Some say that the Kansas City Chiefs got a steal in last year’s NFL draft when defensive lineman Chris Jones was still on the board when KC was on the clock in the second round at pick No. 37, a pick that was acquired in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers.
Entering his second year with the Chiefs, Jones will be a huge centerpiece for the defensive line, and the Chiefs should have loads of confidence in the Mississippi State product after an impressive rookie season. The league’s on notice, too. Pro Football Focus ranked Jones as the league’s highest-rated rookie interior defender in 2016.
Led by the Chiefs' Chris Jones, these are your top rookie interior defenders of 2016. pic.twitter.com/Vin1xDLARD— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 18, 2017
In his first year in the NFL, Jones played in all 16 regular season games and started 11 times as well. Perhaps one of Jones’ more impressive statistic was his four pass deflections, which were more than Joey Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Muhammed Wilkerson and Olivier Vernon (all top-10 linemen, according to this preseason ranking).
Here’s the thing, though: it seems like Jones wasn’t supposed to be available when the Chiefs drafted him in the second round. Here are a few tidbits from Pro Football Focus writers (who do a great deal of respectable work and analysis) on Jones.
Before the draft:
Why we should all pay more attention to DT prospect Chris Jones (Prior to 2016 NFL draft)
I can’t figure out why Mississippi State defensive tackle Chris Jones isn’t getting more love during this draft season. ... Truthfully, I don’t know. But I do know that no interior player had a higher rushing grade against Power-5 competition. ... Jones’ 12.1 pass rushing productivity was easily the highest in the class.
And after the Chiefs drafted Jones:
Rookie DE Chris Jones looking like a second-round steal (August 2016)
Chris Jones was one of the highest-graded interior defenders in the nation last season, and was No. 12 on PFF’s final draft board, but slid all the way to Kansas City in the second round at pick No. 37. ... He displayed the strength and quickness combination that made multiple PFF analysts fall in love with him as a prospect, and looks like a true impact player for the Chiefs already.
10 non-first-round rookies who can make a big impact (August 2016)
How Jones lasted all the way until the second round, I still have no idea. The Chiefs aren’t complaining, though, after Jones put up the highest grade of any interior defender this preseason.
Top 10 NFL rookies entering NFL Week 14 (December 2016)
In PFF’s now 11 seasons of charting and grading, no interior defensive lineman for the Chiefs has come close to the production as a pass-rusher that Chris Jones has already shown as a rookie.
It’s evident that Jones not only has the potential, but is expected, to make a huge impact for the 2017 Chiefs and beyond. He’s proven this through his collegiate and rookie season.
In late-May, Jones talked about the kind of shape he’s getting in for this season. “I feel better,” he said. “I think I’m in better shape now. Going through the phase of trying to prepare for the draft wears you down. I feel better than ever—like I’m 18 again.”
Jones didn’t appear too bothered, at least in terms of scheme, by the departure of Dontari Poe, either. “If you look at it, nothing really changes,” Jones said. “I did that a lot in my first year, so I expect to do similar things this year. It gives us more versatility.”
Although Jones has been highly touted to this point, things could get tougher for No. 95 in his sophomore campaign in the NFL. There will be more film on him and as offensive linemen, especially in the AFC West, see him more they could adapt to his techniques and skill.
The defensive line for the Chiefs in 2017 is shaping up to be a tough one for opposing offenses to battle with. Jones and Bennie Logan should anchor the interior of the line, while rookie Tanoh Kpassagnon and Allen Bailey expect to make an impact on the edge, too. Throw in a healthy Justin Houston and Dee Ford from the outside linebacker position, and the Chiefs will be a force to reckon with on defense.
Speaking of Logan, it appears the newcomer is already impressed by what he’s seen from Jones. “I always tell him (Jones) every day, ‘You really don’t understand how scary you can be,’” Logan said last week. “Chris—being a young guy and everything—he has a chance to be something special. ... He’s a guy that can really establish himself as a dominant defensive lineman.”
It won’t be an easy task by any means, but Jones will have to build on his rookie season to solidify the defensive front-seven for 2017. With him and Logan filling the interior, this group will be determined to remain a perennial defense in not just the conference, but the entire league.