When any season of professional sports season comes to a close, everyone involved — players, coaches, front office execs, and fans — all know that the current iteration of their team will never be the same. It’s all a short-lived chemistry experiment with certain elements positioned to create reactions that we’ll never see replicated again.
That’s the fun of sports. You know that what you just saw is a special alchemy of a particular time and place, driven by the players out on the field, who’ve developed their own kind of chemistry. Sure, the realities of sports business mean that some of your favorite players will outperform what your favorite team can pay them and have no choice but to find a new place to hang their cleats. It hurts now, but remember that them getting their money is important, too.
Really, what I’m trying to say is don’t cry because it’s over. Instead, smile because it happened. There’s maybe no player who fits better under that aphorism than D.J. Jones. The sixth-round pick, who transformed into one of the league’s most disruptive players at his position during the five years he spent with the 49ers.
So, let’s take a moment to appreciate all the smiles that D.J. gave us. Jones, the stout defensive tackle, played with a shocking level of athleticism for a man of his size and stature. At six foot and just over 300 pounds, he could bully interior linemen, eat space, stuff the run, and, at times, seemingly transform into a linebacker to make some of the most impressive high motor plays ever put on film.
WREAKING HAVOC AGAINST SEATTLE IN 2021
This past season, D.J. Jones had two forced fumbles on his resume, and they were both against the most bitter divisional rivals, the Seattle Seahawks. Both of these plays put on full display what always made Jones such a fun player.
First of all, these require some serious head-on-a-swivel type field recognition. Furthermore, while having the insights and instincts to know where the ball is going and where to be, you still have to get there. In each of these cases, Jones flat-out moves to get in on these tackles. It’s really icing on the cake that a college nose tackle has the presence of mind to strip a ball carrier in the open field.
DJ Jones is routinely slept on. Recognizes the play design then swarms to the ball and forces a fumble. pic.twitter.com/KHFmK31i8V— Jason Aponte (@JasonAponte2103) October 5, 2021
SHUTTING DOWN A FAKE FIELD GOAL
For my money, this might be my favorite play from what turned out to be the most complete and dominant performance by this 49ers team. The Rams were clearly desperate to claw their way back into this one and didn’t want to settle being down two scores going into the half. A big momentum swing on a special teams’ fake might have been enough for them to gather some composure during the break and win this one, effectively ending the Niners season in the process.
But none of that happens because, once again, D.J. Jones has the awareness of a velociraptor and the power of a T-Rex. Watch as he senses the fake, peels out of the pile-up, and sets his GPS tracking on the receiver with the accuracy of a heat-seeking missile. Not to mention, you could use his technique when wrapping up as practice tape for an all-ages instructional video.
EMBARRASSING LINEMEN FOR A SACK
These are the moments that first made people take notice of what D.J. Jones was doing. His ability to beat his man on the inside, either for a sack or to stonewall a running back, shows up on film all the time. In these cases, he wins at the point of attack and then chases down three quarterbacks who range from fleet-footed to downright teleporters in terms of escapability.
The one that will always stand out as particularly impressive is the sack of Russell Wilson on Monday Night Football in 2019. The strength necessary to toss an offensive lineman is hard for us mere mortals to even imagine possessing. The burst off the line here and quick pursuit of Wilson brings to mind the boulder from the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Except this time, Indy hits the deck and ends up smushed.
In this particular play, Jones demonstrates his power move by, quite literally, catching the guard off balance. He nearly spins the man around like a top and sends him careening upfield while in pursuit. Kyler Murray, try as he might, can’t spin his way out of this one because the closing speed is too much for him.
Jones notched a beauty in his first playoff appearance after missing the 2019 run due to injury and used his biggest ever platform to show just how good he is. For this attack, he uses his deceptive quickness off the jump and leaves his man in the dust, watching helplessly as Dak Prescott gets mowed down. It’s this speed mixed with his power that makes him such a unique and productive player.