Can Datone be Cullen?

datone joensEvery time a team wins the Super Bowl, it seems like the rest of the league assumes that all their players are awesome and immediately tries to sign as many of them as possible. Call it a casualty of success or whatever you like, but good teams always get raided. That’s how the NFL works.

2010 was no different for the Packers, and their most notable departure was defensive end Cullen Jenkins. Jenkins was notable for his ability to play inside and outside. His size (6’3″, 292 lbs.) and quickness made him a force both against the run and the pass, and since he could play both end and defensive tackle, he rarely came off the field.

With a skill set like that, it’s not terribly surprising that the Packers really haven’t been able to replace him. As the roster currently stands, C.J. Wilson isn’t quick enough to be Jenkins, Mike Daniels is probably too short, Jerel Worthy has a bum knee,  and although Mike Neal has shown flashes, he can’t stay on the field long enough to show whether or not he’s the real deal.

That brings us to the latest contestant: Datone Jones. Drafted for his versatility and size, Jones may be the best contender yet to fill the hole left by Jenkins on the defensive line. But can he do it? History tells us it’ll be an uphill battle for Jones to match what Jenkins produced when he was at his best.

In his three most productive seasons (2006, 2010, and 2011 with Philadelphia), Jenkins totaled 6.5, 7, and 5.5 sacks, an average of six and a third sacks per season. For ease of comparison, let’s assume that to replace Jenkins, Jones would have to total 6.5 sacks this season. That’s where some of the bad news comes in.

Since the 2000 season, only 20 rookie defensive ends have met or exceeded the 6.5 sack “Jenkins Replacement Line,” the latest being Jabaal Sheard in 2011. From a purely statistical standpoint, then, it seems slightly unlikely that Jones will put up the numbers we saw from Cullen Jenkins during his best years.

But of course, Jenkins’ value to the Packers as much tactical as statistical, and that’s where Jones might be able to make up the lost statistical ground. It’s thought that, like Jenkins, Jones might be able to play the end spot in the Packers’ base 3-4 defense, then slide inside to defensive tackle on passing downs. The Packers have lacked a player with that kind of ability since Jenkins left, and being able to move him around could make Jones a valuable commodity, even if he doesn’t produce the same stats as Jenkins.

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