Why Chris Jones’ move to defensive end actually makes sense for Chiefs

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In 2020, including the postseason and Super Bowl LV, the Kansas City Chiefs didn’t get a lot of production from their edge defenders. Frank Clark led the team among outside pass-rushers with nine sacks and 49 total pressures, and after that, edge pressure was a bit of a mystery, with Tanoh Kpassagnon and Alex Okafor as the guys bringing the most pressure outside of Clark. The Chiefs didn’t do a lot in the draft or free agency to correct this issue, so if this situation is to improve, they’ll have to take other players and put them outside.

Apparently, the plan is to do just that with Chris Jones, who has proven to be one of the NFL’s best interior disruptors over the last few seasons. Last season, playing primarily the 3-tech tackle position, Jones amassed 7.5 sacks and 70 total pressures, while playing 566 snaps in the B-gap, 226 snaps over the tackle, and just 47 snaps outside, per Pro Football Focus. Per Sports Info Solutions, Jones lined up as a 5-, 6-, 7-, or 9-tech defender on 28 pass-rushing snaps, and put up seven total pressures.

As defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo recently said, that’s about to change.

“He is an imposing player inside,” Spagnuolo said Monday, per ESPN’s Adam Teicher. “We all know that. Hopefully, we will gain something on the edge. When somebody changes a position, obviously the first part of it is the mental part of it. Chris is working through that. That’s important when you change a position. It’s just not that easy to pick up a whole new spot. There are some different things with a defensive end.

“He’ll play out there a little bit. We’ll move him back inside when we have to.”

And that’s the thing. Jones may see more snaps outside, but it’s not as if the Chiefs are going to try and turn him into Von Miller — they’re going to let him use his speed, power, and intimidating array of pass-rush moves to get to the quarterback from the outside more often, and move him back inside when it makes sense.

Another reason for the change is one of the NFL’s most underrated signings in the 2021 offseason — former Seahawks defensive lineman Jarran Reed. Reed has also proven to be an excellent interior disruptor, amassing 8.5 sacks and 44 total pressures playing mostly inside. In fact, when I recently did a study of the best pass-rushers from every gap, Reed was the most productive from the 4i position — on the inside shoulder of the tackle. There, Reed had five solo sacks and 14 total pressures, and proved to be a real load for guards and tackles to handle in that role. When No. 90 was aligned there, quarterbacks were generally not happy about it.

Jones (No. 95), who made the list as the best 3-tech player in the league, obviously has interior pressure down, as he showed on this sack of Matt Ryan. Any time you can push a guard into his quarterback, you should probably do that.

“That signing right there was a really good get and I think will pay off for us in a real big way this season,” head coach Andy Reid said of the Reed acquisition. “It gives us some flexibility with what we can do with Chris, so I like that addition. You’re talking about a Pro Bowl-caliber player and just plugging him in, and not much has been said about it. I’m excited to see him once we kick this thing off.”

So, this really gives Spagnuolo options to attack the opposing passing game, as opposed to just putting Jones in a place he’s not used to and letting his interior game go away. In today’s NFL, defensive linemen move all over the place all the time, so the real reason for Jones’ new home on the line is the ability to confound quarterbacks as opposed to taking one of their best defensive players and wrecking his effectiveness. Spagnuolo has long been an advocate of positional versatility for his defensive linemen — look back at the NASCAR fronts he ran with the Giants that so confounded Tom Brady — and he’s one of the best at switching things up to mess up protection calls. So, you could see all kinds of stuff — Jones and Reed both inside, Jones and Reed on the same side, Jones and Reed stunting to the quarterback.

“Maybe it will come down to who we’re playing and where maybe we can find a weakness and expose that weakness in the five offensive linemen,” Spagnuolo concluded. “We’ve just got to get [Jones] used to playing the two spots right now and figure out the rest of it.”

So, expect the Chris Jones, Defensive End experiment to happen, but I doubt it will be a constant. More likely, it’s a situational upsetter for a defense in desperate need of outside quarterback disruption.