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Patriots 2020 roster breakdown: Jonathan Jones is still New England’s top slot cornerback

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Related: Patriots roster breakdown: CB Jason McCourty

NFL: OCT 06 Patriots at Redskins Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Following the NFL draft and subsequent free agency period, the New England Patriots currently have 89 of a possible 90 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.

Today, the series continues with a member of New England’s defensive backfield.

Hard facts

Name: Jonathan Jones

Position: Cornerback

Jersey number: 31

Opening day age: 26

Size: 5-foot-9, 190 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)

Experience

What is his experience? Two years after pulling Malcolm Butler out of their hat, the Patriots found another diamond-in-the-rough among the group of rookie free agent defensive backs when they signed Jones. Despite not hearing his name called in the 2016 draft, the Auburn product has developed into a reliable contributor for the team over the last four seasons: seeing action as both a slot cornerback and on special teams, Jones appeared in a 63 regular season games as well as eight playoff contests for New England.

While he started his career primarily in the kicking game, he was increasingly used on the defensive side of the ball as well from 2017 on. In this dual role, he helped New England win two Super Bowls (and also would have played a big role in the 2017 title game had he not suffered a season-ending ankle injury three weeks earlier). His performance against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl 53 stands out in particular: his play as a safety/cornerback hybrid in the team’s zone looks was a big reason for the its defensive dominance that day.

What did his 2019 season look like? Coming off an impressive Super Bowl performance, Jones entered the 2019 offseason as a restricted free agent. The Patriots took care of him before the start of the new league year in mid-March, however, by using the second-round tender sheet to keep him in the fold. Four months later, on the eve of the regular season opener, the two sides agreed to a three-year, $21 million contract extension that would keep the former undrafted rookie in New England through 2023.

Jones followed up the new deal with an up-and-down season. Playing in 15 regular season games — he missed the team’s Week 16 game against the Buffalo Bills due to a groin injury — as well as the Patriots’ lone playoff contest, he served as the primary slot cornerback on the best scoring defense in football. In this role, Jones was on the field for 655 of a possible 1,070 defensive snaps (61.2%) and saw 56 total passes thrown his way. Of those, 32 were completed for a combined 460 yards as well as five touchdowns.

From a statistical perspective, Jones was the worst member of New England’s regular cornerback group: Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson and Jason McCourty all finished with better completion percentages, yards and touchdowns surrendered, and also added interceptions to their résumés. Furthermore, they were more consistent than Jones, whose play dipped a bit after the Patriots’ Week 10 bye (four of the five scores he surrendered came over the second half of the season).

That said, not all was as bad for the fourth-year man as the numbers indicate. Considering that he regularly found himself in one-on-one coverage situations, Jones fared reasonably well. He also proved his value in run support and as a solid as a tackler, and forced a pair of fumbles while also once again contributing as a regular member of New England’s kicking game units. All in all, therefore, both the team and Jones himself can feel optimistic about how he performed with an increased workload.

2020 preview

What is his projected role? Despite his somewhat inconsistent play in 2019, Jones will return as the Patriots’ top slot cornerback this year. As such, he is once again expected to see regular action in nickel and dime packages and be on the field for more than half of New England’s defensive snaps depending on the opponent and defensive alignments. On top of it all, the 26-year-old will also again be a regular in the kicking game.

What is his special teams value? While Jones’ special teams playing time decreased in each of his four years in the league, he still brings value in the kicking game to the table. In 2019, for example, he played 177 of New England’s 474 special teams snaps (37.3%). Despite seeing more action on defense, Jones was regularly used on both punt teams as well as the Patriots’ kickoff coverage units, and served as a member of the field goal and extra point blocking group. What stands out, however, is that his snaps went down as the season progressed: only 38 of them came after the Week 10 bye. Heading into 2020, it will therefore be interesting to see how the team approaches his usage in the game’s third phase.

Does he have positional versatility? Apart from his ability to successfully play on defense and special teams, Jones has also shown some solid versatility within both units. As a defensive back, he played mostly in the slot in 2019 (440 snaps), but also was used split out wide (125 snaps) or — like he prominently did during Super Bowl 53 — in a safety alignment (45 snaps). Jones was also moved all over the formation in the kicking game, filling numerous roles on the units he was a part of.

What is his salary cap situation? Jones enters the 2020 season carrying the ninth highest salary cap number on the Patriots’ roster with $5.97 million — and second among cornerbacks behind only Stephon Gilmore’s $18.67 million. Despite his hefty cap impact, however, Jones’ deal ranks him just 29th league-wide at his position, which indicates that he is paid at a fair level relative to his potential market as one of the NFL’s better slot cornerbacks.

What is his roster outlook? Only two cornerbacks on the Patriots’ roster played more snaps than Jones in 2019, and this is not expected to change all that much heading into the new season: even with veteran Jason McCourty and second-year man Joejuan Williams as additional options to play the slot coverage role, he will remain the team’s top choice at the position. As such can be considered a lock to make the 53-man roster.