Tall, athletic defensive end figures to add speed, versatility to Green Bay front seven
By CHRIS HAVEL
GREEN BAY – With the 26th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers chose Common Sense, embodied by a tall, athletic defensive end from UCLA named Datone Jones.
Jones – whose first name is pronounced DAY-tone – thus the nickname, Da Tone Setter, is at once an obvious, exciting and encouraging pick.
The obvious, of course, is that the Packers’ need at defensive end could not be overstated. Four of the top five – including B.J. Raji – are in the final year of their contract. Clay Matthews, the league’s highest-paid linebacker, needed a pass rushing counterpart not named C.J. Wilson.
The exciting part is that Jones (6-4, 280) looks like he can play.
His energy and versatility stand out on film.
So does his ability to get the edge, and more important, to close in a flash once he does. It’s merely the blink of an eye, but it’s often the difference between a sack and a touchdown pass.
Jones, who will wear No. 95, is going to be given ample opportunity to win significant playing time. He’s likely to line up at the “five” technique in the base 3-4. He’s also going to be an inside pass rusher in the Packers’ four-man fronts in sub-packages.
With Matthews and Pickett on one side, and a healthy Nick Perry and Jones on the other, the Packers’ defense should be much-improved.
The encouraging aspect is that Thompson stayed true to his philosophy.
The Packers’ GM sat tight at No. 26 and let the first round play out.
It’s a strategy that requires patience, vigilance and trust in the scouting department. Frankly, most NFL owners tend to be impatient, easily bored by details (they pay people for that) and neither know nor care about the trials, travels and tribulations of an NFL scout.
Thompson gets it because that’s who he is – a former NFL player who became a scout and eventually was entrusted to run the show.
Talk of Green Bay taking a running back at No. 26 was a pipe dream.
The Packers are a passing team. A running back that high just doesn’t make sense for a team whose stock-and-trade is an aerial attack.
Consider the New Orleans Saints and the 2011 draft. The so-called experts said Drew Brees and Co. would be unstoppable if only they had a bona fide running game. So the Saints drafted Alabama running back Mark Ingram with the 28th pick. In two seasons, Ingram has rushed for little more than 1,000 yards and the Saints haven’t won a playoff game.
Wisely, Thompson avoided any temptation to draft Alabama running back Eddie Lacy with the 26th pick. When the Giants rolled up 37 points in the 2011 playoffs, and the 49ers notched 45 in the 2012 postseason, the Packers didn’t lose because they lacked a running game.
What they lacked was a will to run, perhaps, but more important they lacked a defense capable of stopping Eli Manning’s Giants and Colin Kaepernick’s 49ers.
Thompson knew it and has attempted to do something about it.
Furthermore, Thompson seldom selects skill players in the first round. In his nine drafts, he has chosen one skill player in the first round – quarterback Aaron Rodgers with the 25th pick in 2005.
In 2008, Thompson traded out of the first round rather than reach for a receiver he coveted. Patiently, almost inevitably, he ultimately landed the receiver he wanted all along: Kansas State’s Jordy Nelson.
Thompson wasn’t taking a back, tight end or receiver then in the first round, and he wasn’t going to take one Thursday night.
The only question when the Packers were on the clock was, “Do they take Jones or North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams?”
Thompson chose the end over the tackle. He chose speed over size. He chose a player whose relentless style was patterned after none other than Reggie White, the Packers’ Hall of Fame defensive end.
“Reggie White played one way: with maniacal effort and just with complete hunger, no matter who he lined up against,” said Jones, who volunteered to reporters his admiration for White. In fact, when he saw “Datone Jones” and “Packers” together on the TV screen, he said, “I almost fainted, man. This is like a dream come true.”
Reggie White had Sean Jones. Now, Matthews has Datone Jones.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com).