The San Francisco 49ers spent a sixth round pick on Ole Miss defensive tackle D.J. Jones in the 2017 NFL Draft. Prior to playing for Ole Miss, Jones played at East Mississippi Community College of Last Chance U fame, parlaying his strong performances there into the opportunity to play at a higher level. Having taken his potential last chance to play at an FCS school, he was chosen as Ole Miss’ most improved defensive player prior to declaring for the NFL Draft.
Jones’ first year in the NFL was undoubtedly filled with promise, though he only appeared in the first ten games of the season. Jones enters his second training camp looking to climb the nose tackle depth chart and prove himself as a viable game day player or he will run the risk of finding himself off the roster.
Experience: Second season
Weight: 321 lbs
Jones enters the second year of his four year rookie contract. He has a cap hit of $591,963 and a dead cap of $36,967 if he doesn’t make the roster.
Why he might improve in 2018
In his time on the field, Jones showed himself to be stout at the point of attack and possessing rare mobility for a 320-pounder. Given he will likely have added strength and improved his body, one can expect those traits to be further improved, making him a unique package at the nose tackle position. He also has a good motor and for a team looking to be at least two deep in the trenches, Jones is an excellent piece to have given his rare attributes. If he shows out in camp and preseason, more game time in meaningful matches should allow him to showcase his talents more often. The key to his chances of staying on the roster could be on him being able to demonstrate he can play both 1-tech and 3-tech — valuable and unusual versatility for an interior player but undoubtedly a versatility that his traits suggest he could possess.
Why he might regress in 2018
The aforementioned valuable and unusual versatility is however, embodied by Sheldon Day. The signing of Day was a big reason for Jones’ lack of game time at the back end of the season, as his ability to play 1-tech and 3-tech made him a valuable piece on the 49ers’ game day roster. Day remains a Niner and clearly has the faith of Defensive Co-ordinator Robert Saleh. Earl Mitchell also has significant credit with his DC. With both those players seemingly ahead of him and the overall depth across the defensive line, Jones could find himself on the outside looking in for snaps. Pure nose tackles have a glass ceiling on their value in the NFL and a lack of snaps might well be the biggest obstacle facing Jones, causing a ‘regression’ of sorts as such a dearth of snaps could lead to him being off the roster. The talent is there, but are there too many bodies?
Odds of making the roster
Jones is a strong bubble at this point. I believe that Earl Mitchell could be challenged by both Day and Jones for a roster spot, with the veteran having served one aspect of his purpose in helping Robert Saleh install his system. With Day and Jones being younger, cheaper, potentially more versatile players with higher ceilings, the 49ers might be loathe to let either one of them go in favor of retaining the veteran Mitchell.