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Chiefs’ Chris Jones showing he belongs on the field

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So you may not know this, but I think Chris Jones was an all right pick.

The rookie defensive lineman has wowed me twice now: once when I watched his college tape after the Chiefs drafted him, and once when I reviewed his very first snaps as an NFL player. Both times, Jones displayed genuinely freakish strength and remarkable athleticism for a guy his size. Both times, I walked away stunned at Jones’ outright dominance of offensive linemen on multiple snaps.

When Jones dominated his first preseason game, I referred to that as a first step. I said that (or some form of it, who has time to look such things up?) because, as impressive as Jones was, it came with the caveat that he was performing against second and third string players. Many in the comments and the Twitterverse were quick to try and douse the flames of homer-tinged optimism with the cold water of caution. After all, this is Kansas City, where first round defensive linemen (not named Dontari Poe) come to underachieve.

And so, I felt it was important to take a look at Jones the first time he saw extended action against starting NFL talent. And the ever-generous Bob Sutton decided to reward my patience by giving Jones 14 snaps against the Bears’ first string on Saturday.

The result? Well...

It went pretty well, to put it mildly. For the record, I was wrong about the guard getting sent to the ground. He managed to (barely) keep his balance after getting chucked to the side like that scrawny dude who picks a fight with the 300-pound bouncer after his 12th shot. That said, Jones obliterated that lineman and made a positive impact on the play.

If you’ve never seen me review defensive linemen, I track wins, losses, neutral plays, pressures, runs affected, and functional double teams. The only two of those that need an explanation are runs affected and functional double teams.

Runs affected: When a defender stonewalls his opposing offensive lineman or gains penetration into the backfield to the point that it forces the runner to slow down and/or alter his direction in a noticeable way. Quite often, players who do this don’t get the tackle (and so receive no statistical recognition) but were the driving force behind a stuffed run.

Functional double team: On almost every play, some defensive player is double teamed. This isn’t necessarily a function of a player being some dominant force, but more the result of a free offensive lineman looking for something to do or a scheming offensive coordinator ordering the double. A functional double team goes beyond this, when a defender FORCES the double team to stick with him the entire play by staying active enough against it to prevent the doubling OL from leaving. By doing this, the player helps free up another defender in a way other double teamed defenders do not.

That said, here are the numbers. Before you look at them, I should remind you that in Jones’ first action (against second and third teamers), he had a 40 percent win rate, a 20 percent loss rate, four pressures, two functional double teams, and two runs affected. This was in 25 total snaps. I walked away from that absolutely wowed by his numbers (a 40% percent win rate as a defensive lineman is insane), but I contained my excitement by reminding myself that there was NO WAY Jones would post numbers that impressive against starters. Then Jones did this against the Bears in 14 snaps.

Wins 7

Losses: 2

Neutral Plays: 5

QB Pressures: 4

Runs Affected: 2

Functional Double Teams: 2

Win Percentage: 50 percent

Loss Percentage: 14.3 percent

If nothing else, I clearly lack the gift of prophecy. That said, who could have predicted that he would be BETTER against starters than he was against scrubs?

Jones was, absolutely dominant against the Bears. His very first snap he demonstrated the strength at the point of attack that separates him from the vast majority of rookies.

A lot of defensive linemen who specialize in getting pressure on the quarterback lack the leg strength and general size to hold up strong at the point of attack. That’s not an issue with Jones. He consistently makes first contact with offensive linemen with his explosive (for his size) first step, then uses his ridiculously powerful legs and arms to go wherever he feels like going. In this case, that’s where the runner is TRYING to go.

Jones doesn’t always play with the pad level you want (given that he’s 6’6, that’s hardly surprising), but he makes up for it with his incredible reach and the fact that he’s almost always initiating contact, not to mention just raw power.

Of course, everyone knows that Jones did more than stop the run against Chicago. As his four pressures indicate, he also gave Jay Cutler and company fits when they tried to pass the ball.

That’s just a classic case of “I’m stronger than you, so you’re moving backwards.” Jones has a bull rush that is just too much for the offensive lineman to handle. Cutler is forced to hurry his throw because he has no pocket left. Take a moment and imagine that kind of pocket crushing with Tamba Hali and Justin Houston rushing the edges. Now wipe the drool off your mouth.

This snap occurred immediately prior to the first gif (the push-pull move), and that demonstrates another wonderful (and, frankly, surprising) quality Jones possesses: he understands the need for variety. Any defensive lineman who tries the same thing over and over is going to eventually get stopped every time. NFL linemen are too good to get bull rushed every play no matter how strong you are (otherwise Vince Wilfork would have been a stud pass rusher).

Jones shows some variety to his game. He uses his bull rush frequently, but also has that wicked push-pull (which is a great counter when OL are expecting a bull rush) and a swim move that is devastatingly fast (also, when you’re as tall as he is it’s easy to clear your arm over the head of a lunging lineman). He even, on one of his functional double team plays, busted out a much-smoother-than-you’d-think spin move that left the guard off-balance and forced help from the center.

Jones also shows the ability to handfight in a way that surprises me, considering the narrative that he was a raw prospect.

On this snap, the power grabs your attention, but watch the way he takes the lineman’s hands out of the equation, which is part of what allows him to gain penetration so quickly (and force a hold that wasn’t called).

The fact of the matter is that despite how strong Jones is (insanely so) and how athletic he is (very, very high-end for a guy his size), the thing that bodes well for his ability to contribute to the defense immediately is how varied and nuanced (for a rookie) his game is. He’s much more developed than advertised coming out of college.

This is also demonstrated by some of the heads-up plays Jones has made this preseason. In his first NFL action, he sniffed out a screen pass and played it perfectly, hanging back and not allowing the play room to develop. On one snap Saturday, despite the fact that he was getting quick pressure on the QB, Jones recognized that he wasn’t going to get there in time for a sack and immediately got a hand in the air, smacking the ball out of the sky.

Even his mistakes show me a heady player who is more than just a bull in the china shop. In one preseason game. Jones was flagged for holding, as he snagged the RB heading through the line onto a route and held him up long enough for the ref to see it. While I don’t like penalties, I LOVE that Jones realized he had an opportunity to slow down a receiver and did what he could. As he develops more, he’ll get better at knowing when to hold (yes, that’s part of being a skilled defensive lineman) and when to lay off. But the fact that he’s already recognizing ways to help beyond hulk smash says a lot about what he’s got going on upstairs.

I entered the preseason hoping that what I saw on Jones’ college tape could transfer to the NFL level after a year or two. After his first preseason game, I felt like it was realistic that he could perhaps help the team as a rotational pass rusher.

Now, after watching him against NFL starters? I think there’s a legitimate shot that Jones ends up on the field as often as the other defensive linemen (except maybe Poe) and competes to be rookie of the year. I want him out there as much as possible. He’s been that good.

Real football is nearly upon us. I think Chris Jones is ready.