GREEN BAY – The phone did ring. It rang a few times on Thursday morning, and then it rang again on Thursday evening. But once the Green Bay Packers went on the clock with the 26th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, general manager Ted Thompson was no longer taking calls. He had his guy – UCLA defensive end Datone Jones – and he wasn’t interested in trading back to add more picks.
Why? Because, Thompson said, the Packers didn’t think Jones would make it down to them at No. 26.
“There were several conversations earlier in the day and through the first part of the draft, but when it got to be our pick, we were pretty committed,” Thompson explained late Thursday night. “We were a little surprised that the opportunity was still there to take him.”
Asked if there were several players he considered or if Jones was the clear-cut choice, Thompson replied, “He’s the one that we decided on. We had a couple names that we thought were legitimate and were a little surprised were still there."
Among the others available at the time were North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams (No. 28 to Denver), Georgia inside linebacker Alec Ogletree (No. 30 to St. Louis), Florida safety Matt Elam (No. 32 to Baltimore) and a pair of wide receivers – Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins (No. 27 to Houston) and Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson (No. 29 to Minnesota).
Notre Dame inside linebacker Manti Te’o and Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, neither of whom was drafted in the first round, were also still on the board.
Among the players who went before the Packers were on the clock were Syracuse tackle Justin Pugh (No. 19 to the New York Giants) and Oregon guard Kyle Long (No. 20 to Chicago) – two of the eight offensive linemen to go in the first 20 picks – as well as LSU safety Eric Reid (No. 18 to San Francisco), Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (No. 23 to Minnesota) and Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner (No. 24 to Indianapolis).
Jones said he didn’t think the Packers were particularly interested in him until “this last week. I started getting more calls and heard, ‘They’re really interested, so be ready to become a Packer.’ I thought I was going to fall to the Colts, which I was kind of sad having to go there. Growing up my childhood team was, I liked the Giants and the Packers. So when I finally saw the Green Bay Packers come up on my screen, oh my gosh, I almost fainted. Because it’s such a dream come true to be able to play for the Packers and greats from the past like Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji. And to have Aaron Rodgers as a quarterback is so surreal.”
The 6-foot-4, 285-pound Jones joins a defensive line group that has Raji and veteran defensive tackle Ryan Pickett entering the final year of their respective contracts; fourth-year defensive end Mike Neal coming off his best and healthiest season to date; and second-year end Jerel Worthy’s status uncertain after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during the Dec. 30 regular-season finale at Minnesota.
“As we watched Datone, you could see him do a lot of the things that we ask our defensive linemen to do,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “We feel he brings versatility from the standpoint that he has very good length. He has the ability to play either outside at defensive end and obviously we play an awful lot of sub packages today in defending the offenses that we have to defend. So, he can move inside and play inside.
“He’s an athletic player, has some basketball background. I think he’s a high-character guy with a very good work ethic. Again, as we watched him play, it was easy to project him playing in our defense because they play a very similar defense at UCLA.”
Jones, who grew up in Compton, Calif., played in 10 games as a true freshman in 2008 and had 15 tackles. He became a full-time starter in 2009, registering 30 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, four sacks and two forced fumbles in 13 starts at defensive end.
But in the first practice of fall camp his junior year, he fractured the fifth metacarpal in his right foot and wound up taking a medical redshirt. He returned in 2011 to record 41 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in 14 starts (12 at defensive end, two at defensive tackle).
But it was upon ex-NFL coach Jim Mora’s arrival that Jones truly flourished, taking to the Bruins’ 3-4 scheme and putting up 62 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks last season in 14 starts. He also caught a 7-yard touchdown pass playing tight end against Houston. He then further improved his draft stock with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl in January.
“Every day I would go in Coach Mora’s office and ask him, ‘Hey coach, have you contacted the Senior Bowl? Have I gotten an invite? How do I get an invite?’ Because I felt like a lot of people didn’t know who Datone Jones was.” said Jones, who was in New York earlier in the day for the draft but flew home to Los Angeles, arriving in time to see the Kansas City Chiefs take Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher with the No. 1 overall pick. “And I wanted to show the world who I was not only as a player, but as a person.”
Former Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel, who recruited Jones to UCLA, gushed about him during a visit with Craig Karmazin and Mark Chmura on the Miller Lite Football Draft show Thursday night on ESPNWisconsin.com.
“He busted his tail to get the passing grade on the SAT, he came to UCLA and everybody thought he’d be a real work in progress (and wondered) if he’d survive. He ended up being on the honor roll more often than not because of the work ethic he put in,” Neuheisel said. “Just a remarkable young guy.
“I thought he was going to be a really special pass rusher, but what he really blossomed as was a run guy, in terms of taking on blocks and holding gaps and doing all that stuff.
“What must’ve impressed the Packers’ brass at the Senior Bowl was his quick twitch and his ability to do both. … I know he’s a quick learner. I think the Packers saw what I’ve always seen: Great character and great desire. And I think he’s going to look great in green and gold.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.