UCLA’s Datone Jones is a versatile player who has experience at all positions along the defensive line. He had a relatively quiet 2011 season after breaking his foot in 2010, but Jones broke out this year with 57 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, and six sacks.
Jones is a hybrid defensive lineman capable of playing in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. In a 3-4, he’d be a slightly-undersized five-technique, whereas he could potentially play any position along the line in a 4-3. Some people seem unsure of whether or not Jones is big enough to hold up inside or quick enough to rush off the edge. I think the latter question is a real concern, but Jones has what it takes to play as a three-technique defensive tackle.
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At 6’4’’, 280 pounds, Jones is considered a “tweener” who doesn’t necessarily have the build of a “prototypical” defensive end or defensive tackle, and naïve teams will hold that against him. The truth is that Jones is very strong—plenty strong enough to play in the interior—so his weight shouldn’t be a major concern. Plus, he’s relatively lean, easily capable of adding 10 pounds if needed.
I watched Jones against both Stanford and Washington State, and what stands out most to me is his quickness and hand usage inside. He’s simply too fast for interior linemen to block, and he parlays that quickness into penetration in both the running and passing games. Jones does an excellent job of using his long arms to fend off blockers, allowing him to shed and tackle just about whenever he wants. He rarely allows linemen to get their hands into his chest and control him.
Jones shows a variety of pass-rush moves from the defensive tackle position, including a swim, rip, and bull. He’s not a speed rusher that can consistently get pressure off of the edge. Even as a strong-side defensive end in a 4-3, I don’t think Jones offers the pass-rushing ability you’d want.
Ultimately, Jones is a really talented prospect who will need to be utilized correctly at the next level. He’d be great as either a three-technique or five-technique in the NFL; the concerns about him not holding up inside are probably overblown because he’s slightly undersized. Jones has plenty of strength to play with the big boys, though, and he can cause real damage beating centers and guards with his quickness.
NFL Comparison: Fletcher Cox
Cox is heavier than Jones, but both players win with quickness inside and have versatility to play outside in a pinch.
Jones was considered a mid-second round prospect after the 2012 season, but recent projections have him as high as the mid-first round. It’s possible that teams will knock him for not having a “true” position, but the smart ones that build their schemes around talented players will find him appealing. I think he’s a late-first round talent that will get selected in that range.
Fit In Dallas
I really like Jones’ fit as a three-technique defensive tackle in Monte Kiffin’s scheme. With Jones and Jason Hatcher, the Cowboys would have two tackles capable of playing defensive end when necessary. If the ‘Boys like Jones, they’d probably need to spend their first-round pick on him.
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Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.