Jones, I don’t see him starting early in his NFL career. If the Patriots played a straight 4-3, rather than a hybrid 3-4/4-3, he could likely start at DE, but the Patriots have an interesting alignment.
The essentially play a 3-man front with two 5-techs and a 1-tech, last year it was Love/Wilfork at 1-tech, and Wilfork, Shaun Ellis and Brandon Deaderick at 5-tech. Then they have a 7-tech/OLB next to Wilfork on the weak side. Last year that position was played by Andre Carter/Mark Anderson once Carter went down/in sub packages.
With Carter unsigned and injured and Anderson gone to Buffalo, I expect the Patriots to employ a rotation at that “elephant” position this season. Jones could eventually fill that role, but he’s not experienced enough yet in dropping back into coverage or rushing standing up. His strengths are his length, his natural strength, his run defense and his interior rush. I think that Jones will likely play in four man front sub packages on the strong side and in the base defense when that 7-tech/elephant will have his hand on the ground.
Jones could either morph into a great elephant, but if the Patriots don’t see that upside, he could also pack weight onto his frame and become a dominant 5-tech filling that Shaun Ellis/Brandon Deaderick role from last season. Jones weighed in at 266 at the combine this season and has a frame that looks like it could easily add weight. Ellis played that 5-tech/7-tech position at just 290 last season, so Jones really needs to add just 25 pounds to have a legitimate shot at playing strong side DE/5-tech.
Obviously it’s not reasonable to expect Jones to add that much weight in one off-season, and I’m not saying that’s definitely going to be his career path, but like many players that the Patriots bring in, Jones has versatility and if he’s not showing enough growth as an elephant this season, he could transition into a stellar interior rusher.
Jones wasn’t my favorite player the Patriots brought in during the draft, but he could very well wind up being the best player the Pats drafted. Overall, they really improved their defense bringing in Jones, Dont’a Hightower, Alfonzo Dennard, Tavon Wilson and Jake Bequette.