Study of ONLY Middle and Inside Linebackers. *rankings readjusted for only MLB and ILB

Dhani Jones: How Good Is He And What Do We Do With Him?

This is the first article of a new series called “How Good Is He And What Do We Do With Him”. Pretty sweet title, right? It also goes by HGIHAWDWDWH (equally sweet) for short. Anyway, this series will cover the 2011 free agents. Basically, I’ll focus on one player and reveal everything about him- history, skill, weaknesses, etc. Then, I’ll play Mike Brown and decide if we should keep him. These articles are very in-depth and a bit lengthy, but if you want to sound like you know what you are talking about when discussing  Dhani Jones , look no further.

REUTERS/Eric Miller

Intro: In 2010, Dhani Jones was one of 3 Bengals that had his own show, but only Bengals fans and travel-channel-ers seem to know that. Recently, he has been making appearances around different networks (Fox and Friendsthe NFL Network, First Take on ESPN) to promote his new book: The Sportsman: Unexpected Lessons From An Around The World Sports Odyssey. In fact, his self-marketing reminds me of someone … his own show, his own book, crazy offseason adventures …  sounds a bit like 85 to me. But, Dhani is not at as unpredictable as Mr. Ochocinco himself. And the biggest difference between Dhani and Chad Ochocinco is that Dhani isn’t well known around the NFL. Bears Linebacker Brian Urlacher claims that he only knows Dhani for his bow ties (which I don’t believe). To Bengals fans, he’s been our leading tackler for the past three years. The big question is: will he return in 2011? There are three likely options:

  1. Mike Brown chooses to keep Dhani at Middle Linebacker,
  2. Mike Brown moves Rey Maualuga to middle and releases Dhani,
  3. Or Mike Brown moves Rey Maualuga to middle and convinces Dhani to stay in a backup role, with less money.

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History with the Bengals: Once his contract with the Philidelphia Eagles ended, he needed a job. Dhani was given a chance by the New Orleans Saints to make the roster, but was released during final roster cuts. He was given a chance by the Bengals, and was signed on September 19, 2007.  He started 9 of 14 games with the Bengals in 2007, then was resigned to a 3-year contract, and has started the remaining 48 games with the Bengals at Middle Linebacker. Since 2008, he has been the only Bengal defender to post 100+ tackles in a season. In fact, Dhani has done it all three seasons. But, he’s never been in the Pro Bowl, and he’ll turn 34 next February.

What he brings to the team:

Originally, he was brought onto the Bengals to be a solid, veteran, role player.  Admittedly, he’s done that. Dhani he has led the defense and gotten more tackles than your average Middle Linebacker. I applaud him for that, but I don’t like how Dhani has performed very averagely everywhere else. I pulled his stats from ESPN and placed them alongside the 2010 stats of ONLY middle & inside linebackers. I also included both the ESPN Bloggers’ Linebacker Power Rankings, and Dhani’s own Linebacker Rankings.

So, yeah. I like Excel. And click on it to enlarge it. That bad boy is pretty hard to scrunch in.

Dhani’s 2010 stats are pretty underwhelming. The only thing that stands out is his tackling: his total number of tackles is in the top ten. But his playmaking ability is nowhere near. And, this is only middle and inside linebackers! It’s hard to believe that Dhani ranks himself number 7 out of all linebackers. He doesn’t exactly show up in pass rush, run stuffs, or coverage (in 48 starts, he has only 4.5 sacks, 1 interception, 14 run stuffs, and 14 passes defended ).

I dug around and was able to find a few more relative statistics online. The nice folks over at Pro Football Focus recently did a study on the tackling ability of linebackers . They listed the top 20 and bottom 20 linebackers based on their missed tackle ratio. Dhani wasn’t listed in the top or bottom, but I found out from an inquiry what his ratio was.

  • The top 20: Infinity* to 19.33 attempts per miss.
  • Dhani Jones: 14.11 attempts per miss. (9 misses on 127 attempts) Smack in the middle.
  • The bottom 20: 8.25 to 4.20 attempts per miss.

*New England’s Brandon Spikes didn’t miss a tackle.

Dhani doesn’t miss a lot of tackles, which is nice. But, he’s not top ten quality.

And pass rushing? Pro Football Focus did another study on the pass-rushing ability of linebackers. They added up a player’s sacks, QB pressures, and QB hits to get a special ratio of success per pass-rushing snap. They studied every linebacker in the past three seasons who had rushed the passer over 200 times. That yielded 38 players. Where was Dhani Jones? 33rd/38. Dhani rushed the QB 224 times, and only pressured him 18 times.

So, Dhani’s not very good at pass-rushing. Maybe that’s a result of Zimmer’s blitzing schemes and maybe he strictly wasn’t designated to get to the QB when he was “rushing the passer”, who knows. The point is, Dhani doesn’t get many chances to do his fantastic air guitar. He did have 3.5 sacks in 2009. Which was great, but was that an anomaly? His average number of sacks per year is a little under 1.

So, let’s add up what we have so far.

  • Tackling:
    • Dhani gets a lot of tackles.
    • Dhani is slightly above average at not missing tackles.
  • Coverage:
    • Dhani’s stats are low in interceptions and passes defended.
  • Pass Rush:
    • Dhani doesn’t find payday when rushing the QB.
  • Stuffing the Run:
    • Dhani stats are low in run stuffs.

On skill alone, Dhani is a average middle linebacker. He is not a playmaker. He gets a lot of tackles, but he’s very average in coverage, pass-rushing, and run stuffing.

So, let’s consider other factors. Obviously, skill is not the only indication of a good player. Leadership, experience, intangibles… these are the other ways a player can bring something to his team. And, these are Dhani’s strengths. Dhani has been the defensive captain for the past two years. He’s called the plays for the past two years. He’s been in NFL for 11 years. He’s very experienced. He is a mature, capable veteran. He gives stability and consistency to a linebacking corps that is inconsistent and has not played up to expectations.

On the other hand, Dhani’s downsides are his playmaking ability and the fact that, if he were to return, he would be older than everyone on the team except Bobbie Williams. A team can only use a veteran for so long, and I fear that he will fall off in years to come.

THE MONEY:

Dhani’s 3-year-contract of $5.1 million has expired. Of the other starters, Rey Maualuga will be in the third year of his 4-year-$4.1 million contract. Keith Rivers was the 8th pick in the 2008 draft, so he is the high-roller of the group with a 6-year-$20 million contract. Dhani has outperformed both Maualuga and Rivers, and he has more experience than both of them.

I can’t get inside the head of Dhani, but I’m pretty sure he’s going to want more money than his old contract, when he was signed off the streets, as they say. Veterans usually prefer long-term deals to shorter ones, and the Bengals have had a history of silly long-term deals to aging veterans (Levi Jones, Willie Anderson).

So, Dhani will probably want more money and a longer contract. If he truly thinks he is the seventh-best linebacker in the game, he is going to want to be paid like it. Or at least close to it.  (Actually, in an ironic twist, the number 7 linebacker in the NFL Network’s top 100 players is Brian Urlacher, who signed a 5-year $40.6 million contract in 2008)

Dhani is coming off a career-high in total tackles at 125. There will be teams out there looking for a veteran who can step in and knows what to do. Dhani will get decent deals from elsewhere in the NFL. And, Mike Brown probably won’t pay him what other teams are offering.

What’s gonna happen:

Most people think Rey Maualuga will be the new middle linebacker. Some think that second-year Roddrick Muckelroy has a shot too. But, the general consensus and hope from fans is Rey Maualuga. Rey is a huge factor in what happens to Dhani. In offseason workouts, reports noted that Rey has been lining up at MLB, his old position at USC. Dhani hasn’t even been to this offseason’s workouts. He did, however, have nothing but good things to say about the city of Cincinnati and its fans. That’s always nice to hear.

It appears that Dhani will not be back this year. Rey has enough potential that the loss of Dhani Jones isn’t a huge one. Dhani’s going to want more money than Mike Brown will be willing to pay. Ideally, he is willing to take less money and move to a backup position at LB, because experience is certainly something that the 2011 Bengals will be lacking in. Dhani is a very likeable person, and I truly enjoy watching him during interviews and cameo appearances. He is a great ambassador of the Bengals as he travels around the globe and around different television networks. But, on the football field, he is showing signs of age. And, while his veteran leadership may be missed, if Rey is able to perform up to hopes at middle linebacker, the team may be off for the better.

Tags: Dhani Jones

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