Even though he had to wait until the third round to hear his name called in this year’s NFL Draft, Marcus Jones entered the league with some enticing potential.
Spending his college career at Troy and Houston, he developed into the most versatile player in the country. Listed as a defensive back, he registered a total of 11 touchdowns: he had nine scores in the return game — tying an NCAA record — as well as one pick-six and even a receiving TD. His positional flexibility earned him the Paul Hornung Award as the most versatile player in college football in 2021.
Now in his first season with the New England Patriots, Jones is picking up right where he left off. While seeing only limited playing time over the first two weeks of the season, the 85th overall selection in this year’s draft has since developed into a do-it-all player for the Patriots.
Not only is one of the most prolific punt and kickoff returners in all of football, he also is seeing increased opportunities on defense. On top of it all, New England has also not shied away from giving him looks on the offensive side of the ball.
Jones is not just playing in all three phases of the game, but making an impact as well. After scoring touchdowns on a punt return and a reception in Weeks 11 and 13, he now has also added an interception return for a score: on Saturday against the Cincinnati Bengals, he intercepted quarterback Joe Burrow and took the ball back 69 yards to the house.
Jones is therefore now breathing some rarified air. He is the first player in the Super Bowl era, and first in the NFL in general since 1947, to score via reception, punt return and interception return.
As was pointed out by NFL Research, he also is just the second player in the Super Bowl era to score a touchdown of 40-plus yards in each category: since 1966, only Deion Sanders has accomplished that feat. Sanders needed five seasons to accomplish that feat — Jones did it in a six-game span as a rookie.
“He’s doing a great job,” said team captain Deatrich Wise Jr. after the game against Cincinnati. “I believe he actually scored in all three phases of the game, which is very impressive for a rookie, period — for a player in general. He is doing a great job taking everything a day at a time.”
The Patriots ended up losing 22-18, and Jones did have some inconsistencies in coverage in the first half. However, the rookie did all he could to keep the team’s hopes alive.
Not only did he score its first points via the interception return in the third quarter, he also recovered a fumble in the fourth to set up what could very well have been the game-winning series if not for a late Rhamondre Stevenson fumble.
“Marcus is always in the right spot at the right time and he makes the correct plays,” said linebacker Matthew Judon, who forced the fumble that Jones ended up recovering. “And I don’t think you can ask more from a guy, but every week we do. And he delivers. And I just – that’s what you do. We put the pressure on each other. We put the expectancy on each other, and I think every week Marcus has came out and delivered.”
In total, the rookie was on the field for 87 snaps against he Bengals: he played three on offense (5%), nine on special teams (36%) and 75 on defense (90%). And despite the disappointing result, the game once again showed Jones’ versatility and value to the Patriots.
“He’s just ridiculous,” said quarterback Mac Jones. “Great player, great teammate, explosive, lines up, runs full speed on offense, lines up and goes full speed on defense. Same thing on special teams. Love the guy. Bummed when you have a great performance like that, we can’t pull out the win. He’s a great person, great player.”
As for the rookie himself, he is growing more comfortable within his unique job.
“It’s definitely grown over time,” Jones said after the game. “Getting more plays and more snaps, things of that nature. But just making sure that I basically keep my head down and keep grinding because you can’t be complacent when it comes to playing in the National Football League.”
Through 16 weeks as a professional, Jones has shown an ability to do what has to be done to carve out a role in the NFL. While it remains to be seen what the future holds for him, he has proven himself a playmaker no matter how the Patriots opt to employ him.
Frankly, he is the most unique weapon in the league right now — and New England a better team because of it.