When the Arizona Cardinals traded former first round pick Jonathan Cooper as well as a 2nd round draft pick to New England for pass rusher Chandler Jones, many things became evident.
The first thing is that the Cardinals are going for it all this year. We already knew that.
More importantly, the trade for Jones was indicative of just how unhappy general manager Steve Keim was with the pass rush production in 2015. Jones brings with him a track record of sustained success in being able to pressure opposing quarterbacks and bring them to the turf. He joins a new defense that considers itself highly aggressive and isn't afraid to throw the kitchen sink at you if it helps them win.
So, really, is the sky the limit for Chandler Jones?
With the Patriots, Jones was asked to play in a variety of positions. Lining up all over the defensive line as a defensive end, outside linebacker and even a defensive tackle, Jones was required to learn multiple positions and was unable to focus on purely pinning his ears back from the same spot every time. Now that he's in the desert, that will not be the case. Jones will almost exclusively be used as a right outside linebacker.
Don't believe me? Take a look at the charts below (credit to Pro Football Focus). The first chart contains snap counts at each position for each week. The second chart shows pressures, sacks and other info for each position he played at during the season. Expect each chart to look a lot different after the 2016 season.
In Arizona, Jones will specifically be asked to play over the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle and to use his length, speed and other disruptive abilities to get sacks. Very rarely will we see formations in which he isn't rushing the passer.
In the final year of his contract, it stands to reason that Jones could have his best year in the NFL. After all, he wants to get paid going into 2017. In 2015, he tallied 12.5 sacks, good for 5th in the league. It could also be argued that he hasn't played with this level of talent in front of him clearing way for his domination. Calais Campbell, Robert Nkemdiche, Frostee Rucker, Corey Peters and the likes are sure to open plenty of holes for Jones to burst through.
With all of that said, it's important that we manage our expectations. Jones was known for becoming complacent at times while in Foxborough, as evidenced by his mere 2 sacks over the final 6 games of the 2015 regular season.
We also have to account for how much room Jones has to improve on his numbers from last season. Has he hit his ceiling in terms of sack production? That is something we will get an indicator of early on in the regular season.
My personal opinion is that Jones records between 10-12 sacks in 2016. He definitely has the talent to do it, it's a matter of fully committing to playing at a high level at all times and learning all the nuances of the Cardinals defense.
There's no denying that Jones adds a key component to the Cards defense and helps elevate them in their potential Super Bowl. It's just important that we temper our expectations and see how it all shakes out.