The great thing about the NFL is that there are so many positions that every year, there is almost always at least one player who has a breakout year on every team, no matter how good or bad the team is. This is one part in a 32 part segment detailing one potential breakout player for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team (rookies don’t count). For the New England Patriots, that player is defensive end Chandler Jones.
When the New England Patriots traded up to the 21st pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, it came as a shock to many people as the Patriots are a team known for moving down on draft day, not up. However, when they selected Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones, most people saw it as a good pick. Jones fit the range and he filled a big need for the Patriots, who lost their two starting defensive ends from their Super Bowl runner up team the year before.
Jones didn’t have a lot of production at Syracuse due to injuries, but his off the charts athleticism sent his stock soaring in the months before draft day. Jones measured in at 6-5 266 with 35 ½ inch arms at The Combine, drawing comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul. While he didn’t match JPP’s 40 time with a nondescript 4.87, he showed his athleticism with a 35 inch vertical and a 10 foot broad jump. Experts agreed he had the frame to get up to 280-285 comfortably and that while he might not do a whole lot as a rookie, he had a bright future.
Those who considered him a project had to be shocked by how well he came out of the gate in 2012. Through 8 games, heading into the Patriots’ bye, Jones had 6 sacks, 8 hits, and 20 hurries and won Defensive Rookie of the Month in September. He was on pace for 12 sacks, 16 hits, and 40 hurries, which would have put him among the best pass rushers in the league as a mere rookie. He did all this while grading out above average against the run as well. However, injuries again found him. He only missed 2 games the rest of the way, but injuries sapped his explosiveness and he managed just 1 hit and 8 hurries (with no sacks) the rest of the way.
However, with a full year under his belt, Jones still has plenty of potential going into his 2nd year in the league and beyond. He turned just 23 in February and, even after injuries sapped his production, his rookie year still exceeded expectations of those who thought he was a project. He finished the year as ProFootballFocus’ 16th ranked 4-3 defensive end, 18th if you include post-season. If he can stay healthy in his 2nd year in the league, the sky is the limit for him and he could easily have a double digit sack year.