Before last season, DaQuan Jones was a man waiting to break out.
In 2013, he broke out.
We'd seen glimpses of it before--it's hard to miss a 6'5, 330-pound space eater, especially one as quick and disruptive as Jones can be at times. But it wasn't until Jordan Hill graduated and the defensive line was his to lead that Jones put it all together, breaking through to become the All-Big Ten player we knew he could be. Nagging injuries seemed to take their toll by midseason, but he still put together a terrific senior campaign, racking up 56 tackles--11.5 for a loss, tops on the team--and three sacks despite fighting through double teams en route to the offensive backfield more often than not.
He'll follow in a long, recent line of Penn State defensive tackles making his way to the NFL--Jones will be the fourth in the last five drafts, following Jared Odrick, Devon Still, and Jordan Hill, none of whom fell past the third round. Jones is projected as a second-day pick, likely to go in either the second or third round, which seems like fair value for someone a little more limited at the next level, a powerful, run-stuffing specialist who's tough to run away from in the middle of the field.
Unlike Odrick, the Dolphins 2010 first round pick, he doesn't have a great motor, lacking the sideline-to-sideline range to chase down running backs and even quarterbacks from behind--see: his 5.35 time in the 40, fourth-worst among defensive tackles at the combine. That's not his game--he's a straight-ahead force--but it's a knock, regardless. And even after dropping 25 pounds before his senior year, there have been some conditioning concerns.
There's also a matter of scheme. In a league that sees more and more teams adopting 3-4 defensive sets, he's best suited as an old-fashioned 4-3 DT, a strong bullrusher who forces his way into the backfield and is stout at the point of attack. He's quicker than he is fast--Jones' 3-cone drill was in the top 5 in Indianapolis--and his athleticism isn't an issue, with middle-of-the-pack finishes in both jumping drills. Yet despite his size, Jones would be a much better fit as a 3-4 end rather than as a more highly sought-after nosetackle--he's more useful fighting his way into the backfield and wrapping up ballcarriers than drawing double teams and freeing up his teammates. Although Jones is liable to throw around an offensive linemen, his game isn't predicated on pure strength, but a more nuanced physicality.
In the end, Jones has got the size and football skills in spades to succeed in the NFL--and he was taught by the best. Jones might not be a disruptive force in the NFL like he was in college--though I wouldn't bet against him--but he's strong and quick enough to stick around as part of a rotation from day one, and that's in a worst case scenario. He'll make some plays next year for whichever team snags him, and will likely shore up their run defense for years to come.
Jones' game isn't sexy, and neither will be the mid-round pick used to take him, but he's as likely to have a lengthy NFL career as any tackle in the draft.