I was wrong about Chandler Jones. I try not to be over reactionary about these types of things, because doing so will usually make you look stupid. But in watching countless tapes and meticulously analyzing Chandler Jones, I’m already looking dumb, so why not? Honestly, I could have easily done this after Week 1. Chandler Jones is already standing out. Chandler Jones is already an impact player, just 2 games into his career, which is more than I ever expected from him.
Did I call Chandler Jones undraftable, or anything like that? No. What did I say about him? I recall saying something to the effect of, “Chandler Jones is a 4th round talent, and that’s mostly based on his long arms and natural power.” I thought his upside was Ray Edwards. (In his Vikings days, remember, I didn’t say Jones was undraftable.) A nice complementary pass rusher who would put up 6-8 sacks a year, and as he learned how to use his length and size, a good run defender. Here’s the thing though. He’s already an advanced pass rusher and a plus run defender.
Let’s start with some of the things I initially saw in Chandler Jones. When you think of a pass rusher that’s “long and strong”, Jones fits the profile. His wingspan and arm length stood out far before either was recorded at the combine. I felt he had some natural power to his play. He had violent hands, and could use his arm length to “stack and shed” in the run game, as well as use his length and power to deliver a jolt before he slipped the block as a pass rusher. However, none of this “natural power” was anything I was seeing on a consistent basis. It flashed. I also saw plenty of times were he was flat out engulfed, or he found himself being blocked to the ground by a chipping running back. A couple of things that really stood out in a negative way to me were his lack of initial burst and his pad level. While a lack of an initial burst is self-explanatory, what’s the deal with the pad level? This issue is something that will often serve to negate Jones’ two biggest strengths, his length and power. The old adage goes, “the low man wins” and Jones rarely was the low man. While his natural skills worked against Syracuse’s competition, in no way did I think they’d work in the NFL.
So what happened? Did he suddenly change his stance and develop incredible explosiveness off the line? No? He must have learned a Dwight Freeney spin move, right? Wrong again. Honestly, I don’t think Chandler Jones is a much different guy than what he was at Syracuse. He’s winning with long arms, active hands, and power. What he is doing, is activating these tools on a more consistent basis due to improved pad level (thus better leverage) and a couple of other slight adjustments. As I said, Jones hasn’t changed drastically. He still lacks tremendous burst off the line, and still comes off the snap pretty high.
Quite frankly, it’s unlikely with his long limbs and lack of great speed that he’s ever going to have an incredible get off. However, there are two separate things (one in the run game, one in the pass game) that he’s doing however to combat this, both of which serve to consistently activate those tools I was talking about earlier. First, let’s look at the run game. The following 3 pictures are from different plays, in order to illustrate my point about consistency. In the run game, the biggest thing that Jones is doing is sinking his hips. In the same way you’d teach a linebacker, he’s dropping his hips, sticking his backside out, and extending his arms into the chest plate of the blocker. This not only makes him stout (natural power AND proper position), but it allows him to use his length to make plays off his body.
As a pass rusher, I said he didn’t develop a Dwight Freeney esque spin move. This is true, but he did advance a little “move” in his arsenal to help him. A stutter step. With this move, he’s actively been throwing off the balance of his opposing blockers. So while he might not always be in an ideal leverage situation based on pad level, with better balance than his opponent, Jones is able to extend his arms, and completely overwhelm the blocker with his strength.
So while Chandler Jones is winning battles and making plays much in the same way he did in college, with a few slight improvements, he’s managed to become more consistent and optimize his talents. Chandler Jones will most likely always be similar to the guy I scouted, but he’s already figured out how to exemplify all the positives I saw, while mitigating the negatives. This is just 2 short games into his NFL career. Length and strength is a scary combination. If I were to bet on NFL football this weekend, I expect, and look forward to seeing Jones use these exploits to continue to make me and my evaluation look dumb.