National Football League
Is Chiefs DT Chris Jones NFL's most unheralded elite defender?
National Football League

Is Chiefs DT Chris Jones NFL's most unheralded elite defender?

Updated Feb. 6, 2023 8:26 p.m. ET

Chris Jones brought hell on earth to the Cincinnati Bengals

In the AFC Championship Game, he drew double teams and wreaked havoc anyway, using his rare size and length for a defensive tackle. And after Cincinnati tied the game at 20 in the fourth quarter, threatening Kansas City's hopes of returning to the Super Bowl, Jones hit another gear. 

On third-and-2 with 1:27 left, Jones knocked Bengals guard Max Scharping back to blow up the pocket and force intentional grounding by Joe Burrow. Then, to end the Bengals' potential game-winning drive, Jones showed his versatility. On third-and-8 from the Cincinnati 35 with 44 seconds remaining, he lined up on the edge, facing Bengals right tackle Hakeem Adeniji. Jones beat Adeniji with an outside move, sacked Burrow for a seven-yard loss and waved toward the Bengals sideline as he jogged off the field. 

"The most unstoppable man in football," Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark said postgame. 


It's a proclamation not universally acknowledged. 

A number of elite defenders receive more acclaim than Jones. Think Nick Bosa, a favorite for AP Defensive Player of the Year. Or Micah Parsons. Or Aaron Donald and T.J. Watt when healthy. But Jones, who had arguably the best season of his career in 2022 — he tied a career-high 15.5 sacks en route to first-team All-Pro honors — is in the same tier as those guys. He's the leader of a Chiefs defense that can't let down Patrick Mahomes.

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In Sunday's Super Bowl LVII against the Eagles (6:30 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App), who have a number of elite defenders, Jones might be the best one on the field. At the least, he's the one whose greatness is most apparent in comparison to his surrounding cast. 

Philadelphia has four players with at least 11 sacks — Haason ReddickJavon HargraveJosh Sweat and Brandon Graham — and the NFL's best secondary, featuring stars Darius Slay and James Bradberry. Reddick and Slay are Pro Bowlers this season. Bradberry was named a second-team All-Pro selection. 

Jones is the only Kansas City defender who's a Pro Bowler or was named to an All-Pro team.     

"My job is to make sure that I play hard, play physical, set a different side of the line of scrimmage and make my teammates around me make plays," Jones said last week. "It's taking the double team the whole game, or it's getting the one-on-one and winning." 

There is not a better pass-rushing defensive tackle in football than Jones. In the regular season, he led all interior defensive linemen in pressures (77), sacks (15.5) and hurries (50), according to Pro Football Focus. He also led all defensive tackles with a 21.5% pass rush win rate, which measures how often a pass rusher beats his block within 2.5 seconds, per ESPN Analytics. That was while facing more double teams than any other interior defender (69%). 

Kansas City's defense has been relatively average by various metrics, including points allowed (16th), passing yards allowed (18th), third-down efficiency (13th) and takeaways (tied-20th). It was second-worst in red-zone efficiency during the regular season, allowing touchdowns on 67.3% of opponent possessions that reached the 20-yard line. 

But pass rushing has been the unit's calling card, and at the forefront is Jones.

The Chiefs had 55 sacks in the regular season, second only to the Eagles' 70, and 188 pressures, sixth in the league, according to Next Gen Stats. The ability to consistently generate pressure has led to many wins, including the AFC title game. Burrow was sacked five times, including four times in the first half, and was pressured a combined 29 times, according to PFF. The latter tied a season-high for Kansas City. 

Apart from Jones, three other Chiefs players had at least five sacks in the regular season: rookie George Karlaftis (six), Clark (five) and Michael Danna (five).

"We were jelling together, the whole defense," Danna said of the Bengals game. "We executed the calls that coach gave us, the pressure, stunts [and] we hit on all cylinders, so it was great. We got to [Burrow]."

Before last week's AFC title game, Jones hadn't posted a sack in his previous 12 playoff games. It was a shadow over his greatness, something he obliterated with his two-sack, five-quarterback hit effort that helped the Chiefs get back to the Super Bowl for the third time in four seasons. 

It was a performance his offseason program had led to, Jones said. He was frustrated that he didn't make enough big plays in last season's AFC title game against Cincinnati, a season-ending loss for Kansas City. He wanted to answer the bell this time around. 

"I really personally do not care about stats in the playoffs," Jones said. "It doesn't really matter to me, but I'm glad that you guys can have another story that Chris Jones finally got a sack [in the playoffs]." 

How about this story: Jones has an argument as the best defender in football.

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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