NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
In the coming weeks leading up to the 2014 NFL draft, NEPatriotsDraft.com will continue to profile college prospects that potentially fit the needs and draft seating of the New England Patriots. In this 12th installment, we will take a closer look at the film behind Penn State defensive tackle DaQuan Jones.
DaQuan Jones has lived through far more than double teams in his 22 years.
As Anna Orso powerfully detailed in The Daily Collegian last October, he’s lived through an impoverished childhood, which left him eating few warm meals and sleeping on couches while his family moved from one apartment to another. He’s lived through his mother’s addiction and incarceration, which granted his father full custody of him and his brothers even when long days at work didn’t make it easy. He’s lived through struggles in school and pressures from peers, which reminded him of the darker avenues he could have taken.
Those battles could have derailed him. They could have defined him. But with strong pillars supporting him and his internal strength to succeed, those battles brought out the best in him.
That was seen through athletics at Johnson City High School in southern New York, where Jones was captain of the basketball team and also part of the track and field team.
Measuring in at 6’3” and 302 pounds, he found an outlet on the football field as well.
He left his mark, setting an example as a captain and a standout on both sides of the ball. And after a junior year consisting of 70 tackles, three sacks and four fumble recoveries, the Wildcat found himself ranked as the No. 5 overall defensive tackle by Scout.com. He found himself ranked the No. 2 offensive lineman in the nation by Rivals.com. He found himself a predominant four-star recruit.
Soon after, Jones found himself with the opportunity to go to college. His talent had drawn scholarship offers from Boston College and six other Division I programs by the summer of 2009.
Penn State was one of them. And while on a camp visit to State College that June, the soon-to-be high school senior committed.
Jones enrolled in the fall of 2010 for a year he was expected to redshirt. His effort in practice warranted otherwise, as after four games on the sidelines, the then-18-year-old emerged to play in the remaining nine contests. The true freshman flashed versatility and upside when injury struck, serving as a defensive end in addition to defensive tackle while the team finished 7-6. He finished with six tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack to his name.
As 2011 rolled around, Jones rolled into primary backup duties behind future NFL draft picks Devon Still and Jordan Hill. The sophomore’s turn was around the corner – he logged snaps in all 13 contests to notch eight tackles as Penn State went 9-4 – but it wasn’t there yet.
The university was clouded in tragedy and turmoil during Jones’ sophomore year. It carried over into 2012, when head coach Bill O’Brien’s new regime inherited NCAA sanctions that sent 11 Nittany Lions transferring. Jones, however, was not one of them. The junior stayed and earned a starting spot next to Hill, recording 11 starts, 22 tackles, two tackles for loss, a half-sack, a fumble recovery and a pass deflection as Penn State rode to an 8-5 mark.
As 2013 embarked, Hill graduated and Jones assumed center stage of the defensive front. In the process, he dropped 15 pounds and was selected to Phil Steele’s third-team preseason All-Big Ten. From there, the 6’4”, 322-pound senior went on to open eyes and offensive lines. He started all 12 games to slot fifth on the team with 56 total tackles, first with 11.5 tackles for loss, third with three sacks, also tacking on a fumble recovery.
His college career ended that November, but the unsung co-captain was recognized as first-team All-Big Ten selection and Penn State’s Most Valuable Player that December.
Jones’ strong finish in a 7-5 season garnered him an invitation Senior Bowl in January, then the NFL Scouting Combine in February. And with the 2014 NFL draft reaching its height, No. 91 is projected as a second-day pick in May.
Courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com’s film library, here is an on-the-field look as to why.
Without Strong Close, A Strong-Armed Jersey Barrier Anchoring Run Lanes
Jones won’t fire off every snap. He won’t consistently chase ball-carriers in the open field. He won’t continually locate the ball with great reactiveness. He won’t make every tackle in his vicinity, either.
Yet there’s something to be said for the value he will always provide versus the run.
Whether it’s from the five-technique, the three-technique, the one-technique or the nose, Jones can adapt to the role. He’s scheme-diverse, not for his 5.35 40-yard dash speed, 4.78 short shuttle or 7.73 three-cone showcased in Indianapolis, but for his length facilitated through his 33 1/2-inch arms, and his power, exemplified far beyond his 25 bench reps of 225 pounds, 101-inch broad jump or 27.5-inch vertical.
Jones’ rugged, athletic build is ideal for 3-4 and 4-3 alignments, and it helps him win off the line even when he isn’t the first one through it. He appears far more virulent moving downhill than moving laterally, but that isn’t necessarily a deficiency.
He is adept at holding his own through one-on-ones or double teams as he bends his knees, presses into contact, drops his shoulders and locks underneath his pads.
From there, he moves his assignments far more than they move him.
With a firm anchor, Jones managed to consume space and create barriers along the Penn State front. He swayed offensive linemen into backfields, into rush lanes and into running backs. But he also flashed the impressive core strength and heavy hands to sustain his opponents at the point of attack, rip out of engagement, redirect, and pounce on the ball. And when allowed a free release, he was rapid for a man of his size.
Those features of his game will continue to command the attention of blocking schemes.
That was realized against Michigan at Beaver Stadium on Oct. 12.
With just over six minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Wolverines combatted a 2nd-and-8 with “20” personnel and a lopsided offensive line. Left guard Chris Bryant served as the interim left tackle while four offensive lineman hunkered right of the center.
The plan was a stretch run for 5’10”, 200-pound halfback Fitzgerald Toussaint to the overloaded short side of the field.
The Penn State defense planned otherwise, distributing four down linemen and a total of eight in the box. In this midst of it was Jones, who put his hands in the ground as a three-technique across from 6’5”, 297-pound right guard Kyle Kalis.
As quarterback Devin Gardner handled the snap and pivoted back to the rusher, the O-line in front of him went on its way. Bryant took the left defensive tackle, center Graham Glashow took the weak-side linebacker, while the two right-side offensive tackles took the middle linebacker and right end.
Jones wasn’t taken by the right guard, however.
With a concise jump and impactful downhill punch, it was the other way around.
And by the time Gardner served up the exchange to Toussaint, the room to dance around the edge was infringed upon.
Jones had thrust Kalis onto his heels, lifting his stance upright and dissolving whatever traction was left.
That triumph delayed the play for teammates to circle the ball-carrier as he bounced towards the flat.
As that transpired, Jones launched free by swiping around Kalis’ right shoulder.
Then, he barreled towards Toussaint with his arms clawing.
He made contact at the shoelaces as eight other Nittany Lions zeroed in.
It was a two-yard loss.
The defensive tackle forced the running back far outside to extend the play. But as the boundary drew near, there was nowhere left to go.
A 3rd-and-10 was the result.
Jones was integral to a defense that allowed a 28th-ranked 1,728 rush yards in 2013 and a 20th-ranked 3.54 yards per attempt in 2012. He displayed a penchant for suspending plays and opening voids for his Nittany Lions teammates to strike through.
He also displayed room to grow.
Jones can leave his back exposed to side or combination blocks, and he will get crushed downward or lose sight of the ball because of it. He can get get stuck with his hands down, and he that prevents him doesn’t jarring free. And lastly, he appears to have a fondness for diving at runners, as he doesn’t always trust his foot speed to get to get there in time, which consequently ends with him watching would-be tackles slip away.
But by occupying blocks and penetrating through them, Jones can also make those around him better.
Without Diversified Moves, A Power-Generating Bull-Rusher Pushing Pockets
Having accounted for 4.5 sacks over four years of college football, Jones may not paint the prototype of 4-3 under pass-rusher.
That’s a fair sentiment. That’s not the mold he’s carved in. Jones’ job wasn’t to sack the quarterback so much as it was to disrupt the quarterback. His job was to push the pocket or knife into it, via the interior or off the edge.
He was relied upon under this capacity, as he understood how set the line of scrimmage back. Even so, Jones met his match against more nimble-footed protectors who caught him off balance out of the gate. In terms of manning a lane, Jones also met some issues turning out of gaps, and that left quarterbacks taking what he gave them.
Perhaps part of that could be attributed to his weight loss. He was, in fairness, still learning to play with more stamina and less mass last fall. But regardless, at times, he would jump upright and catch blocks into his chest, consequently sacrificing pad level as quarterbacks dropped back to pass.
Plays where he landed on the turf or idled far from quarterbacks were the byproduct.
Nevertheless, Jones also gleaned signs of viable promise in those scenarios. With a forklifting bull rush, he skated blockers back into the face of quarterbacks. By attacking the shoulder and long-arming opponents, he forged or sidestepped into pockets to hurry, hit or bring down passers as well.
Jones found success employing arm-over swim and rip moves to dislodge from blocks. He showed the clubbing, violent upper-body movement to knock down punches and reaching offensive linemen, even though his alternative moves and counters were limited. He also showed the flexibility to transition between pass rush and jailbreak screens.
Above all, though, he showed an ability to generate power and blow up blocks like one of the best in the country.
This came to light against Syracuse at New Meadowlands Stadium on Aug. 31.
With under 13 minutes to play in the final quarter, the Orange offense disbursed in “11” personnel with 6’5”, 235-pound quarterback Drew Allen in shotgun. In this formation, three-receiver set was prepped to run vertical, comeback and sluggo routes on the outskirts, while the inline tight end and running back were prepped to help pass protect.
Those additional blockers would be needed versus Penn State’s 4-3 front; seven were ready to drop into coverage, but four were ready to shoot into the backfield.
Jones, crouching in the three-technique outside 6’3”, 285-pound left guard Rob Trudo, was one of the four.
Allen took the snap and stepped back to go through his reads. Jones, meanwhile, sped up the process by leaned into the left guard at an outward angle and creating a wide base for the blocker to maintain.
Trudo sought to recover by grabbing at the defensive tackle’s shoulders. But with the left tackle and center uncovered, his best hope was help.
It wouldn’t arrive.
Jones pulled himself helmet-to-helmet with Trudo. And that close proximity left the guard imbalanced as he lifted inside foot off the turf.
He pressed and discarded Trudo, lapping his right arm over his left to swivel into the A-gap.
At that mesh point, he paved into it.
Jones beat the one-on-one before 6’2”, 280-pound center Macky MacPherson could make it to the scene. And from there, he squared to the quarterback and delivered a shot.
From snap to sack, Jones expended three seconds.
It went for a nine-yard loss.
There’s reason to believe Jones can make an impact on passing downs at the next level. There’s reason to believe he can get in the way of the quarterback and inhibit them from stepping into throws.
He did so in the Big Ten. And if he can figure out how to close under control, using his length to wrap up fluidly, he could do so prevalently in the NFL.
DaQuan Jones is many things.
He’s a two-year starter. He’s a space-eater. He’s a power-rusher. He’s a nose, a shade, a three-tech and an end. He’s also what the coaches asked him to be.
A leader by example.
And for a player who’s had to persevere far beyond the football field, that momentum has carried over on it.