The Green Bay Packers selected UCLA defensive end Datone Jones with the 26th pick in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night.
The Packers addressed one of their positions in greatest need of an upgrade by taking Jones. The 6-foot-4, 283-pound Jones had 19 tackles for loss and 6½ sacks for UCLA in a breakout season in 2012 as a fifth-year senior.
Jones has a combination of quickness and strength that should give Green Bay a valuable run-stopper up front, an area of weakness that was exposed down the stretch last season.
The Packers entered this draft, the ninth under general manager Ted Thompson, with eight picks. They have the 55th and 88th overall selections in the second and third rounds on Friday night.
Jones, a lifelong Southern Californian who played at Compton High School, was the fourth defensive end taken. He sat out the 2010 season because of a broken foot but bounced back nicely. He received the Bruins' Captain Don Brown Award for the team's most improved player.
With their 3-4 defense, the down linemen for the Packers aren't as central to the scheme as in a 4-3 system, like when Reggie White, Gilbert Brown, Santana Dotson and Sean Jones dominated up front during their 1996 Super Bowl season. That doesn't mean the Packers could afford to ignore this position group, though. Far from it. That much became painfully clear to the front office, coaches, players and fans last fall and once winter arrived.
They were 26th out of 32 in the NFL last season in yards allowed per rushing attempt at 4.5. In two December games against rival Minnesota, league MVP award winner Adrian Peterson totaled 409 yards to help the Vikings split those crucial matchups. The Packers got in his way a little better in their playoff game at Lambeau Field, though an early deficit forced the Vikings away from their standard plan of pounding Peterson into the line until a long gain pops.
But then came San Francisco. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran the read option all over the Packers and their front seven, running for two touchdowns and 181 yards, a quarterback record for a playoff game. Frank Gore tacked 119 more yards.
Nose tackle B.J. Raji, a first-round pick in 2009, has entered the final year of his contract. Left end Ryan Pickett, also in the last season of his deal, will be 34 in October. Right end Jerel Worthy, a second-round draft pick last year, suffered a major knee injury in the regular season finale and is months away from being ready to play again.
Other ends C.J. Wilson, Mike Neal and Mike Daniels, all draft picks between 2010 and 2012, haven't done much yet to distinguish themselves from the pack. Nose tackle Johnny Jolly was recently signed to see if he can recover from drug problems to help strengthen the middle, but he hasn't played since 2009.