GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Datone Jones understands the expectations. Everyone who is a first-round draft pick in the NFL does.
“The biggest thing I think people think when I’m not playing, being a first-round pick, they think that being a first-round pick I should be able to come in and just get the sacks and this, that and the other,” the Green Bay Packers rookie defensive end said on Friday.
“But that’s not the case.”
Jones isn’t alone among the Packers’ recent first-round picks.
For different reasons, injuries among them, the players taken at the top of general manager Ted Thompson’s past four drafts have had a hard time living up to their billing.
Here’s a look at each one:
Datone Jones (No. 26 overall in the 2013 draft)
When training camp opened, Jones was one of the most impressive players on the field. He regularly shined in the one-on-one pass-rushing drills, beating all comers for would-be sacks and quarterback pressures.
Then, on his first snap in the preseason opener, Jones sprained his ankle and missed the next game. He returned for the final two exhibitions but did not look the same. When the regular-season opened, he was relegated to limited duty as one of the two inside rushers in the Packers’ sub package on obvious passing downs.
In four games, Jones has played only 27.2 percent of the defensive snaps. He’s still looking for his first sack and, according to ProFootballFocus, he has yet to even pressure or hit a quarterback.
“I think Datone is a work in progress,” Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. “Like I told him the other day, ‘Really with where you were, we’re four games into the season now, and with as much training camp as you missed and preseason games you missed, it’s like you’re coming out of the preseason right now.’ The thing that he has to learn that’s different for him is, he’s got to learn to come in for a play and kick some (butt) and then leave. Come in for a play, kick some (butt), then leave. He’ll get it.”
That, Jones said, has been the biggest adjustment. He said he has not been a part-time player since his freshman season at UCLA.
“You usually go in, you start, you get a rhythm of who you’re playing against and you’re making plays,” Jones said. “But that’s not the case for me. I’m coming in on third down, I have to get my feet wet. Every time I go in I have to get a mindset that this is the one play I’m in until the next third-and-long or whatever they’re going to do with me. I’ve just got to come out and play fast.”
Nick Perry (No. 28 overall in the 2012 draft)
A week ago, things looked bad for Perry.
He lost his starting outside linebacker spot to Mike Neal, a converted defensive end who has only been playing the position for a few months.
Then Perry, in a backup role, put together the first two-sack game of his NFL career on Sunday against the Detroit Lions.
Did the light finally go on, or was it a steady progression in his transformation from a college defensive end at USC that led to his breakout performance?
“Steady progression,” outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene insisted.
Perhaps it was the best motivational tool in sports -- the bench. Or maybe, as only time will tell, it was a one-game wonder.
“You go game by game, and some games you don’t get there; production doesn’t show,” Perry said. “You want to do good things on the field, but it doesn’t show. I had a good game. I got some sacks. I got to the quarterback. I made some plays out there that stood out.”
Like Jones, an injury slowed Perry as a rookie. His season ended after only six games because of a wrist injury that he actually suffered in the season opener.
A year removed from being a first-round pick, perhaps there’s less pressure on Perry now.
“I’m not sure what was going through his mind; I know he’s probably happy that his wrist is healed,” Greene said. “That was a big part of his deal last year.”
Both of Perry’s sacks came from the right side, a spot normally manned by Clay Matthews. But with Matthews out for up to a month because of a broken thumb, Perry will continue to play on that side -- his preferred side where he played in college.
Derek Sherrod (No. 32 overall in the 2011 draft)
Unable to win a starting job as a rookie, Sherrod was the backup swing tackle and saw action in five games. On Dec. 18, 2011, he broke both of the bones in his lower right leg and hasn’t practiced or played since.
He remains on the physically unable to perform list, but is eligible to begin practicing next week. It’s unclear if that will happen right away, but coach Mike McCarthy said this week that he expects Sherrod to able to play this season.
Bryan Bulaga (No. 23 overall in the 2010 draft)
Once viewed as a mainstay at tackle -- Bulaga started 33 games from 2010 to 2012 -- injuries have derailed his career.
He has not played since Nov. 4, 2012, when he suffered a season-ending hip injury. Then, he blew out his knee less than two weeks into training camp this summer and won’t play until 2014.
McCarthy had planned to make Bulaga the cornerstone of their revamped offensive line, moving him from right tackle to left tackle in the offseason.