Starting today, and leading up to the first day of training camp, we’re going to look at the most important Patriots, counting down from 10 to 1. I went through my vast reservoir of contacts in the league and in the Foxboro offices to come to some sort of consensus.
Okay, I didn’t even come close to doing that. I trust my eyes and this is what they tell me as we head into the 2015 season.
10. CHANDLER JONES
Why? It’s time. This should be his Front Four. Jones has the most talent in that group, the most explosiveness. He’s entering the prime of his career. He can also set himself up for a megadeal when his current contract expires in two seasons (the Pats picked up the fifth-year option this offseason).
Previous Performance: In 2014-15, before he injured his hip in week 7 versus the Jets, the former Syracuse product had 4 1/2 sacks and 15 QB hurries. Impressive, especially when you consider the fatally flawed game plan that had him playing inside in the season opener at Miami and made him a non-factor.
The year prior, in just his second season in the league, Jones looked like he was developing into one of the most well-rounded defensive ends in the NFL. He finished with double-digit sack totals and, for the most part, was solid versus the run. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia kept him on the field in all situations. Jones was quickly becoming a foundational player, and played more defensive snaps than anyone on the roster.
Questions surrounding the player: Injuries, for starters. Jones missed a huge chunk of games last season, and when he returned he lacked his usual burst off the edge. He did have a sack in the Super Bowl, but spent a fair portion of the offseason on crutches and rehabbing that hip. He was not available during OTAs, although for a player with his experience, that’s not a huge red flag unless the healing has been slowed.
Also, to be an elite DE, which Jones has the tools to become, you want to see him give the business to the game’s best left tackles. That hasn’t been the case, unless you count D’Brickshaw Ferguson has one of the best of the best (Jones usually gets the better of DBF).
Overall Outlook: Jones is a player ascending. If he can avoid a serious injury, this should be the year he post career-bests in sacks, pressures and QB hits, especially when you consider the addition of Jabal Sheard, who should help keep both Jones and Rob Ninkovich a little fresher than they’ve been because of depth issues the past two seasons. Sheard > Zach Moore and Andre Carter (admit it, you forgot he was on the 2013 roster).