Patriots

How cornerback Jack Jones fits into the Patriots’ plans as a rookie

Jack Jones's competitiveness and nose for the football make him an interesting mid-round gamble for the Patriots.

Jack Jones Patriots
Arizona State defensive back Jack Jones (0) makes an interception in front of BYU wide receiver Gunner Romney during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Provo, Utah. AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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Arguably no Patriots position group needed more of a facelift this offseason than the cornerback room after the secondary got humiliated toward the end of last year and both the Bills and Dolphins beefed up their receiver corps before this season.

But instead of investing in a first-round cornerback as many thought they should, New England went the mid-round route, grabbing Marcus Jones in the third round and Jack Jones with a fourth-round pick.

It’s fairly easy to see how the first Jones taken in the draft, Marcus, should contribute in Year 1 as a return man and special teamer. But Jack Jones’s rookie year projection is harder to figure out.

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Assuming he makes the roster, which he likely will as a fourth-round pick, does he have a real chance to play in his first NFL season? Where does he fit with this team, and what attracted the Patriots to him in the first place?

The outlook

The road to the NFL has been a winding one for Jack Jones.

He started off as a five-star recruit to USC, where he played 13 games and notched four interceptions as a freshman. But he was deemed academically ineligible to play in 2018 and was dismissed from USC after an arrest for misdemeanor burglary.

After a year in junior college, he caught back on with Arizona State and earned All-Pac 12 honorable mentions in both 2019 and 2021. That solid play was sandwiched around a suspension in 2020 for a violation of team rules that limited him to just one game. The off-the-field issues certainly contributed to Jones ending up a fourth-round pick for all his on-field production (10 interceptions in his college career).

But the talent to contribute on an NFL defense is absolutely there.

Jack Jones has a bit more height (5-foot-11) and length than Marcus, suggesting the former might be able to play more on the outside if he can bulk up his slight 171-pound frame.

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Though he doesn’t have special athletic traits for the position (by NFL standards, anyway), his solid short-area testing shows up in his change-of-direction skills, which help him mirror routes with quick transitions and drive on throws with hardly any reaction time. When he’s at his best, Jones can play textbook deep zone coverage, pushing receivers toward the sideline and playing the football like it was intended for him all along.

He’s not exactly the second coming of Stephon Gilmore or J.C. Jackson, but he has an obvious nose for the football, as evidenced by the 10 picks and 26 passes defended in his college career.

One other thing that stands out is his competitiveness: after getting beaten deep in zone coverage on one snap against BYU, Jones sprinted back just in time to dislodge the ball from the receiver’s hands to prevent what would have been a touchdown catch. Despite his slight frame, he’ll also come downhill with a purpose to defend the run, which is something Bill Belichick has always wanted from his defensive backs.

The big knocks on Jones: size and character. He’s simply too small to put on the field right now as an outside cornerback; he’d likely be a liability as a tackler and might also struggle on 50-50 throws against NFL competition.

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The good part about Jones’s position right now is that the Patriots don’t need him to do anything this year except play special teams for now. Both the outside and slot cornerback spots are stocked to the gills, meaning he can likely redshirt as a rookie or be relegated to a special teams-only role on Sundays. In the meantime, he can work on adding to his frame with the Patriots’ training staff.

As for the personal issues, New England was ostensibly able to keep J.C. Jackson on the straight-and-narrow during his time in Foxborough, which saw him become an All-Pro. The strength of the Patriots’ culture will hopefully be enough to get the most out of Jones as well.

Best case scenario

Jones makes the team and earns a role as a special-teamer on kickoff and punt coverage as a rookie. Meanwhile, he largely sits on defense behind an experienced stable of defensive backs and get stronger in preparation for next year, which could see significant opportunity arise within the cornerback room.

Worst case

Jones fails to catch on in the other phases of the game as a rookie and doesn’t dress for a game in 2022. Honestly, there are worse things for a fourth-round pick.

The key for him will be coming into 2023 as a much improved player or risk joining the long list of recent Patriots cornerback draft picks to fall into the ether.

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