No. 3: 49ers Defensive Tackle D.J. Jones
There is a lot of hype for the first-round draft pick, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, as there should be. Kinlaw is a one-man wrecking crew out of South Carolina. But I decided to leave any rookies off this list since their career has not even started yet.
So, insert defensive tackle D.J. Jones.
Jones was drafted in the sixth round in 2017, and last year was coming on strong. Actually, 2019 would have been a career year for him if he had stayed healthy. Jones does a great job getting leverage with his 6-foot-0, 321-pound frame. If you watched that Monday night game against the Seattle Seahawks in 2019, you know what I am referring to. One of the highlights of the night was Jones throwing Seahawks center Joey Hunt on his butt at the snap and proceeding to sack quarterback Russell Wilson before he even knows what was going on:
In the second clip of the video, we see Jones playing with speed and effort to make the sack on Carolina Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen.
His ability to combine his explosive power with his leverage is a skill you can’t put a price tag on. The trenches are all about playing low, getting under the opponent’s shoulder pads and bringing your hips through to throw your man where you need him to go. And more defensive lineman struggle with it than you think. No doubt Jones was helped by defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. It looked like a switch had been flipped for Jones in 2019, with only injury and so much depth at the position that stopped his career year from happening.
I am confident part of the reason 49ers general manager John Lynch felt he could trade away defensive tackle DeForest Buckner this offseason was because of how good Jones looked when he was on the field.
Kinlaw will see plenty of time, but early in the year, it’s better to avoid having to completely rely on a rookie to stop NFL offenses. A healthy Jones, minus Buckner, means plenty of snaps and a huge opportunity to break out for a career year.