Ever since 2012, when the New England Patriots made him their first round pick, Chandler Jones has been a staple on the defensive line. All of the defensive line, to be exact. His versatility might be his biggest asset. Few others players can have success at 5 different positions along the defensive line. Jones did so anywhere from Wide 9 to 3-technique. The problem, though, is that the Patriots playing him in such a wide range of positions compromised his skill-set.
Bill Belichick is undoubtedly the best head coach in the NFL, maybe the best of all time, and I have no doubt that playing Jones the way he did was the best thing for the team, but it wasn’t the best thing for Jones. Jones’ versatility is one of his greatest assets and also one of his biggest weaknesses. Had he been used almost exclusively on the edge Jones might be more than a mediocre pass rusher and good run defender. However, at this point, that seems like all he is.
Chandler Jones has an alignment chart unlike pretty much every other EDGE rusher in the league. Just like most, he spent the huge majority of his time on the right side of the defensive line. Even when he lined up at 3-technique, he was on the right side of the line far more often than not. He spent 77.3% if his snaps on the right side, 16.5% on the interior, and only 6% on the left. Only taking 16.5% of his snaps on the interior may not seem like much, but he played an even higher percentage of his snaps out of his best position. Ideally you want a player like Jones to spend pretty much all of his time at 7-technique, while he also can be pretty effective at 5-tech or even as a Wide 9. The Patriots, though, had Jones align inside on over 20% of his snaps.
Jones is one of the very few EDGE rushers in the league who creates pressure more than he “wins”. It’s an odd result, but also a very good one because it means he is making the most of his successes. His high Sack Rate of 47.4% also corroborates that. Rather than just beating his man without really having an effect on the play, Jones negatively impacts the play for the offense on the majority of the plays where he defeats his blocker. The biggest reason I can think for why Jones is so much better at this than the majority of NFL EDGE rushers is because of his huge stride. It’s simple math. The more ground you can cover with each stride and fewer strides it takes you to reach the quarterback, the less time he has to get the ball out of his hand or avoid the rush. Stride length is a big thing for EDGE rushers, and really any position, that often gets overlooked. Fellow PM writer Garrett went into the topic further.
Jones may be better than average at making an impact when he has success, but his success rates are not as rosy as they appear. If you add together his Pressure and Win Rates they are below average and contra to that his Loss Rate of 70.4% is above average. Even if you isolate his pass rush attempts on the edge, his numbers are still only right around the average. Keep in mind that pretty much all of the players charted are high level pass rushers so Jones is still a well above average EDGE rushers in the context of the NFL. However, you would much rather have a consistent impact pass rusher rather than the high impact, high variance numbers than come from Jones.
Playing his snaps in such a wide variety of positions no doubt impacted his ability to find a rhythm from any one spot along the defensive line. However, these numbers paint a picture of a high variance pass rusher, who obviously has plus run defense ability, rather than a top tier rusher.
The frequency of how Jones creates creates his pressures and wins may make him seem like a player with a limited repertoire of pass rush moves, but I don’t think he is anything of the sort. Sure, 61.8% of his pressures coming from a speed rush or bull rush means he relied very heavily on those attacks to have success, but he by no means needed to. His speed and bull rushes are just that good that he can turn to them so frequently and still have success with them. Jones’ long strides make it very hard for any offensive tackle’s kick slide to keep up with him around the corner and his long arms, low playing level, and ability to generate explosive power from his legs come together form his strong bull rush.
Jones also has strong and technically sound hands, which is what gives him rip and swim moves that he can win with if need be. He has his fair share of successes that come from coverage and being left unblocked, like any player, but the 14.7% of his pressures and wins that come from those two areas combined is still well below the average.
It is yet to be known how Jones’ new coaching staff will choose to use him. The Cardinals run their base defense out of a 3-4 alignment and Ourlads currently has him listed as a 3-4 DE. If true, that could hamper the impact Jones has. Playing as a 3-4 outside linebacker could be the perfect situation for him to succeed. It will maximize his ability as a pass rusher and magnify the impact he has as a run defender.
It is rare for a player to make a big jump at the age of 26 like Jones has the opportunity to do this season. If he needed development as a player that would be a different story, but Jones simply needs to have extended exposure to playing a true EDGE position. That could turn him from a terrific run defender and spotty pass rusher into a player who can dominate in both areas. If the Cardinals’ coaching staff uses him correctly as a full time outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense, Jones could join the ranks of the elite in 2016.
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