The San Francisco 49ers big moves along the defensive line this offseason included drafting Solomon Thomas with the No. 3 overall pick, and signing veteran Earl Mitchell. Both are expected to get significant playing time this year, in what should be a sizable rotation along the line.
One player who could sneak into the mix is rookie DT D.J. Jones. The 49ers spent a sixth round pick on the Ole Miss product. He has a rare combination of power and athleticism, but by all accounts, consistency was the big issue for him in college. The 49ers have made it pretty clear they won’t put up with players not consistently producing.
NFL.com recently put together a look at five late round picks that could exceed expectations as rookies. They included Jones and tight end George Kittle. I figured I would split them up into two articles, focusing on Jones first. Here is the discussion they included with Jones:
Jones' issue is that he is a little bit squatty and doesn't always play with consistency. There are also questions about how he will handle NFL power at the point of attack from a power standpoint. However, Jones is a quick, disruptive interior lineman with the type of foot quickness that can give offensive linemen problems when he's rushing the quarterback. I saw flashes against SEC competition that made him look more like a third-rounder than a sixth-rounder and if he plays to his ability, he could become an early contributor and eventual starter.
Along with Jones, the competition for interior line work includes DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead (yes, I know Robert Saleh said he will get practice time at LEO, but that is not the only position at which he is practicing), Earl Mitchell, Quinton Dial, Ronald Blair, and Chris Jones.
There’s going to be a ton of competition as the team tries to figure out exactly who fits where. And given some of the versatility, some of these guys are not going to be playing just one role. Armstead is getting practice time at LEO, but he has had a decent amount of success as an interior defensive tackle. I suspect we see him playing more than just one role. Buckner and Thomas both can play inside and outside.
But regardless, Jones is a guy who will be worth watching as camp arrives. The 49ers run defense in particular was atrocious last season. The more depth they can find in the middle, the better.