Why Jones and Daniels are on the list
I sat in the front row at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine when an unprompted Packers coach Mike McCarthy raved about Jones as a "very talented young man" ready to make a "huge jump" in his second season. Described as "nearly unblockable" early in training camp, the first-round draft pick ended up playing just 24.2 percent of the defensive snaps due to a high-ankle sprain sustained on the first snap of the preseason.
McCarthy emphasized, however, that Jones was ticketed for a major role prior to the nagging injury. At 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds, he carries his pads well with model size for a 3-4 defensive end. NFL Films guru Greg Cosell even compared Jones to a scaled-down version of Richard Seymour entering the 2013 NFL Draft.
Now he gets to learn the tricks of the trade from Julius Peppers, one of the NFL's premier defensive ends of the past decade. Cosell expressed the belief that Jones will develop into a better pass rusher in the NFL than he was at UCLA.
Undersized (nearly 6-foot-1, 291 pounds) and coming off a torn labrum at Iowa, Daniels fell to the Packers in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. His game film is eerily similar to that of Aaron Donald, the No. 13 overall pick in last month's draft.
Daniels has since bulked up to 300 pounds, adding stout run defense to a strong pass-rushing repertoire. Despite playing just half of the defensive snaps, Daniels paced the Packers' defensive line with 31 pressures while finishing as a top-six 3-4 end in Pro Football Focus' 2013 ratings. He tripled his rookie-season output with 6.5 sacks.
What stands out on Game Rewind is Daniels' relentless motor. Powerfully built with a low base, he pushes offensive linemen into the pocket and stays with the play until he gets within diving range of the quarterback.
Had he turned a few more of those hurries into sacks, he would already be on the radar outside of Wisconsin.
Much like Jerel Worthy the year prior, Jones' rookie season was a disappointment. Outside of a two-sack performance against the Eagles, he didn't show the athleticism, speed and quickness that jumped out to NFL Media analyst Gil Brandt on Jones' college tape. Although he does boast strong hands, Jones needs work on his technique.
The lone obstacle to a Daniels breakout is playing time. Even though he was often the best player on a soft defense, the coaches weren't comfortable using him as more than a rotational end. If his snaps inch toward 70 percent, he's a virtual lock for double-digit sacks to go with stout run defense.
The Packers entered the offseason determined to get more athletic and versatile so they can catch up with the defenses using multiple alignments. Along those lines, Jones is set to replace departed veteran Ryan Pickett as the bookend to Daniels, with B.J. Raji staying inside at nose tackle.
Jones guarantees a breakout this year. With more creative fronts featuring him, Daniels, Peppers and Clay Matthews attacking the pocket, the opportunity will be there to at least double his rookie total of 3.5 sacks.
Daniels wants Dom Capers' defense to get "meaner" this year because he's tired of "getting our faced punched in" by other teams. There's every reason to believe that transformation will take place this season.
In addition to the gang of pass rushers already mentioned, the Packers will benefit from the emergence of hybrid defensive back Micah Hyde, the addition of rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and the return of several key players missing from the playoff loss to the 49ers.
This is not just the NFL's most improved unit, but also one of the deepest.