With the NFL draft and free agency frenzy over, the Denver Broncos are unlikely to make any significant moves over the coming months. The Broncos already made their significant additions by trading for a franchise quarterback, signing a pass rusher, and getting a big run-defending defensive lineman.
D.J. Jones was a key addition for the team as the Broncos look to improve their run defense from last year, which faltered down the stretch and late in games. There were multiple games where Denver could not stop the run and get off the field, which played its part in a loss.
Jones was targeted to help out the run defense. As we work our way down the roster, Jones is the next man up. Let's dive into the Broncos' new defensive lineman.
Jones turned 27 years old a few days before the San Francisco 49ers upset the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs. He was born in South Carolina and went on to play high school football there.
Jones spent his freshman and sophomore years playing at 'Last Chance U' — East Mississippi Community College. He played some great football there, and when he went to transfer before his junior season, he was rated the No. 3 JUCO prospect.
When Jones took the field for Ole Miss, he didn't have any issues with the jump in competition. He picked up 26 total pressures with four sacks and 24 total stops his junior year.
Jones saw the field less his senior year, but only by 55 snaps. There was a significant drop in production with the slight decrease in snaps, but that was also because of how he was used.
During his junior year, Jones spent most of his reps working as a 3-technique, compared to a 0/1-technique as a senior. As a result, the role change played a bigger role in the drop in production than the fewer snaps.
As a senior, Jones only had nine total pressures and 17 stops. His usage as a pass rusher is where he went regressed the most. After his senior season, Jones entered the 2017 NFL draft.
Jones started his pre-draft process with the NFL Collegiate bowl. He put up a good showing during the week and continued in the game, where he picked up one sack. From there, his focus turned to preparing for the NFL Combine.
At the Combine, Jones put up fine numbers, but nothing spectacular. His height was in the ninth percentile, arm length 25th percentile, while his weight was in the 82nd percentile, and hand size in the 72nd percentile.
Jones' athletic testing fell between the 33rd percentile in the bench press to the 66th percentile in his broad jump. It was a solid showing, but nothing exceptional to help out his draft stock.
The Niners ultimately selected Jones in the sixth round of the 2017 draft with the 198th overall pick.
The first five years of Jones' career were spent with the Niners, and he got more snaps year after year, culminating in a 654-snap season in 2021. It was the biggest increase in playing time from the year prior, with an increase of 234 snaps.
Jones' rookie season didn't see him produce much, but there was a modest improvement in his second season. He picked up his first sack in his third season while picking up nine total pressures and 14 stops. It was solid production for a nose tackle on a deep defensive line. He played 304 total snaps.
The 2020 season saw Jones garner an increase in pass-rush production but a hit in stops as he picked up only 12 stops. He was again part of a deep defensive line, which kept his play-time down. There was also time missed when he was put on the COVID/reserve list.
Jones' production sky-rocketed when he got his significant boost in play-time for 2021. He picked up 46 total stops, which was more than his 43 career stops leading up to the season. His pass-rush production also picked up with 24 total pressures, almost matching his career total up to that point.
Jones' play was integral to the success of the Niners' defense because it opened up the other defensive linemen and edges around him. That wasn't just against the run, but it carried over to the passing game. What he was able to do with eating space, blocks, and being a reliable run defender opened the door for everyone else.
Jones' teammates could be more aggressive as pass rushers because they had his reliability as a run defender in the middle in the event of a run play. This helped lead to the Niners being graded sixth against the run as a unit and fourth as pass rushers, according to Pro Football Focus.
It was enough to catch the attention of Broncos' GM George Paton. Denver targeted Jones to help a struggling defensive line against the run. The Broncos signed him to a three-year, $30 million contract.
When he signed, the question was, where would Jones play? The early speculation was Jones would be the replacement for Shelby Harris, who was dealt to Seattle in the Russell Wilson trade.
However, that doesn't seem to be the case as Jones would be taking over the Broncos' nose tackle position. When watching Jones with the Niners, you see him mostly line up from a 0/1-technique to a 3-technique. Rarely was he used as the 4i-technique like Harris was in Denver, and when he was, it wasn't the best outcome.
There is no doubt Jones will make the Broncos' roster, and he has enough versatility to move around a little on the defensive line. He will be relied on as a run defender, as he has been for his career. Denver is betting on Jones helping out Dre'Mont Jones, Bradley Chubb, and Randy Gregory upfront.
That bet isn't just to improve the Broncos against the run but to help open up space for the pass rushers around him. While Jones has some pass-rush juice, the most significant benefit will be how he opens things up for the pass rushers on the roster.
Follow Erick on Twitter @ErickTrickel.
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