While the New England Patriots defense has had some obvious struggles against the pass so far this season, a few bright spots exist nevertheless. Take defensive edge Trey Flowers, who is arguably the Patriots’ best front-seven player this season and who has a regular impact on the opposing offense not just versus the aerial attack but against the ground game as well. Meanwhile, the defensive backfield also includes standout performers.
The most prominent of them is, of course, cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The high-priced 2017 free agency addition is in the midst of a Pro Bowl-worthy season and is stating his case as not just New England’s best defender, but one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL this season. Playing 97.9% of defensive snaps over the Patriots’ first seven games, Gilmore has been productive no matter the wide receiver lined up against him.
The numbers reflect his dominance. According to The Athletic’s Jeff Howe, opposing quarterbacks have attempted a combined 37 passes against the 28-year old this season. Of the throws in his direction, only 13 have found their target – resulting in a team-best 31.7% completion rate. Overall, Gilmore has given up just 124 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in seven games for a quarterback rating of 52.1.
The former Buffalo Bills first-round draft pick, who also leads the Patriots with nine pass breakups, is living up to his price tag (one that was slightly altered last week) and able to build on an already very good 2017 campaign. But as outstanding as Gilmore has been so far this season – especially when considering his role in New England’s defense – he is not the only cornerback to impress. Enter Jonathan Jones.
Playing primarily from the slot, the 2016 undrafted free agent has been able to carve out a valuable role in New England’s defense. Despite coming off a season-ending ankle injury suffered in the divisional playoff round last season, Jones has appeared in all seven of this year’s games and been on the field for 68.9% of the Patriots’ snaps – all while playing 51.4% of the team’s kicking game snaps as well.
As is the case with Gilmore, Jones passes the eye test with flying colors: he is a reliable presence as the team’s nickel cornerback, and has displayed the agility and football I.Q. to match up with slot receivers in one-on-one man coverage. Naturally, one has to wonder how his availability would have impacted last year’s Super Bowl – but as Bill Belichick regularly likes to remind us all: last year is last year, this year is all that matters.
And in 2018, Jones has been a productive member of the Patriots’ defense as a look at the stat sheet shows. Overall, the 25-year old has been targeted 32 times this season but has given up just 16 receptions (50.0%) for 214 yards, two touchdowns and two picks. His opposing passer rating of 66.4 is the second best among New England’s defensive backs and equivalent of facing the Arizona Cardinals’ Josh Rosen each week.
Jones might not be a household name like fellow former undrafted cornerback Malcolm Butler, but he is filling an important role for a New England defense that is still searching for consistency. Like Gilmore, the Auburn product is already providing just that and should help the secondary – a unit that has had its fare share of ups and downs this season as well – further find its groove as the season progresses.
And at a price tag of just $633,334, Jones – a restricted free agent next offseason – can also be considered one of the biggest bargains on the team’s pay roll and a serious extension candidate further down the line.