Three different cornerbacks have been healthy scratches for the New England Patriots this season.
Undrafted rookie Jonathan Jones has not been one of them.
The speedy Auburn product, generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, has appeared in all nine games for New England. The likes of second-round pick Cyrus Jones, trade acquisition Eric Rowe and second-year nickelback Justin Coleman, meanwhile, have collectively missed 11 games.
But Jonathan Jones has played only 32 snaps – all in New England’s 33-13 rout of the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 9 – at corner.
His fast track onto the roster and onto the field has been through special teams.
Reliability in that phase – on top of his defensive work in training camp and the preseason – helped Jones outlast fellow rookie free agents Cre’von LeBlanc and V’Angelo Bentley, 2015 seventh-rounder Darryl Roberts, as well as veteran E.J. Biggers as the Patriots went from 90 to 53.
It helped endear him to his head coach in the process.
“I'd say just overall his solid performance on defense and in the kicking game put him just a little bit ahead of a couple of the other players that we had competing at that position,” Bill Belichick said of Jones after cutdowns on Sept. 5. “It was competitive and we had two other corners claimed by other teams, so I think that speaks to kind of the competition at that position. But Jon earned a spot based on his play on the field and his consistency. He's out there every day, always comes in ready to go, has a good attitude, gives you great effort. He has got all of those things going for him.”
Jones went on to leave an immediate mark in the regular-season opener against the Arizona Cardinals only six days later. It was then that he stopped a first-quarter kick return at the 11, and used his 4.33-second 40-yard dash speed to draw a holding call on another late in the fourth.
That often-unacknowledged work again drew acknowledgement.
“Jones, as he did all night, was a big factor on coverage,” Belichick told reporters in wake of New England’s Week 1 win over Arizona. “I think he was the one that got the holding call. That was a great situational play and we needed it at that time. In the end, those yards showed up on the other end of the field."
The 23-year-old has showed up for a total of 165 snaps in the kicking game through Week 10, which ranks third on the Patriots behind only linebacker Barkevious Mingo and safety Nate Ebner, who lead the way in special-teams tackles.
Jones has two stops to his name in that respect, with one of the assisted variety versus a Browns double-team.
Yet without much to go from in the stat sheet, No. 31 has gone on to become a sudden, physical, and above all, consistent presence downfield for the Patriots.
While serving as the gunner across from perennial captain and Pro Bowler Matthew Slater on the punt-coverage unit, he’s beaten protection, he’s forced a handful of fair catches, and he’s downed two himself.
It remains to be seen whether Jones, who has also carved out a spot on the punt-return and field-goal-block units, will see those special-teams opportunities carry over into more defensive opportunities in the near future. But he has done the little things well enough to get an opportunity to play each week.
That, on a cornerback depth chart of six, has been notable.
He’s earned – and chased – what he’s received.