Often overlooked behind the imposing wall of No. 1 draft picks on the 49ers’ defensive line is D.J. Jones.
When analysts and fans talk about San Francisco’s defensive front, it’s Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas and recent first-round choice Javon Kinlaw who draw attention.
Jones wants to be in the conversation, too.
Jones, a nose tackle/defensive tackle, was a sixth-round pick by the 49ers out of Mississippi in 2017. The 6-foot, 321-pounder is a powerful space eater in the middle of the scrimmage mass who doesn’t come roaring off the edge to collect sacks the way Bosa and Ford do, or dominate from the inside – as a pass rusher – a la Armstead.
Yet Jones was a formidable player in 2019, starting the 49ers’ first 11 games after working his way into the starting group in 2018 for four games. In 2019, Jones was in on 23 tackles, had two sacks, forced a fumble, had four tackles for loss and four quarterback pressures. He did the work inside, filling gaps, getting penetration and taking on blockers to help stifle opposing running games and allow teammates to make plays – until he was lost for the season to an ankle injury in an early-December victory over the Saints.
Late in the year, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh compared him to former Seahawks standout nose tackle Brandon Mebane, saying Jones is an “explosive” talent.
“He’s just got great balance, great explosion, great foot quickness and a lot of power,” Saleh told reporters. “He’s kind of built low to the ground so he’s tough to deal with.”
Jones says his ankle is “100 percent,” and he’s eager to get back to the Bay Area from his home in South Carolina once the Niners re-open team facilities.
Jones says he’s working hard to make himself a better and more versatile player so he can become more of a three-down defensive lineman than a situational defender on running downs.
“I’m just simulating rushing the passer,” Jones told reporters recently, when describing his workouts. “I’m so used to run blocking and standing the guy up and looking for the ball to come to me. But with pass rush, you’ve got to get the quarterback. I’ve never really been a third-down guy, but I can be that guy and that’s what I’m working on now.
“As long as I keep moving my feet, as my defensive line coach (Kris Kocurek) continues to tell me to work on, I can get to the quarterback.”
Jones, 25, also is a relative bargain. He goes into the final year of his contract due to make as much as $861,967. A big season in 2020 could set up a big reward for him in 2021.