Niner Noise continues its annual “Who Is?” series on San Francisco 49ers players in 2017 with a look at defensive lineman Chris Jones and his fit with the roster.
The San Francisco 49ers re-signed defensive tackle Chris Jones this offseason, adding a versatile reserve piece to a unit reinforced significantly via free agency and the NFL Draft.
Jones, 26 years old, started 22 games with the New England Patriots between 2013 and 2014 before a leg injury forced him to miss all of the 2015 season.
To date, Jones has 62 tackles and nine sacks on his pro resume:
The 6-foot-1, 293-pound linemen probably figures to be more of a nose tackle in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s 4-3 scheme, although Jones has the versatility to line up anywhere along the defensive line.
Considering San Francisco’s investments this offseason — Solomon Thomas, Earl Mitchell and D.J. Jones — Chris Jones figures to be more of a reserve piece and a rotational player suited to provide necessary backup.
With some heated competition along the D-line, how will Jones fit into San Francisco’s plans this season?
San Francisco 49ers
Why He’ll Improve
Jones managed to start six games for the 49ers a year ago at a time where injury and attrition were taking their toll on San Francisco’s defensive front.
The team thought highly enough of Jones to bring him back in 2017, and early indications are the transaction was worthwhile.
During team organized activities (OTAs), Jones helped distinguish himself as one of the better defensive standouts, per Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee:
"One of the standouts Tuesday was backup defensive tackle Chris Jones, who was seen hustling from sideline to sideline whenever he was in the game. Jones also looked quick against the run, on one play jumping into the backfield to grab rookie runner Matt Breida behind the line of scrimmage."
Jones’ efforts against the run will be of note, as nose tackles frequently are called upon to stuff runs up the middle.
But Jones also can bump out to either one of the defensive tackle positions, depending on the need. So this versatility figures to be a worthy asset as Jones looks to make the back end of the roster.
Why He’ll Regress
Despite flashing some interior pass-rushing skills earlier in his career, Jones offers little in the pass rush and shouldn’t be counted on to get deep inside the pocket.
Additionally, Jones isn’t the fastest of defensive linemen, meaning the Niners shouldn’t count on him to be a reliable edge-setter without help on his opposite sides. This was reflected by Pro Football Focus last year, and Jones received a lowly 45.9 run-stopping grade.
Jones does have tremendous energy and a high motor, although this aggression sometimes leaves him out of position and susceptible to quick cuts by running backs.
He won’t have an easy go of it either. The Niners have three other linemen competing for a backup nose tackle spot behind Mitchell — D.J. Jones, Quinton Dial and Ronald Blair.
Like Chris Jones, Dial and Blair can also play the other interior-defender positions, meaning Jones will have to continue distinguishing himself during the offseason to retain a roster spot.
Is he an actual upgrade over these aforementioned teammates?
What to Expect in 2017
Jones’ chances to make the roster would increase if the Niners elected to either part ways with a player like Ronald Blair or, perhaps, trade an expensive backup like Quinton Dial.
This isn’t to say either scenario is likely or will happen. But Jones still have to do more than have just a few noteworthy practice sessions to keep his roster spot safe.
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San Francisco is already deep along its defensive line entering 2017, so Jones would have to clearly beat out someone like Blair to ensure he sticks around.
This isn’t out of the realm of possibility though. Jones’ early reports from OTAs are promising enough to help him remain a top candidate for a backup role this season.
Most likely, the 49ers hold onto Jones and are forced into making a tough decision with the remaining backups.
It could be Blair who doesn’t fit into San Francisco’s long-term plans, but Jones will need a solid training camp to force the Niners brass to make this choice.