In April, the New England Patriots drafted seven players they believed could help out the franchise in 2013. Chris Jones was not one of them. In fact, the 2012 MAC Defensive Player of the Year out of Bowling Green did not even hit the Gillette Stadium practice fields until being claimed off the waiver wire by the Patriots on Sept. 12.
Had Aaron Dobson not gotten hurt towards the end of the season or been less raw and hauled in more of Tom Brady throws early on, he would be the front-runner. Furthermore, the case could have been made for either inside linebacker Jamie Collins, who is among the most athletic players on the defense, or punter Ryan Allen, 14th in the league in punting average at 45.9 per punt, as the first-year player who had the largest impact.
Yet Jones demonstrated Bill Belichick‘s “Next Man Up” philosophy to the best of his abilities. Vince Wilfork, a five-time Pro Bowler, went down in Week 4 in what was also Jones’ first NFL game. Then a week later the other starting defensive tackle, Tommy Kelly, injured his knee and was put on injured reserve for the rest of the season. Under such dire circumstances with Kelly and Wilfork out for the year, the Patriots countered by featuring two undrafterd rookies in their 4-3 system in Jones and Joe Vellano. Vellano played respectable over the course of the regular season, but Jones made the largest impression.
Despite Jones being most well-known for the 15-yard, ticky-tack, unnecessary roughness penalty in the Week 7 loss at the New York Jets, the rookie’s impact was felt in various aspects of the game. He plays both special teams and started 11 games in his 13 2013 appearances, recording 6.0 sacks (3rd on the team behind Chandler Jones‘ 11.5 and Rob Ninkovich‘s 8.0) and a unit-high 25 tackles. If he were to go down in the playoffs, the defensive front four would take a huge hit, possibly costing the Patriots a returning trip to the Meadowlands and Jones a chance to redeem to himself for October’s unforeseen yellow flag.