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New England Patriots 2017 roster breakdown: #31 CB Jonathan Jones

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Could the core special teamer earn regular playing time on defense as well?

With opening day still three months away, we have entered the more quiet parts of the NFL offseason. However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop. After all, the New England Patriots currently hold their mandatory minicamp.

It is the next step for players to secure their spots on the team. Over the course of the next few months, we will take a look at the men fighting for them on the 2017 New England Patriots. 53 of currently 90 players will be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.

Today, we’ll continue the series with one of the Patriots’ standout special teamers.

Name: Jonathan Jones

Position: Cornerback / Special teamer

Jersey number: 31

Opening day age: 23

Experience: 1

Size: 5’10, 190 lbs.

2016 review: Despite a very good performance at the NFL scouting combine, Auburn product Jonathan Jones was not selected during the 2016 draft. Instead, he was signed as a free agent by the Patriots. Despite joining a deep cornerback depth chart, he earned a spot on the team's 53-man roster as a special teamer and backup defensive back.

In that role, Jones appeared in all 19 of New England's 2016 games. On special teams, he played 68.4% of snaps during the regular season (307 of 449) and 67.7% during the Patriots’ three playoff games (63 of 93). While primarily used in the kicking game, he also saw marginal playing time on defense – at least from weeks 1 through 16: Jones played a grand total of 61 snaps (of 1,044; 6.1%).

Jones was only marginally productive as a defender – registering six total tackles, one quarterback hit and one pass breakup – but was a standout on special teams. Playing as a gunner, he finished the regular season with eight special teams takedowns (third most on the team) as well as one forced fumble and one recovery. He added a team-high four tackles during the playoffs.

All in all, it was a productive rookie season for Jones. Not only did he go from draft day afterthought to core special teamer, he also won his first Super Bowl ring in the process of doing so.

2017 preview: Given his productive 2016 campaign and his team-friendly $540,000 salary, Jones can be considered a virtual lock to make New England’s final 53-man roster. As a result, the Patriots will be able to guarantee the stability of their kick coverage units by retaining their top three gunners in Jones, Matthew Slater and Brandon King.

While he once again projects to be a major contributor in the kicking game and play around two thirds of special teams snaps, Jones might also see his defensive role grow. If recent OTA and minicamp practices are any indication, the 23-year old could be in the running for one of the primary backup roles at the cornerback position. After all, he saw a lot of action at nickel cornerback and did perform admirably.

While a lot can change over the next few months, especially when contact work becomes part of practice, seeing Jones compete against New England’s top receivers is encouraging for the young defensive back. And no matter how his defensive contributions might ultimately look like, Jones is still projected to play an important role on the 2017 Patriots.