Watching DaQuan Jones, I wondered, is he more than just a big guy on the defensive line? If he was, how would I tell? Scouting college players is all about projection of player traits to the next level. I’m comfortable with uncertainty in this process; that’s what my post on Bishop Sankey a couple days ago was all about. With Sankey, though, I had my ideas of what I was seeing, and could reasonably specify what issues separated Sankey the fifth-round runner I thought I saw from Sankey the second-round prospect the Titans saw. In my review of Jones, though, it occurred to me that I couldn’t tell you with any detail or confidence why I thought he was a second-round pick or why I thought he was a fifth-round pick.
What I can tell is what I saw, and read, and heard. My post when the Titans drafted him was brief, for the simple reason that I had hardly noticed his presence-he wasn’t a reported visitor, wasn’t so highly rated I watched him for general knowledge, hadn’t caught my eye for any other reason, and played on a Penn State football team I hadn’t found interesting enough to watch enough to develop an opinion on any of their defensive linemen. Thus, an initial impression of he’s big (nearly 6’4, 322 pounds). After reviewing those five games, that was a pretty good initial impression. Jones’ defining NFL trait seems likely to be his size.
Of course, even among defensive linemen there are gradients of size and bigness. Jones is not “just” a big body to stick in the middle of the line-John Jenkins of Georgia, who went to the Saints in the third round in 2013, or ex-Vol Daniel McCullers, who went to the Steelers in the sixth round this year, are of a different stripe. Jones is more conventionally (by NFL standards) big and correspondingly more mobile. His game, though, struck me as a pretty direct one. He uses that bulk and strength to stand his ground and go forward. It’s a game that worked well at times (Syracuse’s guards will be glad they won’t see him again), less well at others (quiet performance against Ohio State).
The first question is, how much more is he than that? His high school coach, Bill Spalik, in a radio interview noted he had good lateral speed for a player of his size. That showed up at some times, but on the whole I didn’t think he was more than just a line of scrimmage player. As Spalik noted, he’s not going to run many plays down from the backside, or even necessarily in the backfield as he’s shooting a backside gap. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton praised the Titans defense he inherited for having big guys that run; that’s definitely an aspect of Jones’ games that will have to be more energetic in the NFL, as he wasn’t an aggressive downfield pursuit player in the games I watched (to be fair, (a) neither was J.J. Watt in 2012 and (b) given Horton’s apparent rotational philosophy, Jones won’t be playing as many snaps and won’t have to conserve energy that way). He has a couple pass rush moves, but not many of them, and didn’t seem like a hard player to prepare for technically (this is true of almost all college defensive linemen).
What else? One thing that I’m sure attracted the Titans is he has experience lining up all over the place. He played a lot of 3-tech his senior season, but also spent time at 1-tech, as well as at 5-tech in PSU’s 3-man units. As a reminder, that’s experience at the three alignments of a Ray Horton defensive line. He’s overcome some familial adversity that seems to deeply motivate him (common for NFL players, and a subject significantly larger than my blogging here, let alone just this post). A lot of the scouting reports I read had him as a likely Day 2 pick, and Spalik indicated there was some expectation he’d go on Day 2; I didn’t come up with a great explanation for why, aside from (a) he’s primarily a run-stopper, not a pass-rusher, and (b) week to week consistency may not have been great. I wondered while watching him if he might be a AAAA player like Karl Klug, but that was not a concern others had.
In terms of his on-the-field impact, my thought while watching him was the natural comparison would be to Antonio Johnson and that his experience playing every line spot would make him a useful reserve who plays a modest amount at each spot-maybe Ahtyba Rubin last year (whom I noted played both DE and NT), but playing more like 25% of the snaps than Rubin’s team-leading 54%. I still need to spend more time thinking about just how Horton might rotate his DL, though, but that seems like it might be a decent approximation.