The top of the New England Patriots’ cornerback depth chart has already been set entering cut-down day. Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan form a solid starting duo on the outside, with Justin Coleman the as the first option behind them and second-round rookie Cyrus Jones offering additional depth.
The question therefore was who – if anybody – would join the quartet on the roster?
Undrafted rookie Jonathan Jones was able to separate himself from the rest of his competition. Seeing the 22-year old Auburn product beat out fellow corners Cre’Von LeBlanc and Darryl Roberts was a minor surprise as especially LeBlanc looked good this preseason. Yet it was Jones to make the team.
During yesterday’s press conference, Bill Belichick went into a little detail what Jones has been able to do to separate himself from the pack.
Well, Jonathan has given us solid play on defense and in the kicking game. He was in a good program at Auburn. [He] played for Coach [Will] Muschamp last year and I think a lot of his secondary techniques that we teach are similar to some of the things that he has already done so he picked those up pretty quickly.
Belichick mentions two key points that made Jones ready to compete for a roster spot: his polished technique and his ability to play well on defense and special teams. While LeBlanc, for comparison, has also looked good on defense, he offered a little less special teams.
But he's a tough kid and has good playing speed, good quickness, and has been a productive player for us in the kicking game and on defense. You saw in the game against the Giants the other night there were several deep plays that they tried to toss up on him and he was competitive on those plays. We saw those in some other preseason games and practices. 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, too.
Once again, Belichick mentions Jones’ ability to competitively perform – also on special teams, which is crucial going forward. With the top of the cornerback depth chart set in stone, the undrafted rookie will likely see most of his playing time in the kicking game. If he wants to solidify his standing on the roster once players return from suspensions and the PUP list, he needs to keep proving his worth in the third phase of the game as well as on defense, whenever called upon.
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.
Another key word here is “consistency”. Jones, who was a four-year starter at Auburn and earned second-team All-SEC honors his 2015 campaign, was a steady performer this summer. He was able to build on his OTA and minicamp practices and kept improving over the course of training camp.
Belichick also notes that the competition at the position was a good one, as evidenced by the Chicago Bears, with whom the Patriots held joint practices, claiming LeBlanc and the New York Jets claiming Roberts off the waiver wire. Both have looked good at times this summer but only one, Jones, was able to make the 53-man roster due to his versatility, consistency and competitiveness. To keep the spot, the 22-year old needs to build on the foundation he has been able to lay since arriving in Foxboro.