GREEN BAY, Wis. — Datone Jones was the right pick for the Green Bay Packers in the first round.
Jones, a 285-pound defensive lineman out of UCLA, fits exactly what the Packers are looking to do under coordinator Dom Capers. Jones came from a very similar college system and played every spot along the defensive line. Though the NFL game will clearly be a big step up in competition, Jones has the talent and measurables to make the transition seamlessly.
Unlike nearly all of Green Bay’s defensive linemen, Jones projects to be an every-down player. He’s not solely a pass rusher like Mike Neal. He’s not just a run stopper like C.J. Wilson. Jones is versatile in that he is good in both pass and run situations, allowing Capers to keep him on the field regardless of whether the Packers are in their base 3-4 defense, playing the nickel or in any other package. In the same way coach Mike McCarthy values an every-down running back, having Jones on defense provides a similar luxury for Capers.
Though Green Bay has multiple needs to fill in this draft, general manager Ted Thompson had to address the defensive line early. Not only has it been a problem area for the Packers’ defense in recent years, there are also non-X’s-and-O’s issues to consider. Ryan Pickett is the oldest player on the entire roster and in the final year of his contract, so Thompson had to be prepared for the 33-year-old’s career to wind down. Jerel Worthy, a second-round pick in 2012 who didn’t have the rookie season many expected, could miss significant time after undergoing offseason knee surgery. Though nose tackle B.J. Raji is likely to be re-signed, he, like Pickett, is in the final year of his current contract.
Somehow, Green Bay needs to give linebacker Clay Matthews some help in bringing down quarterbacks. Thompson hopes that his 2012 first-round pick, outside linebacker Nick Perry, can contribute in that regard, but getting a player like Jones to add pressure up front should add a positive dynamic the Packers’ defense hasn’t had since Cullen Jenkins departed following the Super Bowl two years ago.
Plenty of quality Day 2 prospects still available. There were several first-round surprises Thursday night, including quarterback E.J. Manuel being selected at No. 16, two Day 2 offensive linemen prospects (Kyle Long and Justin Pugh) coming off the board and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins going at No. 27.
Along with those players being selected earlier than expected, this always was going to be the type of draft that had more depth than it had star power. Fortunately for the Packers, who are scheduled to pick at Nos. 55 (second round) and 88 (third round) on Friday, that leaves many good options still available.
Green Bay needs to address its starting safety spot next to Morgan Burnett, and Jonathan Cyprien (Florida International) is clearly the top player remaining at that position. Thompson will likely need to trade up about 15-20 spots in the second round if the Packers are going to land Cyprien.
No running backs were drafted in the first round, so Thompson could have his pick among several of the top players in this class. Eddie Lacy (Alabama) was expected to go in the first round, and though it didn’t happen, he’ll be gone by No. 55. Other Day 2 running back options are Montee Ball (Wisconsin), Giovani Bernard (North Carolina) and Johnathan Franklin (UCLA).
If Green Bay is uncertain about the health of Derek Sherrod, who has yet to play after breaking his leg late in the 2011 season, Thompson could add to the depth of the offensive tackle group. Menelik Watson (Florida State), Terron Armstead (Arkansas-Pine Bluff) and David Bakhtiari (Colorado) are likely the next three tackles to be chosen.
Linebackers Manti Te’o (Notre Dame), Kevin Minter (LSU) and Arthur Brown (Kansas State) are still available, as are tight end Zach Ertz (Stanford), defensive linemen Tank Carradine (Florida State) and Margus Hunt (Southern Methodist) and wide receivers Justin Hunter (Tennessee) and Robert Woods (USC).
Draft-day tweets: Aaron Rodgers remembered his first-round slide in 2005 as he watched West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith wait all night in the green room Thursday. Though Rodgers eventually got picked at No. 24 by Green Bay that year, Smith ended his night without a team.
Rodgers offered some words of encouragement to Smith via Twitter: “Hang in there Geno, “good things come to those who wait” -Paul Tagliabue”
Rodgers also welcomed the Packers’ newest addition to Green Bay, writing: “Welcome to GB Datone Jones. Bring your warmest jacket. Winter is coming.”