This free agent-to-be turned his career around after moving to the inside.
By PAUL IMIGFS Wisconsin
Today is the 24th day of FOX Sports Wisconsin Packers writer Paul Imig's offseason evaluations of every player on Green Bay's roster. Click here for all of Paul's previous evaluations and come back every day through mid-March for Paul's in-depth film and statistical analysis. Coming up soon:
Season stats: 18 games (16 regular season, two postseason); 88 tackles, 11 missed tackles, two sacks, six quarterback hurries, four passes defensed, zero interceptions, one forced fumble, two penalties
Best game: Week 16 win over Tennessee (10 tackles, zero missed tackles, one sack, one pass defensed; played 59 of 60 defensive snaps; season-best 3.1 PFF rating)
Worst game: Wild-card playoff win over Minnesota (five tackles, two missed tackles, one stop, zero sacks, zero passes defensed; played 61 of 63 defensive snaps; minus-1.3 PFF rating)
ProFootballFocus.com season rating: 6.8 (No. 5 out of 23 among Packers defensive players; best among Packers inside linebackers; No. 12 out of 52 among NFL inside linebackers)
Expectations at the start of the season: Low
Expectations were ... Exceeded
Looking live: Entering training camp, Jones was just one of many linebackers who appeared to be lost in the shuffle at a deep position on the Packers roster. A seventh-round pick by Green Bay in 2009, Jones never performed very well at outside linebacker in his first three NFL seasons. So, the Packers' coaching staff decided a change was in order and moved Jones inside. That turned out to be a career-changing switch for Jones. He was still behind Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith on the depth chart, but once they both were out for the season, Jones was given the starting job. He took over in Week 7 and played all but seven of the defensive snaps throughout the remainder of the season, including the playoffs. Jones didn't play any defensive snaps in the first five games, so going from that level to an every-down player overnight was quite a step up. In recent years, A.J. Hawk had been the linebacker on the field for every one of defensive coordinator Dom Capers' sub packages. But this year, it was Jones. He earned those snaps, too, surprisingly playing like one of the Packers' top-six defensive players all season.
Upon further review: Given the expectations for Jones, he could not have played much better in 2012. That is a credit to him and to the Packers coaching staff for recognizing where Jones' skills would better work on the field. In his first three NFL seasons, he wasn't holding up well at outside linebacker. At 6-foot-3, 242 pounds, an undersized Jones was asked to pass rush against giant offensive tackles, most of whom outweighed him by at least 80 pounds. It wasn't working, and Jones' career was going nowhere. However, Jones found his calling on the inside in 2012. Jones was good in run defense situations and decent in coverage. He did have too many missed tackles, though, nearly leading the team in that category despite not playing the first five games. Jones also struggled in the postseason. Perhaps he was worn out after playing more regular-season snaps than could have been expected, but Jones' two worst performances came in the playoffs.
Overall 2012 grade: B
Status for 2013: 55 percent chance of being on the Packers' active roster in Week 1 next season. Jones, who will turn 27 in April, is an unrestricted free agent. There could be a market for Jones, which could put Green Bay out of the running to retain him. Considering the Packers' depth at inside linebacker, including Jamari Lattimore and 2012 fifth-round pick Terrell Manning, plus the return of Bishop and Smith, Green Bay isn't in a position where it has to be concerned about entering next season without Jones. But, for the right price, re-signing him would be a good move. He proved that he can get the job done at inside linebacker if called upon. If the Packers decide to part ways with Hawk this offseason, that will increase the likelihood Jones is re-signed as a cheaper option.