Second-round pick Chris Jones has solidified Chiefs defense
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) The moment Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones first made a statement to the NFL, and certainly to AFC West rival Oakland, came in the second quarter of their matchup earlier this season.
Up to that point, he was merely a goofy, affable second-round draft pick from Mississippi State rotating among the defensive linemen. He hadn't stood out like fellow rookie Tyreek Hill, and had yet to break into the starting lineup the way he now forces his way into the backfield.
It started with the Raiders' Jalen Richard taking a handoff. It ended with the massive Jones hitting him so hard it was surprising the running back's helmet stayed buckled.
Oh, and it came after Jones screwed up.
''I spiked the gap. I was supposed to contain,'' he said a few days later, while chatting with a small group of reporters. ''Thank God, I was blessed enough to make the play.''
That brutal, hilarious bit of honesty coupled with that brutal, efficient play pretty much sums up Jones, who has become one of the league's standout rookies and a big reason why Kansas City (12-4) has won its first division title since 2010 and earned a first-round playoff bye.
He is witty. He is enthusiastic. And he's become an unstoppable force on the defensive line.
Everything seems to come back to his infamous ''mistake'' in Oakland, too.
His performance that day against the Raiders earned him a starting assignment for the first time the following week against New Orleans. The week after that, the 22-year-old Jones brought down the Colts' Andrew Luck for his first career sack. A couple weeks later, he corralled Panthers quarterback Cam Newton - one of the toughest in the league to bring down - for his second career sack.
Suddenly, he had become a burgeoning star.
''Chris is really starting to come along,'' Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. ''He's doing a great job of pushing the pocket - that's huge. Some of those don't go as sacks, but when you put a guard right back into the quarterback, hopefully that effects them a little bit.''
In selecting Jones, the Chiefs made a calculated gamble during the draft.
They were high on him throughout the scouting process, even though some teams questioned his desire to compete every play. But they also lost a draft pick to tampering charges, so to recoup that pick and address other needs, they wound up trading their lone first-round selection.
Their hope was Jones would still be available on Day 2.
When he was still sitting there, the Chiefs snapped him up with the 37th overall selection - and he promptly told the world that he was deserving of not only that pick but one much higher. Asked for a self-scout, he replied on draft day: ''A very dominant player. Has the ability to be a Pro Bowler. Needs to work on a few things. Could be one of the best of all time. It's up to him.''
That assessment has turned out to be fairly accurate.
Jones has wreaked havoc in offensive backfields throughout the back half of the season, and has played at a Pro Bowl level even if he didn't receive the recognition. He has also spent extra time working on his footwork, hands and all the other nuances that come with playing the position.
In other words, Jones is doing everything that is ''up to him.''
''I like what he's done. He spends a lot of time in the building studying,'' Chiefs coach Andy Reid said this week. ''He does everything right - not right now - but he's sure getting there.''
It helps that the Chiefs have a group of veterans.
Defensive tackle Dontari Poe has become one of his closest friends, and Allen Bailey and others have provided pointers. Even longtime outside linebacker Tamba Hali has been impressed, saying recently, ''We've never had such a dominant player at the three-technique.''
''He kind of stays in Poe's hip pocket there and makes sure he's not missing anything from that standpoint,'' Reid said. ''He watches a ton of tape. He's getting better as he goes.''
That's a scary thought for whomever the Chiefs play in the divisional round of the playoffs.
For everyone they face farther down the road, too.
''He's one of the leaders of quarterback hits, negative plays, in the league right now,'' Reid said, ''as a rookie. So he's got production there and he's gotten better every week, and that's a tribute to him and the hard work that he's put in.''
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