Taking a look at UCLA's standout defensive end in preparation for the 2013 NFL Draft.
Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
Weight: 275 pounds in season, 280 pounds at Senior Bowl weigh-in.
- Great athletic ability.
- Good motor and pursuit from the back side of a play.
- Great first step and quickness off the snap.
- Good lateral agility.
- Improving hand usage and technique.
- Doesn’t stack well and seems to lack the strength to hold up in short yardage power situations.
- Could add 10 more pounds of muscle.
- Despite improvement, is still a raw pass rusher.
As hard as it is to find great 3-4 defensive ends, let alone good ones, I believe Datone Jones has the potential to be the latest one-gap DE that reaches star status despite playing at a traditionally less than glamorous position. His first step and initial quickness is phenomenal, and he has great ability to immediately cross the face of a blocker and penetrate inside. I liked his pursuit speed and he never stopped moving before the whistle.
One of Jones’ major drawbacks in college was that despite having lots of natural athleticism, he never seemed to be able to harness it through technique and discipline. He would often misplace his initial contact, not have any counter moves available if he got beat immediately, and his swims, rips, and spins were all very unrefined. I remember on a few occasions from the 5-tech, he tried to throw a club swim on the edge despite not yet having proper hip position and he was completely taken out of the play with one punch. He often struggled to get his bicep up to his ear on rips to disengage the lineman's grip, and generally as soon as his blocker clamped down on the rip, his lack of counter moves gave him zero chance to make an impact. His spin move needed a lot of work as well, considering it was more of a 360 turn while running in a straight line than it was actually spinning with a side step and avoiding a punch. In my opinion, at the time of PAC-12 Championship Game, his first order of business in preparing for the draft was learning not only how to throw down a variety of moves, but getting a feel for when to use them. After one day of watching his one-on-ones at the Senior Bowl practice, I’d say he's well on his way to doing just that.
Reportedly, Jones has been working in the offseason with MMA trainers to improve his hand usage, and the results have been fantastic. He regularly used his violent first step, not as his primary weapon, but as a complementary element in his skill set. I saw him neutralize punching hands, throw down textbook swim moves, and generally just look more complete as a pass rusher than I have ever seen him up to this point. The highlight of Tuesday’s Senior Bowl practices to me was Jones being the only defensive player to beat potential top-10 offensive tackle Eric Fisher. Using his deadly quickness, he jab-stepped hard to outside before knifing back in on a great club-swim and gave himself a direct path to the quarterback. It was a beautiful move and the proof that I needed that Datone Jones is more than what he showed at UCLA.
One area where I still think Jones could improve on is power. At UCLA, he struggled in short yardage situations and regularly got moved off the ball in the run game. His lack of strength severely hampered both his bull rush and his ability to stack and shed, and it was all too common to see him collapse against 300 pounders who got even the slightest bit of leverage off the snap. He’s already gained five pounds since the end of the season, and his bull rush has improved a little bit based on the few reps I’ve seen in Senior Bowl practices, but I still think he could stand to add ten pounds to get up to 290. With that added muscle, improved hand usage, refined technique, and an already deadly first step, Jones has moved up from a fourth round grade up to a second round grade in the blink of an eye.
To me, Jones fits best as a RDE in an attacking one-gap 3-4. While not many 3-4 teams emphasize defensive ends over linebackers, those that do should take a long, hard look at his Senior Bowl and NFL Combine performances. His ceiling as an interior pass rusher is very high, and his current arc of improvement has his value climbing exponentially every single day. For teams that don’t run a 3-4, I believe Jones could do well as an undertackle that can penetrate and make plays in the backfield. He might be a bit undersized, but if paired with a good nose tackle that can draw centers on double teams and give him one-on-ones with a guard, I believe Jones can win a lot of those battles with his speed and quick hands. Regardless of where he goes, as long as he packs on some more muscle, I believe he will be successful. He’s already a good player, but in a few years he may well be a great player.