GREEN BAY—The Packers drafted two defensive linemen last year, but the one they got Thursday night is a different kind of player.
UCLA’s Datone Jones is taller, longer and leaner than either Jerel Worthy or Mike Daniels, whom the Packers selected in the second and fourth rounds last year, respectively.
The Packers took Jones with the 26th pick of the first round of this year’s NFL draft, and the 6-4, 285-pound end fortifies a position viewed as the team’s biggest need, considering Ryan Pickett’s age and Worthy’s late-season knee injury last year.
For the defensive line, the Packers had their choice of North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams or Jones at 26, and General Manager Ted Thompson said some offers to trade back had been floated around.
In the end, Jones’ combination of size and speed was too good to pass up at a position in need of every-down, impact players.
“To add a little more speed to the defense we think is a good idea,” Thompson said, a reference to the challenges in defending new-age quarterbacks like San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, all of whom have made their teams top contenders in the NFC.
“When it got to be our pick, we were pretty committed. We were a little surprised the opportunity was there to still take him.”
Both Thompson and Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers spoke of Jones playing in both the base defense and sub packages. In Capers’ scheme, that means lining up to set the edge against the run in the base and moving inside to rush the passer in nickel and dime.
“Datone is a very versatile player. He played all up and down the line of scrimmage at UCLA,” Thompson said. “He really flourished in Coach (Jim) Mora’s new system out there.”
Jones’ best season was last year, when Mora took over as the Bruins’ head coach. He set all career highs with 6 ½ sacks among 19 tackles for loss in 2012.
Jones credited Mora with bringing an NFL mentality to the team.
“He was showing how we should approach the game, how we should study as pros,” Jones said. “I thought we became grown men.”
Jones took that mentality with him to the Senior Bowl in January, where he shined and his draft stock began to climb. He felt that’s when he “showed the world” the player he could be.
That big week continued a steady progression for Jones from when he arrived at UCLA in 2008 weighing less than 240 pounds. He added roughly 30 pounds by his sophomore season in 2009 but then missed all of 2010 with a broken foot he sustained early in fall camp.
Jones said he “cried for three weeks” over losing a season, but with a medical redshirt he came back to play two more years, starting all 28 games for UCLA in 2011-12.
At 285 pounds, Jones isn’t as heavy as the prototypical 3-4 end, but he has the height and is a couple of inches taller than Worthy and Daniels. Capers noted his frame can comfortably add some weight, and his college history would indicate that’s true.
By all accounts, Jones has the character and work ethic that’s hard not to like, and he simply loves the game. Invoking memories of the late Reggie White, whom he talked about watching while growing up, Jones said he only plays the game “one way.”
“The only thing he knew was to beat the guy across from him,” Jones said. “Reggie White played one way, with maniacal effort and complete hunger. No matter who he lined up against, he wanted to dominate, and that’s the type of player I want to carry myself after.”
In the current NFL, Jones has mentioned Houston’s J.J. Watt as the type of all-around impact player he believes he can be. That’s more unbridled enthusiasm than bravado, but Jones isn’t about to sell himself short, either.
“Most definitely. Why not me?” he said. “I’ll put the work in and anything is possible.”
Datone Jones is new-age defender suited for read-option