Over the last month, NFL.com has been running a series of the 40 players in the NFL who they project to be "making the leap."
The series has reached the top 5, and there is a Patriots presence: Second-year defensive end Chandler Jones ranks No. 5. The piece on Jones includes video of his performance from 2012.
"Plugged into a scheme that takes most advantage of his pass-rushing prowess, it's not a stretch to imagine Jones jumping into the 12- to 15-sack range in his second season," writes Dan Hanzus of NFL.com's Around the League blog. "Health and a scheme that allows him to get after the quarterback will be key. With experience to go with his tools, Jones could be ready to emerge as the biggest star of Belichick's defense."
Jones is a good choice, and he's the first player I'd mention when the question is asked, "Will the Patriots' defense be better this year?"
His development is a key. After a solid rookie season (6 sacks), he has the potential to become a game-changing difference-maker. Ditto for Dont'a Hightower.
A team doesn't trade up for two players in the first round, like the Patriots did with Jones and Hightower in 2012, and expect anything less.
Specific to Jones, the Patriots now list him at 265 pounds (it was 260 last year) after he spent the offseason with a primary goal of improving his upper-body strength.
Watching him in 1-on-1 drills over the last three practices, he's looked explosive at times when matched up against starting left tackle Nate Solder. Jones comes at an offensive tackle with a variety of pass-rush moves, and has a nice combination of speed and power.
Sometimes it's easy to overlook a player's development when factoring in potential improvement for an overall unit.
That is one of the main thoughts that comes to mind with Jones, and if the Patriots' defense can turn a more decisive corner in 2013.