The Buffalo Bills are beginning an overhaul of their defensive front after a disappointing 2015 season under Rex Ryan. Key players—most notably Mario Williams and Nigel Bradham—weren’t retained, as they didn’t quite fit into Ryan’s hybrid scheme based out of 3-4 concepts. The team entered the offseason with very little wiggle room in terms of salary cap space, so General Manager Doug Whaley and Rex Ryan will need to work together in order to find quality defenders that can have his unit playing at the high level we’ve grown accustomed to over the last decade. To start this transition, selecting Mississippi State defensive lineman Chris Jones with the team’s No. 19 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft is the best course of action.
Chris Jones stands 6’6” and weighs 310 pounds, possessing ridiculously long arms (34.5”) with big, heavy hands (10-3/4”) that he uses to control opposing offensive linemen at the point of attack. Jones was a five-star recruit ranked No. 2 in the nation when he came out of high school as a two-sport athlete, starring in basketball and football. Chris Jones didn’t have the gaudy statistics you’d like to see in a first-round prospect, recording just 94 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and 10 pass deflections in his three years with the Bulldogs, but he really began to put it together during the 2015 season. Despite notching just three sacks, Jones was a disruptive force against the run and pass, generating 49 quarterback pressures in 311 pass rushing snaps while recording 32 tackles against the run with 11 coming at the line of scrimmage.
Chris Jones’ best football is ahead of him and his style of play along with his collegiate career and path to the NFL is eerily similar to a player that Rex Ryan fell in love with during his time with the New York Jets in Muhammad Wilkerson, who was selected with the No. 30 overall pick. In three seasons at Temple, Wilkerson recorded 118 tackles and 16 sacks and saw his stock rise throughout the draft process, just like Jones is.
From a measurables standpoint, Chris Jones and Muhammad Wilkerson couldn’t be more similar, with the exception of a two-inch height difference. Here’s a side-by-side look at each of their measurables at their respective Combines.
Just like Wilkerson at Temple, Chris Jones was used all over the defensive line, lining up anywhere from a zero-technique nose tackle position all the way out to a seven-technique defensive end spot outside the shoulder of a tackle. His combination of length, athleticism and power allowed him to thrive from a variety of alignments.
Here’s a clip of Wilkerson from a game against Penn State. Lined up as a five-technique over the tackle, Wilkerson commands multiple blockers at the snap, but has the functional strength to anchor against the run, allowing his teammates to swarm to the ball-carrier.
Now watch Chris Jones execute the same assignment in last year’s contest against LSU.
Wilkerson used his long arms to his advantage as a run defender, maintaining distance between himself and the lineman so he could locate the ball and then shed the block to make a play.
Just like Chris Jones does.
Both Wilkerson and Jones were young, 21-year old raw prospects with high ceilings entering the draft and they share very similar traits—both positive and negative. Scouting reports on Wilkerson prior to the 2011 draft cited his tendency to play with high pad level and rely on his physical traits in place of technique at times which would result in him struggling to get off of blocks efficiently.
Let’s take a look at what Chris Jones brought to Mississippi State’s defensive line from a technical standpoint as both a pass rusher and a run defender to illustrate why he’s such an ideal fit for the Buffalo Bills.
Chris Jones Run Support
Chris Jones is a force against the run and has the talent to blow up plays in different ways. He’s got the bulk and lower body strength to sink his hips and anchor as a two-gap defender and allow his teammates to flow to the ball when he’s asked to control the line of scrimmage.
Here against Texas A&M, Chris Jones is lined up as a three technique in between the left tackle and guard. The Aggies have a play designed to run to the right of the formation with the right guard pulling across the formation to the left to “wham” the edge defender. At the snap, Chris Jones encounters a double team against a down block by the tackle and guard. He uses his long arms to prevent them from latching onto his pads, pulling free and assisting with the tackle for a loss.
In the following play against LSU, Jones is head up over the center against the Tigers’ “21” personnel grouping with two backs and a tight end. It’s second-and-three with Leonard Fournette in the backfield, so everyone knows that a run is coming. At the snap, Jones shoots his arms out into the pads of the center, gaining leverage before ripping him down out of the way. Jones then clogs the gap by taking on the leading fullback, giving the linebackers a path to make a stop for a loss. However, Fournette breaks the tackle and is able to turn a negative rush into a first down, even though Jones couldn’t have done more to blow up the play.
Chris Jones isn’t just a space-eater, as the massive defender has the quickness and violent hand usage to defeat linemen, split gaps and make plays in the backfield also. In the following play he’s lined up over the right tackle as a five technique. LSU is in 21 personnel again in a pro set with the fullback as a wing to the right. They’re running a zone stretch play in Jones’ direction, meaning that the right guard has to execute a “reach block” on Jones to try and clear a rushing lane. Easier said than done, as Jones doesn’t surrender an inch of ground and causes congestion at the point of attack before ripping his way through the two linemen and bringing Fournette down at the line of scrimmage.
Jones shows off his violent hands and the ease in which he can fight off opposing linemen in the following play against Arkansas. Arkansas comes out with an unbalanced line—six offensive linemen—in addition to an H-back and a fullback. Jones is lined up at the three technique in between the center and right guard as the left defensive tackle. At the snap, Arkansas tries to “trap block” Jones, meaning that the offensive lineman he was originally lined up with left him unblocked while a different lineman looks to block him from the side in order to knock him off balance. Jones does get knocked off his spot for a moment, but manages to fight his way off of the block with a swift rip move before getting back upfield and making the tackle for a loss.
Chris Jones Pass Rush
Although he recorded just 8.5 sacks in three seasons with the Mississippi State Bulldogs, Chris Jones routinely wreaked havoc on opposing offensive lines over the last two years, he just hasn’t been able to convert his pressures into sacks just yet.
Like he’s able to do against the run, Jones can defeat opposing linemen with brute strength—he’s got one of the most powerful bull rushes among this year’s defensive line class—or with quickness, technique and hand use.
Winning with Quickness
Chris Jones’ size and length is enough to present a problem for a offensive lineman off the snap, but his burst and ridiculously quick first step can make him literally unblockable at times. Against Arkansas, Jones is lined up as the one-technique right defensive tackle. He times the snap perfectly, bursting across the line of scrimmage as the offensive lineman completely whiffs on his attempt at a block. Somehow, running back Alex Collins is able to effectively block him, giving the quarterback enough time to scramble and throw the ball away.
Jones’ first step is put on display again, this time against Missouri, launching himself into quarterback Matty Mauk’s face just a split second after he receives the snap.
Against Texas A&M Jones is a split second away from blowing up a screen play, but manages to deliver a shot to the quarterback just as he gets the ball out.
Winning with Hands and Counter Moves
There’s a big advantage to being an athletic defensive lineman with 35” long arms and Chris Jones regularly shows off an arm over or swim move to defeat opposing linemen and get after quarterbacks.
Lined up outside of the right tackle as a seven-technique defensive end, Chris Jones shows off his athleticism, clubbing his arm over the lineman’s and beating him inside forcing the quarterback to throw the ball away.
He forces another throwaway here against Louisiana Tech from an edge rusher position, but this time he simultaneously bends the corner (a ridiculous feat for someone of Jones’ size) while using his hands to prevent the left tackle to get a grip on him.
Jones’ quickness and ability to fight off blocks with his hands allow him to set up shop in opponents’ pockets for stretches at a time during games. Here he toys with Texas A&M’s center before getting into the face of the passer.
Winning with Power
Finally, Chris Jones has the power and natural strength that allows him to flat out embarrass opponents with an overwhelming bullrush. When Jones uses good technique in his get off, staying low and shooting his arms into his opponent’s chest plate, there’s not many linemen that stand a chance.
Here, Jones just mauls LSU’s guard, generating so much power and momentum that he actually launches the lineman off his feet and backwards. I don’t imagine film day being fun for this poor soul.
Against Arkansas, Jones lines up in a two-point stance in the “A” gap as a blitzing inside linebacker. He’s already moving with a full head of steam when he makes contact with the Razorbacks’ lineman and it takes about one second before he’s on the ground.
Projecting a Role for Chris Jones with Buffalo Bills
Chris Jones is an impressive player that is just starting to come into his own as a player. He saw significant playing time since he was a true freshman so it took him a little while to grow into his body, but he seems to just be starting to hit his stride. Every time I watch Jones, I can’t help but think of Muhammad Wilkerson when I had my first exposure to him prior to the 2011 draft. I’m not suggesting that Jones will develop into the All-Pro talent that Wilkerson has, but the two are so similar—from their measurables and body types to their styles of play, as well as the aspects of their games that needed refinement at this point—that Rex Ryan is likely thinking the same thing.
Chris Jones has the size, athleticism and talent that allows him to play literally any position on the defensive line, which makes him even more valuable to a coach like Rex Ryan that will show an offense countless looks and fronts throughout a game. Jones has prototypical size of a five-technique defensive end, but he’s quick enough to kick down inside to a three-technique, and has enough strength to move even further down and play the nose. Having a player with the versatility Jones offers is too enticing to turn down, especially when you have an All-Pro nose tackle with a $100 million salary just waiting to be unleashed. Adding Jones would allow the Bills to be creative with how they use Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams within the scheme and using the No. 19 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft on him should be a no-brainer.