Seahawks Need Naz Jones to Resurface in 2020
So far this offseason, the Seahawks have checked off a number of needs, including adding substantial depth along the offensive line and trading for a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback in Quinton Dunbar.
But now entering the third week of free agency, Seattle has done little to address its defensive line to this point. Jadeveon Clowney remains unsigned amid an unexpectedly weak market and aside from bringing back defensive tackle Jarran Reed on a two-year deal, the team has only lost key contributors in the trenches.
Though Reed and Poona Ford form a reliable starting tandem for Seattle, the departure of Al Woods and Quinton Jefferson creates a wide talent gap at defensive tackle. Demarcus Christmas landed on the PUP list and didn't play at all as a rookie due to a back injury, while Bryan Mone saw action in four regular season games after making the roster as an undrafted free agent.
While Woods will likely be replaced by another affordable veteran at some point in free agency and the Seahawks have seven picks to draft additional depth, the organization would be helped immensely in the short-term by the re-emergence of Naz Jones from the roster abyss.
Just three years ago, Jones joined Seattle as a third-round selection out of North Carolina. He instantly became a factor as a rotational defensive tackle, intercepting Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in his NFL debut and producing 19 tackles, 2.0 sacks, and four quarterback hits in 11 games before an ankle injury ended his season prematurely.
Proving himself a capable of playing nose tackle as well as the 3-technique, the 6-foot-5, 291-pound Jones looked to be a foundational piece of Seattle's defensive line moving forward.
However, Jones underwhelmed during training camp heading into his second season. The additions of veterans Shamar Stephen and Tom Johnson push him down the depth chart, and even after Johnson was waived following Week 1, Ford quickly surpassed him, further limiting his chances to see the field.
A healthy scratch for seven games, Jones appeared in just nine games for the Seahawks, registering nine tackles and two quarterback hits. Even after playing well with three tackles and a tackle for loss in a win at Carolina, he was "rewarded" by being active only three out of the final five games to close out the season.
Whether he was dealing with an undisclosed injury or simply landed in coach Pete Carroll's doghouse, it remains unclear what went wrong for Jones during a bizarre season. But Seattle hoped a transition to base defensive end would help him turn things around in 2019.
"We’re excited about that," Carroll said at the time. "We did that in the middle of the year to see him contribute out there.”
Unfortunately, a lingering knee injury prevented Jones from showing what he could do at his new position, as he missed most of Seattle's offseason program. Unable to get healthy, the team placed him on season-ending injured reserve on August 27.
Following a year off, the Seahawks haven't provided any official updates on Jones, but he should be fully recovered from the knee issues that plagued him last summer. Now, the former Tar Heels standout must prove he can return to his rookie form.
Considering Seattle's current depth chart, Jones may be in line to compete for playing time at multiple positions, depending on how the draft unfolds. With Jefferson gone, there may be room for him competing for snaps at the 5-tech defensive end role as Carroll envisioned last spring. As things stand at this time, L.J. Collier, Rasheem Green, and Branden Jackson will be vying for playing time there.
Still, it seems both the Seahawks and the player would benefit most from Jones re-establishing himself as a reliable reserve at defensive tackle. There's more snaps to be had behind Reed and Ford and given his size and skill set, he's far more likely to contribute as a rusher reduced inside.
Entering the final year of his rookie contract, this will be Jones last chance to impress. Injuries have prevented him from building off a promising rookie campaign and he faces a steep climb trying to work back into Seattle's rotation.
But if he's able to stay healthy and flashes in training camp, there's no question Jones has the talent to still make an impact, which would provide a much-needed boost for the Seahawks defensive line next season.