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Rookie Marcus Jones’ in-season development has been huge for the Patriots

Related: Versatile Marcus Jones a rare bright spot in Patriots’ loss to Bills

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

Where would the New England Patriots be without Marcus Jones?

Granted, questions like these always involve a significant degree of speculation and hypotheticals, but in this case it is fair to ask. The third-round rookie, after all, has been one of the team’s most consistent playmakers this season — and a source of offense for a team oftentimes in need of proper play on that side of the ball.

It certainly did not look like that would happen so quickly earlier in the year, though. The 85th overall selection in the draft out of the University of Houston, Jones entered the league with considerable promise due to his ability to play in all three phases of the game.

However, he was unable to participate in any pre-draft activities after undergoing surgery on both his shoulders. He wore a red non-contact jersey throughout New England’s mandatory minicamp, and was a limited participate in the offseason.

Jones then started the regular season seeing limited opportunities. Fast forward to Week 13, however, and his role has expanded significantly.

Now, the youngster is the Patriots’ designated kickoff and punt return man, has started to see more snaps on defense, and has even been given some offensive playing time. The results speak for themselves, with Jones ranking among the most productive returners in football and also finding the end zone twice; once on a punt return, once on offense.

“Marcus is a player who’s developed a lot over the course of the season,” said head coach Bill Belichick about him. “Wasn’t able to do a lot in the spring, he did what he could do. Wasn’t able to do everything at the start of training camp, but did what he could do. Got into training camp late, into practicing full-time late. So, just trying to move him along as a player.”

As Belichick noted, Jones’ workload increased steadily through the regular season. His three-game stretch since New England’s bye week in particular has stood out, though.

In Week 11 against the New York Jets, Jones scored on an 84-yard punt return touchdown to give his team at 10-3 victory with only five seconds remaining on the clock. The following week against Minnesota, he had a 46-yard kickoff return and one special teams tackle.

Finally, last Thursday versus the Buffalo Bills he saw his first three snaps on offense. Jones turned them into two receptions, including a 46-yard touchdown. He also broke up a pass in his season-high 34 defensive snaps.

“I don’t think you take a player like that and throw everything you could possibly throw at him on the first week of the season — returning punts, playing defense, playing outside, playing inside, at times he has to play safety, play offense, return kickoffs, return punts,” Belichick said. “I just don’t think that’s a good idea, so we didn’t do that.

“But his role increased from not much, to kickoff returns, to punt returns, to some snaps on defense, to a little different role [against Buffalo]. He’s a player who’s gained confidence, gained experience, has been used in different ways. We’ll see what we do going forward, but I think there’s a process of bringing a player along like that and that’s what we tried to do.”

Clearly, the Patriots’ way of approaching Jones — a unique talent who won the Paul Hornung Award as college football’s most versatile player in 2021 — is paying some dividends. The team has been a better one because of it.

So, where would the New England Patriots be without Marcus Jones? Certainly not as dangerous in the return game, and possibly not 6-6 either.