(Update: Jones was selected #21 overall by the Patriots last night. New England is rarely the aggressor in the NFL Draft, but must’ve seen something it loved about the Syracuse defensive end to trade up for him. The Fizz detailed this morning why the Pats are the perfect fit for Chandler, and what to expect his rookie season for the defending AFC champs.)
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Tonight, Chandler Jones will likely become Syracuse’s first selection in the NFL Draft’s first round since another pass rusher, Dwight Freeney, a decade ago. It seems a foregone conclusion as Jones’s stock has skyrocketed over the past month. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock has him as a top 10 prospect and the top defensive end in a class with talented edge guys. How he rose so far, so quickly is a question people are asking. On the day #99 watches his dream come true, we’ll try to answer.
I must offer this disclaimer: Chandler Jones is perhaps my favorite athlete I’ve ever covered. He’s also someone I’ve gotten to know ever so slightly off the field. I say this because: 1) I’m not trying to hide any bias. 2) This is a guy I know. I’ve had many conversations with him off the record, no cameras, no recorders. I’m not insinuating we’re best friends. In fact, I don’t have his number and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have mine. But I do know him away from the field, and that’s relevant for the first question.
- Is his stock rising simply because he’s nailing the interviews?
No. You don’t get the interviews unless you have the tape to back it up. ESPN’s Todd McShay is as shocked as anyone with Chandler’s meteoric rise up mock drafts. He says the talent and the tape have been there all along. McShay had Jones going to the Patriots at #27 earlier in the process, and now has him going #12 to the Seahawks.
The reason Jones stock is rising is two-fold. First, the tape doesn’t lie. NFL people are watching the game against WVU, where Jones single-handedly dismantled the Mountaineer offense. He had sacks. He had hurries. He knocked balls down. He was a force in the running game. Coaches are automatically inclined to watch Alabama film because there are four impact players on defense (Courtney Upshaw, Donta Hightower, Dre Kirpatrick and Mark Barron). If you watch SU film, it’s only to see Chan. The more tape they’ve watched on him, the more talent they see.
Jones is also the epitome of a high-character guy. He is the athletic department’s favorite athlete to put on the podium because he nails it every time. Chandler couldn’t be more likeable and that sticks with any coach. He’s an asset in the locker room in a sport where chemistry matters.
- What’s on that tape that makes his stock go up?
This is the hardest question to answer because only execs have the raw game film. However, I did watch every game of his college career. That West Virginia game highlighted his capabilities when he’s allowed to work uninhibited. WVU tried to block him one-on-one and failed miserably. After that teams started double and triple-teaming Jones. You usually can’t afford to allocate too many blockers at one players in the NFL, because other guys will step up and make plays.
Since Mikhail Marinovich had a Baye Keita-esque disappearance, and no one else could rush the passer, the Orange couldn’t make opponents pay for focusing so much attention on Jones. Even with all the attention, he still produced. Chandler had at least 4 tackles in every game after he returned from injury (many solo), and plenty of “wow” plays. He’d come all the way back to stop a runner 10 yards downfield or plug up plays in the backfield for a loss. That type of motor gets you noticed.
- Does his family matter?
His brother Arthur is already in the league, while brother Jon is the youngest UFC light heavyweight champion ever. Clearly something went right in the Jones household and that matters. Because his older brothers have been in the spotlight, Chandler has learned from them on how to deal with it. That’s a major reason why he’s so polished. He’s got an amazing support system of people who already know how to deal with fame and fortune, so there is no risk he’s going to get in trouble after cashing his first check. In a league run by disciplinarian Roger Goodell, character matters. Jon can’t make any tackles for him, but it speaks to Chan’s DNA (although a flying drop kick mid-3rd quarter would be kinda awesome).
- How does he stack up against Freeney?
Fun fact: Jones and Freeney have actually worked out together in Syracuse during each of the last two off-seasons. To expect Jones to be a perennial Pro Bowler though, is premature. Freeney has been a dominant end for years, and was already polished at running down the quarterback coming out of SU. Skeptics may have thought he was undersized, but he was drafted into the perfect system by the perfect team. He had one mission: use your speed to get to the quarterback on a fast indoor track. Chandler isn’t that kind of player, but he can have a long career. Jones is above average against the run. He’ll never be the pass rusher Freeney is, but he could certainly have just as long a stay in the NFL.
- How does this effect Syracuse?
The person who should be happiest is Doug Marrone. While Jones was a Groobers recruit, he played entirely for HCDM. If he succeeds, he’ll prove you can play at SU and be ready for the next level. Jones has already been a great ambassador for SU, and now he’ll have a bigger platform. He bleeds Orange. If he makes noise in the league, there’s no doubt in can help Syracuse’s recruiting and NFL rep. Also, to have SU football highlighted on the first night, in primetime by ESPN and NFL Network by a classy, articulate player is terrific branding.
Chan’s rise also means the draft process is something far more in-depth than anyone of us understands. As a fan, we’re watching the ball at all times. For Syracuse last year, that meant watching the magic bean continually going over Chandler’s head to an open receiver. When scouts and coaches watch tape, they watch the individual player(s) they’re focused on. While we saw “Touchdown!” (insert Big East team here), they saw Jones going full throttle through a double team and almost get to the quarterback anyway.
If GM’s didn’t like Chandler, his stock wouldn’t be soaring. The combination of raw skill, insane measurables (he’s every bit of 6’5” with an absurd wingspan), a high motor and a coach’s dream off the field has led to his stock going from a 3rd-round advisory grade to the top half of the first round.
It’s not one thing, it’s everything. And it all adds up to this being a special draft night for Orange fans for the first time in a long time.
Posted: Craig Hoffman