EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings defense tallied just 23 sacks in 2020, the lowest total in franchise history since sacks became an official stat in 1982.
Minnesota addressed that need in the third round of the draft, selecting Patrick Jones II with the 90th overall pick.
Chris Trapasso, a nationally-respected draft expert with CBS Sports, said that was right around where he expected the Pittsburgh defensive end to be taken.
"I had an early fourth-round grade on him, so this wasn't much of a reach at all," Trapasso said. "It filled a need … and I liked the idea of going with a high-floor player in Patrick Jones."
But what Trapasso really liked about Minnesota's selection of Jones is that the edge rusher brings an already-refined skill set to the Vikings.
"I really liked how polished he was as a pass rusher. And when I say that, I mean that he has pass rushing moves," Trapasso said. "He understands — even in the ACC, he understood that he wasn't going to just be able to win around the corner with speed or power.
"He can swim move back to the inside, do a simple crossover move like a basketball player," Trapasso continued. "He understood how to use a swipe move, a rip move on the outside speed rush.
"He comes in very refined in how to use his hands," Trapasso added. "For as much as being a good athlete can be a good indicator of future success, if you're a defensive lineman entering the league and you still have no idea how to use your hands, it's going to be an uphill climb."
Let's take a look at how Jones performed in college, as well as what his role could be as a rookie in 2021.
Player Profile: Patrick Jones II, Pittsburgh, redshirt senior
Jones redshirted in 2016, and was then a reserve defensive end in 2017 and 2018 for the Panthers. He tallied 5.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss in those two seasons before earning a starting role in 2019.
He blossomed into a legit starter, recording 43 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and four forced fumbles as a redshirt junior.
That ascension continued in 2020 when Jones started all 11 games for Pittsburgh at defensive end. He racked up 44 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 9.0 sacks and a fumble recovery. His 2020 sacks total led the ACC and ranked fifth in the nation, and his 22 career sacks rank 12th all-time in program history.
View photos of Pittsburgh DE Patrick Jones II who was selected in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Vikings Director of College Scouting Jamaal Stephenson called Jones an "incredible athlete" and said he was too good to pass up in the third round.
"[Patrick] kind of burst onto the scene in 2019. He was more of a rotational guy in '18. He's a guy who finished with 22 total sacks in his career, so he does have a knack for rushing the passer," Stephenson said. "He's a long guy, like we like our defensive ends [to be]. We believe he has more growth in him as far as the pass rush and playing the run."
2021 Outlook: Trapasso also noted that Jones' frame (6-foot-4 and 262 pounds) fits the mold of what the Vikings look for in a defensive end.
And with Danielle Hunter slated to occupy one starting spot, there is likely to be plenty of competition for the other starting gig (and playing time in general) at defensive end.
Trapasso believes Jones can insert himself into the mix early on if he shows strong progression through training camp and the preseason.
"I think so," Trapasso said. "There's what I mentioned earlier with his pass rushing moves, and the fact that he was really productive. And beyond being a high-floor player, I think there's also instant impact.
"There's not a lot of development and not someone the Vikings need to feel like, 'Hey, maybe by 2022 or 2023 that Patrick Jones could be a decent contributor.' I think with that competition for the No. 2 edge rusher, I think Jones will be a strong candidate to hit the ground running and be productive."
Jones will likely battle with Stephen Weatherly and D.J. Wonnum for playing time, along with Hercules Mata'afa, Jordan Brailford, Kenny Willekes and fellow rookie Janarius Robinson.
Coachspeak: "We kind of got on Patrick fairly early in the process of starting to watch guys. Pat plays really, really hard. He's done a nice job so far out here with us, and we like his length. We have a certain prototype we look for with our ends."
— Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer
Film Breakdown: Former Vikings player and coach Pete Bercich, now a Vikings Radio Network analyst, looked at some of Jones' tape from Pittsburgh.
Much like Trapasso, Bercich noted early on that Jones certainly has the tools to succeed in the NFL, especially under Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator/defensive line coach Andre Patterson.
"He has a lot of quickness, a lot of speed … characteristics that I think Andre Patterson is excited about," Bercich said. "I think he's going to be an early contributor to this Vikings defense in 2021."
Bercich highlighted one sack where Jones in a short span displayed both patience and burst, traits that could help him against elite-level quarterbacks in the league.
"This is a great example of a controlled pass rush," Bercich said. "He balances up and rushes outside, but keeps that right arm underneath the neck of the offensive lineman.
"He's able to get off and keep vision on the quarterback, and then boom, you see the explosion and the quickness to the quarterback," Bercich added. "With a guy like Aaron Rodgers, you're going to have a little bit more of a balanced attack. Jones has the speed to chase [a QB] down once a quarterback leaves the pocket."
Bercich noted that Jones will obviously have to make some adjustments under Patterson, such as his initial stance and pad level, but his ability to stand up against the run — plus versatility to also move inside on pass-rushing downs — should help him get on the field as a rookie.
"If he works on his pad level, he has all the quickness and the strength and the speed to be a great defensive end in the NFL," Bercich said. "He just has to tweak that technique a little bit, and I think Andre Patterson is the guy to do it."