With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
#16: Datone Jones, DL, UCLA
We continue this year's series with UCLA defensive lineman Datone Jones, who's gone through a lot of personal and team turmoil before he could come out the other side as a real on-field success. He came out of Compton High as a four-star recruit, and impressed in two starts at a true freshman in 2008. He expanded his reputation with a four-sack season in 2009 in which he also put up 11.0 tackles for loss, but his career momentum was put on hold when he missed the entire 2010 season with a fractured foot. 2011 was a confusing season for the Bruins -- the last under Rick Neuheisel -- but Jones started to get things back on track.
However, it wasn't until Jim Mora was hired and Jones was let loose in the right scheme that he really became a national name. In 2012, playing everywhere from standup and to one-tech shade, he amassed 45 solo tackles, 19 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks, while confirming his status as one of the most potentially versatile defensive draft prospects in his class. An outstanding week at the Senior Bowl added to the juice.
"I felt like it showed the world who Datone Jones was," he said of his Senior Bowl experience. "I’ve always known it. My coaches back home have known it. Everybody I played with has known it. I feel like I just showed the public, going against some of the best talent across the country, I felt like I showed everybody who I really was. What type of guy am I? Am I going to work hard in practice? When times get hard, am I going to shy away from reps? Nah, that’s not who Datone Jones is. I’m a guy who’s always going to a front-runner. I’m a guy who wants to be the best. That’s the one thing I wanted to show everyone at the Senior Bowl."
That's exactly what he did. Jones' week in Mobile, and his impressive follow-up at the scouting combine, had people looking even harder at his tape. The versatility they will find, and how that attribute is valued, will vary from team to team. But in a pure football vacuum, Datone Jones has put together an encouraging resume.
Pros: Brings outstanding force to his efforts when moving past blockers and getting into the pocket -- gets his hands inside his opponent, pushes forward with a violent strike, and has an impressive array of hand moves to get through. More a penetrator than a wrestler -- he's always looking to hit the next level. Uses consistent rip move to propel himself past the blockers. Adapts very well to slide protection -- keeps his feet moving and avoids getting plowed with active hands. Works with tremendous leverage when he stays low and beats his man off the snap -- presents a speed/power combo that makes it very difficult for blockers to recover. Played predominantly as a three-tech tackle, but showed enough explosion and edge speed when playing five-tech in three-man fronts to realistically project him there at the NFL level. Brings decent push to the line even with his hand off the ground. Understanding of angles allows him to get skinny through gaps. Has enough foot speed to bring pass pressure outside in stunts.
Has impressive speed for his size, especially in space -- will catch up to slower running backs and receivers in the open field. Does a credible job at end in a 4-man front -- gets upfield against tackles, has an interesting spin move, and closes very well in the pocket. Not a sack collector, but will put up good and consistent pressure at his positions. Gives outstanding second effort all over the field -- from his bull-rush late in plays, to his hustle to plays away from his area. Looked very strong in the Senior Bowl week against top-level competition.
Cons: At 283 pounds, Jones doesn't have the consistent drive power you see in the best three-tech tackles -- he comes up just short in some double-team situations where he can be physically overwhelmed. Will be blocked out from side to side and doesn't always have the kind of recovery burst needed to make plays out of that. Could be seen by some teams as a "tweener" with no singular defined NFL-level position. Leverage is sometimes an issue.
Conclusion: If you're running personnel for an NFL team in need of players at fully defined positions they'll play, say, 90 percent of the time, you may overlook Jones. And you may well regret it many times down the road as Jones affects your offense in ways you'd rather he didn't. For teams who are either setting or following the trend that demands more versatility out of their defensive linemen -- not just the ability to move around fronts, but to do so with impact potential -- he'll be a very interesting option. Because he has the legitimate ability to play as a penetrating defensive tackle and run-stopping defensive end, and potential to play as an end in certain 3-4 and 5-2 fronts, Jones provides optimal (and first-round) value.
"I feel like the game is changing," Jones said at the combine. "There’s more versatile defensive linemen in today’s game. You don’t really see every-down defensive linemen now. You see a guy who plays first and second down, then goes and sits down. Then another pass-rush specialist comes in on third down and takes his spot. I want to be a guy who can play every down."
The tape shown, quite conclusively, that he's already doing it.