NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
Leading up to the 2012 NFL draft, Syracuse’s Chandler Jones was advertised as a long, athletic, vine-armed pass-rusher suited to play in multiple defensive schemes. And since then, the 21st overall pick has lived up to his billing for the New England Patriots.
Jones’ rookie season in Foxborough, Mass., consisted of 45 tackles, six sacks and three forced fumbles in 14 regular-season games. In which, the 6’5”, 265-pounder primarily played the role of right defensive end, attacking off the edge and into the backfield. He was adept right off the bat, before seeing an ankle injury compile with the “rookie wall.”
Yet with the offseason came an opportunity for Jones to not only add weight, muscle and pass-rush moves, but a more diversified role in New England’s system. No. 95 has checked the box on all four.
He has become the most versatile chess piece in the Patriots defensive front.
At the seven-game mark in 2013, the bulked-up Jones finds himself tied for seventh in the league with 6.5 sacks and first among his position on a four-man line, having his hand eight quarterback takedowns. Already eclipsing his total from year one, Jones is on pace to tally just under 15 sacks. He hasn’t been one-dimensional, either. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones has collected 24 tackles versus the run – the highest output of any 4-3 end. The culmination of that success has kept him on the field, regardless of down or distance.
The 23-year-old has logged the most snaps of any Patriots defender this season. And versus the New York Jets in Week 7, it was easy to understand why:
Jones was everywhere.
Seven-Technique Defensive End
For 52 plays opposite the New York offensive line, Jones set up at the traditional seven-technique spot – lining up on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle.
The seven-tech is familiar territory for Jones; he hunched in a three-point stance there for nearly all of 2012. In addition, he was in this seating for much of his time with the Orangemen, as part of a stretched three-down linemen approach.
From the seven-tech, Jones’ length and explosiveness off the snap gave way to six tackles, as well as a sack and forced fumble on Jets rookie QB Geno Smith.
Nine-Technique Outside Linebacker
When Jones was drafted by New England two April’s ago, his long strides and 35.5-inch arms first branded him an “Elephant.” He possessed skillset to put his hand in the ground or stand up, given the situation, much like longtime Patriot Willie McGinest.
To this point, some semblance of that title remains.
While it may not be to the tee of its definition, Jones has spelled as a stand-up outside linebacker, particularly when defensive coordinator Matt Patricia has implemented three-man defensive lines.
And for 23 plays in the Oct. 20 contest at MetLife Stadium, Jones hovered from the nine-technique – positioning on the outside shoulder of the tight end.
On Sunday afternoon, Jones set the edge from the nine-tech and chased down ball-carriers as well, registering one tackle and one sack in the process.
Five-Technique Defensive End
While Jones projected to be a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker coming out of college, gaining weight and upper-body strength have resulted in him playing more reps at defensive end in three-man formations.
More prevalent with each passing tilt, Jones is now going head-to-head at the five-technique – two-gapping the offensive line’s bookends. And when New England faced off with the Jets, he played three snaps from this location.
In that limited volume, he did not record a tackle.
Now, he may never be a prototypical five-tech – most are in the 280-300-pound range – but Jones has proven he can handle the task. The Patriots defense has needed him to.
Three-Technique Defensive Tackle
In the absence of veteran defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, the Patriots interior has turned to rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones. An undrafted free agent and a twice-released sixth-rounder, both have outperformed expectations, combining for 46 tackles and 4.5 sacks thus far in their young careers.
With that said, the thin depth inside has left New England’s coaching staff in search of answers.
The second-year Jones has been one.
In recent games Jones has been seen playing nose tackle – a sight that requires a double-take. But when the Patriots combated its AFC East rival over the weekend, Jones stepped in at three-technique defensive tackle – shading the offensive guard in the B-gap.
From there, he notched 17 snaps.
Albeit foreign ground for Jones, he’s had his share of triumphs against counterparts approximately 40 pounds heavier. By using leverage, swim moves, bull rushes and stunts, the Endicott, N.Y., native has looked at home in the trenches.
In his latest test, he made one tackle, also creating pressure and mismatches with his speed.
Ultimately, Jones’ final statistics from New England’s 30-27 loss included eight solo tackles, three assists, strip-sack fumble. But upon reflection, the numbers accumulated over 95 snaps were not his most valuable feat.