Chandler Jones had a somewhat pedestrian three-year career as a defensive end at Syracuse University, compiling 10 sacks and 147 tackles in 32 collegiate games. Despite that relatively ordinary production at Syracuse, Jones was a darling of scouts leading up the 2012 NFL Draft, during which the New England Patriots made him the 21st overall selection of the first round.
Jones, 22, has wasted no time proving Bill Belichick and the Patriots right, and showing those who doubted him based purely on his collegiate statistics that they appear to have been wrong.
In seven games, the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Jones has garnered five sacks, forced three fumbles and made 31 tackles. Jones has given the Patriots a presence off the edge unlike any they have had in recent years.
Gil Brandt of NFL.com recently listed Jones as one of the top five up-and-coming defensive linemen in the league. Brandt admitted being surprised at how well Jones is playing.
"The rookie has been much better as a pro than I thought he was going to be, forcing three fumbles and posting 5.5 sacks while starting every game in 2012. Jones has very long arms and can play the run."
Dan Kadar of SB Nation NFL Draft is surprised by how quickly Jones has become a force.
"Going into his final year at Syracuse, there weren't a lot of draftniks higher on Jones than me. The negative on Jones was the that he got injured. That limited his development some and it made him a hard player to evaluate. Because of that, he fluctuated up and down the draft board throughout the year. So coming out of SU, I was cautiously optimistic about him. What was obvious to like about Jones was his ridiculous length. His first step, while inconsistent, was also a plus attribute. For a pass rusher, length and quickness are deadly, which is why I often compared Jones to Jason Pierre-Paul.
"As much as I liked Jones at SU, I didn't think he'd be this good this soon. Given his injuries, I was considering his rookie season a developmental year. But when the Patriots picked him, the thought was that they're going to make him a good player. Bill Belichick has struck out plenty on the secondary players he's taken early, but usually hits on the front seven. Jones is no exception."
Adam Fox of SB Nation's Patriots website, Pats Pulpit, says Jones has been better than advertised.
"Most of us assumed that drafting Chandler would pay dividends, but not immediately. His biggest knock coming out of Syracuse was that he was raw and unpolished; an excellent physical specimen very much in the vein of a Jason Pierre-Paul, but lacking the fundamental tools to contribute at the next level off the bat.
"It's really been the opposite. Chandler has looked incredibly explosive and is easily the Patriots' most effective pass rusher. What has most impressed is that he is far from a pure pass rushing specialist in sub packages; he's been excellent in run support as well, and has helped tremendously in cementing the Patriots as one of the best run defenses in football (in the top 10 all year).
"Unfortunately, his impact hasn't been felt in defending the pass. Too many targets have been finding themselves open too often as a result of a beleaguered secondary. It's in my opinion that Jones would find himself with a larger number of sacks with a more consistent secondary, as a couple more ticks on the clock would work wonders for Jones as he would be able to record those elusive "coverage" sacks.
"In short, it's been amazing what he's been able to do on a team with such troubles on the backend. His five sacks are an impressive total for a rookie, but what's even more impressive is his knack for jarring the ball loose with three forced fumbles collected so far on the season. A stop initiated by the defense is a necessity, but simultaneously putting the ball back in the Patriot offense's hands is lethal so he has worked wonderfully from a complementary standpoint.
"It kind of shocked the draft pundits when Jones fell as far as he did (no one here saw Jones as a viable draft option with the Patriots picking in the lower part of the round). Some saw it as teams unwilling to bite as Jones might have been too much of a project or a "feast or famine" type player given his raw skillset. Even after the Patriots moved up to #21 to make sure they got there man, he's still looking like a steal. The goal of the first round is to be able to grab someone with the ability to make an immediate impact on the roster, and Jones absolutely fits that bill."
At the end of his senior season NFL scouts were mixed about Jones' potential. May saw him as a third- or fourth-round pick. He moved up quickly during the pre-draft workouts, however, with his size and athleticism leading some to think he would end up being one of the top 10 players selected. He went to the Patriots with the 21st selection.
Sean Keeley of SB Nation's Syracuse website, Troy Nunes Is an Absolute Magician, is stunned by Jones' rapid rise.
A year ago, if you would have told Syracuse fans that Chandler Jones would go on to be a first-round pick and then play well enough to be named Rookie of the Month in the first month of the season, we would have called you liars. Not that we didn't think Chandler was good, but we didn't think he had THAT in him. It's a credit to him as an athlete how much he's grown in such a short amount of time and how he's made good on all that potential he brought with him to SU.
His senior season numbers were muted by the fact that he was injured for almost half the season but I think we saw just how good he could be his junior season. I think the expectations were always that he would get drafted and find a place in the NFL, but it's beyond our expectations that he's on the road to stardom.
Indeed, Jones appears to be the latest Orange alum on his way to becoming an elite player in the NFL. If, that is, he isn't there already.