The New England Patriots entered the NFL Draft with one need towering above all others. After losing Pro Bowler J.C. Jackson in free agency, they were in dire need of some upgrades at cornerback. However, the Patriots decided not to invest in a player at the position until the third round.
When they did, though, they added one of the top athletes the cornerback spot has to offer this year.
Name: Marcus Jones
School: Houston (RS-Senior)
Opening day age: 23
Size: 5080, 174 lbs, 28 7/8 arm, 69 3/4 wingspan, 8 7/8 hand
Career: A three-star recruit coming out of high school, Jones arrived in Houston after a two-year stint at Troy. Following his transfer to the Cougars, he established himself as a reliable and versatile member of the team’s defense: playing both on the outside and in the slot, he appeared in 20 games with 17 starts. Along the way, he intercepted six passes, registered three sacks and proved himself a dangerous weapon on defense and in the return game.
During his 2021 senior season alone he picked off five throws, forced a fumble and returned two punts and kickoffs each for touchdowns. In total, he ended his college with 11 touchdowns: he had nine scores in the return game — tying an NCAA record — as well as one pick-six and even a receiving touchdown. His positional flexibility earned him the Paul Hornung Award as the most versatile player in college football last year.
Strengths: Jones offers rare versatility. He can be a weapon in all three phases of the game, and has the athleticism to leave an impact no matter how used. His ability to find the end zone as a return man and cornerback is nothing short of impressive.
Weaknesses: At 5-foot-8, 174 pounds, Jones is small and likely projects as a slot option when faced with NFL-level competition. He furthermore entered the pre-draft process after undergoing surgery on both of his shoulders.
What is his projected role in New England? The expectation is that Jones’ initial role in New England will be two-fold. He will serve as a rotational cornerback who is primarily operating out of the slot and in nickel, dime and quarter packages. Furthermore, he projects as the team’s frontrunner to earn a job as both a kickoff and a punt returner.
Where does he fit on the cornerback depth chart? At the moment, the Patriots are well-set in the slot; veteran Jonathan Jones will be back from missing most of his 2021 campaign due to a shoulder issue that required season-ending injury. As a result, Jones will likely serve as a package-specific depth player during his rookie year. With Jones headed for unrestricted free agency in 2023, however, the door will be open for him to take on a more prominent role as a sophomore.
Does he have positional versatility? Jones offers exceptional versatility. As the numbers shared above illustrate, he has made a positive impact on defense, special teams and even offense during his college career. The Patriots are expected to give him an opportunity to carve out a multi-faceted role on their team as well, and it will be fascinating to see how he eventually will be employed by the club.
What is his special teams value? Jones is an elite kickoff returner, who averaged 28.8 yards per runback during his college career and scored six touchdowns. He also is no less impressive in the punt return game, though. His return average on punts is 13.5 yards and he found the end zone three times as well. Jones will get an opportunity to prove himself in the return game from Day 1.
What does it mean for New England’s draft outlook? Even with Jones in the fold, the Patriots might decide to add another cornerback on Day 3 or in free agency. The depth on the outside, for example, remains somewhat questionable in the post-J.C. Jackson era; New England bringing a developmental player aboard would therefore not be surprising.
One-sentence verdict: “Versatile speedster who can make an impact on special teams right away” sounds like a perfect Patriots defensive back prospect.
How would you grade the Patriots’ selection of CB Marcus Jones at No. 85?
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