FREE AGENCY: Vikings Sign Former Packers Defensive Lineman Datone Jones

The Minnesota Vikings announced on Tuesday that they’ve signed former Packers defensive lineman Datone Jones.

Jones is a former first-round pick for the Green Bay Packers, initially tabbed to play as a 3-4 defensive end before being tasked with the duties of a 3-4 outside linebacker in his final year in Green Bay. He’s listed at a hefty 285 lbs., though that seems to be closer to his rookie weight, as he looks like a linebacker right now for the Packers.

This is similar to the route that Quinton Coples was forced to take with the New York Jets, where he was forced to move further and further outside in the scheme to make room for others.

in 2014 and 2015, he ranked 13th and 12th, respectively, among all interior players in pressure rate per pass-rushing snap, per Pro Football Focus

Jones might be considered edge rushing depth for the Vikings, but there’s reason to believe he could be a rotational (or even starting) defensive tackle in the three-technique position for the Vikings.

Jones, as a 3-4 end, would often play on the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle, just as three-techniques play on the outside shoulder of the offensive guard—it’s the same gap and often means the same assignments, despite having two different positional names.

At 285 lbs., he would be as heavy as Geno Atkins was with Mike Zimmer and close to the weight that Zimmer asked Sharrif Floyd to drop to shortly after arriving. That would pin him at three-technique, though Zimmer has also enjoyed his share of heavy pass-rushers (although they ran a bit taller than 6-foot-4 Jones).

His measurables are very good, incidentally.

His weight, arm length and height profile to a defensive tackle, and his explosion scores speak well to his fit on the inside. He’s played extensively on the inside for Green Bay, and in 2014 and 2015, he ranked 13th and 12th, respectively, among all interior players in pressure rate per pass-rushing snap, per Pro Football Focus.

We know he can put tape to those numbers as well. Here are four GIFs of Jones rushing the passer to produce pressure, hits or hurries from the interior. Some of these are effort plays, others are borne of athleticism and the third one is pure strength.

Jones does more than rush the passer, too. He’s generally been asked to be on the field on pass-rushing downs, so he’s been pegged as a specialist, but he’s had his moments in the run game.

Jones has the potential to be a long-term replacement for Floyd if the presumption is true that Zimmer has soured on his availability, though I wouldn’t bet on Jones being a premier defensive tackle.

I think he’s more versatile than Tom Johnson or Shamar Stephen, who were both extreme version of defensive tackle specialists and not as good as Floyd when healthy—but there’s potential and the possibility that he was played out of position too often in Green Bay to be given a fair shake.

Jones hasn’t lived up to his potential, and though his athleticism shows up on tape immediately, he needed to play with more strength overall in order to consistently two-gap when playing head-up on a tackle. He played to get into the backfield and when he missed he would get thrown around.

Those will still be problems as he transitions to a 4-3, but they will likely be less important as he won’t be put in positions where he needs to keep the linebackers clean nearly as often. Even with those highlights above as a run defender, it will continue to be a weakness of his. When he does end up in those situations, he’ll need to anchor better than he has in Green Bay and his responses to those reads may determine how big a role he’ll end up playing.

In the end, the Vikings have a player who, if he plays three-technique, is better than most backups and some starters with the capability of being much more. He’ll play the position he probably was always meant to play coming out of UCLA and is a smart signing by a team that struggled with their only weakness on the defensive line.

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