Defensive line was a problem spot for the Green Bay Packers in 2012. Despite spending multiple picks in that year's draft and several more seasons earlier, the Packers shuffled through linemen the entire year. Rookie Jerel Worthy played inconsistently before a torn ACL ended his season. Fellow end C.J. Wilson was effective against the run but struggled getting to the quarterback. Mike Neal was the Packers best pass rusher along the defensive line, but he was liability in run defense and missed several games due to suspension. Because of Green Bay's inability to field enough quality linemen, B.J. Raji was forced to play too many snaps for the third consecutive season.
Enter Datone Jones, the UCLA defensive lineman the Packers selected with the 26th pick in the 2013 draft. Unlike most defensive prospects, Jones played in a 3-4 scheme his senior year at UCLA. Despite being new to the position, Jones provided instant impact. His 19 tackles for loss were 12th in all of college football, and his 5.5 sacks were a tremendous amount for a 3-4 defensive lineman. While Jones played mostly at end, he slid inside for certain sub packages. Dom Capers believes Jones will continue to move around at the next level.
He has the ability to play either outside at defensive end and obviously we play an awful lot of sub packages today in defending the offenses that we have to defend. So, he can move inside and play inside. He's an athletic player, has some basketball background. I think he's a high-character guy with a very good work ethic. Again, as we watched him play, it was easy to project him playing in our defense because they play a very similar defense at UCLA.
Reading Capers' praise, it sounds like Jones projects to play a significant role in the Packers defense. But will he be a starter in the base defense week 1 in San Francisco? With Pickett manning the nose and B.J. Raji taking an end spot, there's only one opening available for Jones. His main competition will come from Wilson and Neal. Both started games for the Packers last year, but neither is particularly well rounded. Neal was the better of the two in 2012, but his history of injury suggests he could drop out of this race at any time.
The main hurdles Jones will have to clear are his size and consistency. At 280 pounds, Jones is light for a 3-4 lineman and may get pushed around by an NFL offensive line. Consequently, Jones' play will be inconsistent until he can put on more size. Capers said Jones has a wide frame and will be able to add weight, but that takes time. It's unreasonable to expect him to put on the needed 15-20 pounds between now and the start of training camp.
All of this is why Jones probably won't be more than a situational player when the season rolls around. More than anything else, the coaches prefer consistency from their defensive starters. A.J. Hawk hasn't been many fans' favorite player, but year after year he holds onto his starting job because he understands the defense and puts himself in the right places. With a few years to develop his body, Jones should grow into a consistent player. Until then, he'll contribute in a situational role.
Quotes provided by Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Check out all of Acme Packing Company's draft coverage: 2013 NFL Draft Central | Green Bay Selects Datone Jones in First Round | Packers' Team Needs | Prospect Film Study Profiles | Packers' Complete Draft Order
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Co. He has previously written for Lombardi Ave, College Hoops Net, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is also currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JBHirschhorn.