I hadn't watched a second of Chris Jones' tape when the Chiefs drafted him. I also had not read a single scouting report regarding him.
In a way, this is a good thing. It allows me to approach the player with fresh eyes. And so I set off for the wonderful world of Draft Breakdown to watch the six available games of Chris Jones in 2015. I chose not to read any scouting reports or wait to see what Twitter had to say about Jones, because I wanted to form my own opinions on the man.
I started with the LSU game, figuring it would be best to start with solid competition. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't all that excited about a defensive line pick. The CHifes definitely needed depth there and a guy who can rotate in (keeping the big boys fresh is HUGE), but I just wasn't feeling it.
It took maybe 20 snaps of the LSU game for me to change my mind.
I keep saying "this is the last one for now," then Jones destroys another play and I have to post it. pic.twitter.com/rcoExmwCjz— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) April 30, 2016
Please believe me, I could have picked from any of about a dozen plays against LSU that were as good as this one. I'm not kidding (feel free to take a look at my Twitter feed for all the GIFs that aren't gonna make the cut for this article).
Here, Jones is being blocked one-on-one by some poor soul of a RG on what appears to be some kind of quarterback keeper. I can't tell you exactly what the RG wanted to do with his block, because he never gets a chance to perform it. Jones gets a good jump at the snap, gets inside the RG's pads, and gets him moving backward. The RG tries to compensate by turning sideways to wall off Jones (thereby creating a lane for the QB to run through).
Here's where it gets holy crap. Jones just... moves the RG out of his way. Like, just, kinda tosses. him aside. The difference in strength between the two of them couldn't be more clear. It's like watching a JV player go up against varsity for the first time.
Yeah, Jones did that, like, another half dozen times that game. And every other game I watched him play.
Jones is brutally, brutally strong. I mean ridiculously strong. He is a brick wall when linemen try to move him (even double teams struggle when he's playing at his peak, which we'll get into later), and he is able to bull rush or throw / club aside linemen like rag dolls. And when a ball carrier comes near him? One arm is all it takes, virtually every time. He is just a brute (I know I keep using that word, but sometimes redundancy is necessary to really drive it home).
Chris Jones throws offensive linemen to the side like this multiple times in every single game. Every one of them. pic.twitter.com/jfuaKWYDSQ— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) April 30, 2016
One again, Jones simply manhandles the opposing offensive lineman, this time doing it to get a clear path at the quarterback. He's got a wicked push / pull move that sends linemen stumbling to the side. It's fantastic.
And as I mentioned above, that ridiculous strength is not just limited to upper body power when Jones is rushing the passer or attacking the runner. He holds up really well at the point of attack also. I could show you dozens of plays like this one...
So Chris Jones (98)... not so easy to move. pic.twitter.com/zyjRrBOsrA— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) April 29, 2016
While Jones isn't perfect against double teams at the point of attack, he seems almost impossible for individual offensive linemen to move. The only hope they ever had was Jones choosing the wrong gap to flash to. That was the only time I saw run plays near Jones have any success whatsoever. His success rate against individual blockers on running plays was ridiculously high.
Of course, being stout at the point of attack and a strong man isn't enough to make you a stud at the NFL level. There's a lot more that goes into being a pass rusher than just "me stronger than you." And if strength were all Jones brings to the table, I would still be hesitant about the pick regardless of his tendency to hurl large men through the air at high speeds.
Fortunately, strength is NOT all Jones brings to the table. He is actually a solid athlete at his size, with a good burst off the line and the ability to move quickly in the phone both (and a little outside it). Now, he's not Dontari Poe. Get that out of your head right this second. NO ONE is Dontari Poe when it comes to athleticism matched with size. But Jaye Howard? Yeah, he's got some Jaye Howard in him.
Beat the OL and make the RB pay for trying to block you. pic.twitter.com/ZtcX0I4F05— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) April 30, 2016
Here, Jones sets up like he's going to bull rush straight at the offensive linemen. He then does a fantastic job getting the OL's hands off him (that's something we will talk about as well), then uses his surprising burst to beat the poor outmatched soul inside.
Waiting on him is a running back who probably never did anything to deserve what's about to happen to him. And to that RB's credit, he hung in there. Well, kinda. You can really see in his body language the inner monologue. "Oh man, the guard got beat! I gotta protect my quarter... man, that dude's big." And then he just gets C-R-U-S-H-E-D. Let's pretend he's a really bad guy so I stop feeling bad for him, OK?
Anyway, the point is Jones has some athleticism that, when combined with his massive strength, rips the ceiling off his potential. He lined up at literally any spot you can think of along the defensive line besides wide 9. 3 tech, 5 tech, 0 tech, 1 tech, red tech, blue tech, green tech, new tech... he lined up EVERYWHERE. One snap he's right over the center, the next snap he's standing up and playing like he's an ILB (not kidding, this actually happened a few times). He rushed from the edge and from the inside. What's more, he looked good doing both. That's incredibly rare.
When you watch Jones rush the passer, he doesn't win any one way. He's able to bull rush. He's got a swim move he uses often and effectively. He's got that ridiculous push / pull that's borderline unfair, and I think his club is borderline assault with a deadly weapon. Being able to win more than one way is absolutely crucial in the NFL. If you've only got one trick, it doesn't matter how good it is; even mediocre NFL offensive linemen can generally figure out one move and compensate by "cheating" in favor of beating said move.
Talking about Jones' variety brings me to one of my favorite things about him; he has already developed an assortment of moves, and is a really effective hand fighter. Take a look at this slowed-down GIF of Jones rushing off the edge (because, you know, lots of 310-pound brutes can rush off the edge, right?).
Better handfighting angle. Watch his left hand lift the OT's right arm while right hand swats OT's other hand away. pic.twitter.com/INu5oLAwJZ— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) April 30, 2016
I slowed this down so you can focus on his hands. See how his left hand grips the tackle's right arm at the elbow, preventing a solid punch or grip by the lineman? Now look at his right hand, catching the tackle's left arm as it punches and swatting it away. He's also strong enough to rotate the tackle left, keeping a grip on the tackle's wrist / arm for just a split second to do so.
Look, fundamental football shouldn't seem like that big a deal from a guy who just got drafted to play at the highest level, but please let me be the first to tell you (if no one else has) that a lot of NFL (and a LOT of college) players don't do a good job with hand fighting. It's one of the reasons Tamba Hali is so unique. I have no idea why more defenders don't work on it, considering the damage it does to an offensive lineman if you can redirect his punch.
Jones isn't just some physical freak. I mean, he kinda is, but that's not ALL he is. He's got a solid group of pass rush moves to work with and is better at battling with his hands than most. His pad level isn't terrific, but when you're overpowering guys regardless I can see why that might lag. We've seen Jaye Howard really improve in that area, so I'm fully confident Jones can do the same. And considering Jones is already dominating linemen regardless of pad level... yikes.
Now, is Jones perfect? No. With the way I'm talking you're probably asking yourself why this monster wasn't taken in the top 10, or even top five. Well, there are a few issues.
The first is the pad level issue I spoke about a moment ago. At times, instead of firing off the line and getting low, Jones wills stay upright and try to handfight with the OL. You gotta pick your battles with that kind of thing, and at times it kept Jones from having an impact on the play. Also, though Jones shows the capability to beat offensive linemen consistently when rushing the passer, he hasn't shown the change of direction needed to finish QB's off.
The biggest issue I think teams had with Jones that resulted in his fall out of the first round? Consistency and effort. Jones would dominate games and then vanish for a while. Frankly, watching him, he was either not conditioned well enough or didn't have enough of a fire lit under him. I saw the dreaded jogging way too often when the play wasn't going his way, and you could see some halfhearted (or fatigued) effort against offensive linemen in some situations, where he seemed to just go through the motions. At times it would get him pancaked.
Again, I don't know if it was a conditioning issue or a lazy issue. But either of those will definitely spook NFL teams, who are notoriously cautious when it comes to the "c" word (consistency). That said, neither of those issues worries me with the Chiefs. He'll be surrounded by guys like Tamba, Houston, DJ, Berry, Poe, and Peters. Those guys are INTENSE, and they work like crazy. Additionally, Andy Reid, as much of a player's coach as he is, seems to be able to get guys to put in the work.
Finally, if Jones wants to get on the field he'll HAVE to be in shape and bust his tail. The Chiefs already have a very, very good starting three in Dontari Poe, Jaye Howard and Allen Bailey. Bob Sutton has shown he is OK rotating in some of the younger players. If Jones wants to see a significant number of snaps his rookie season he's going to have to genuinely play well. No free passes on that defensive line.
In short, after watching Jones play I'm thrilled with the pick. He looks like a top 15 player on tape. I couldn't be happier that the Chiefs went with more beef up front.