With the offseason workout program in the rear-view mirror, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2022.”
The team currently has 87 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early September 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 men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots build on their 10-7 record.
Today, the series continues with rookie cornerback Jack Jones.
Name: Jack Jones
Jersey number: TBD (Offseason No. 53)
Opening day age: 24
Size: 5-foot-11, 170 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2025 (2026 UFA)
What is his experience? A five-star recruit out of high school, Jones started his college career at USC and by his sophomore campaign had established himself as the Trojans’ best cornerback. However, his career started to take a turn for the worse in 2018. He missed spring practices due to academic reasons and was later arrested for allegedly breaking into a Panda Express. Jones eventually was ruled academically ineligible for the upcoming season, left USC, and served 45 days of house arrest for commercial burglary.
He reemerged at Arizona State after a one-year stint at Moorpark College during which he focused on his studies and did not play football. Jones spent the final three years of his college career at ASU, appearing in 25 games with nine starts. He recorded six interceptions — leading the Sun Devils in picks in both 2019 and 2021 — and 19 pass deflections over that span and was named an honorable All-Pac 12 mention twice. However, he also was suspended for one game in 2020 for fighting in practice.
What did his 2021 season look like? An unfavorable combination of circumstances (team suspension, injury, Coronavirus-shortened season) limited Jones to just one in-game appearance during his 2020 campaign. Needless to say that the only way for him was up entering his sixth collegiate season and third at Arizona State. And up the redshirt senior defender went, producing arguably his best year since leaving USC and putting himself in an encouraging position with the NFL Draft on the horizon.
In total, Jones appeared in 11 of ASU’s 12 contests — he missed the early-November meeting with his former school due to an undisclosed injury — with seven starts. In those 11 games, Jones saw opposing quarterbacks throw 50 passes his way; 33 of them were completed for a combined gain of 410 yards as well as three touchdowns. However, Jones also notched nine pass breakups as well as three interceptions; he returned one of those picks 87 yards to help seal a win in the Duel in the Desert versus Arizona.
As was the case during his 2019 season, Jones led the Sun Devils in both interceptions and pass breakups in 2021. Additionally, he also registered a team-high three forced fumbles as well as one sack and 42 combined tackles; he also managed to block a field goal attempt while being used on special teams against Colorado. Jones was recognized as an honorable All-Pac 12 mention for a second time in three years, and therefore able to end what had been a tumultuous college career in style.
What is his projected role? Both USC and Arizona State employed Jones as a press-man outside cornerback, and he brings the right amount of physicality as well as considerable experience playing such a role to the table. Based on organized team activities and mandatory minicamp, the 24-year-old will be used in a similar fashion with the Patriots. Where he will end up on the depth chart remains to be seen — with the exception of Jalen Mills, the Patriots’ current cornerback group does not feature a clear-cut starting option on the outside — but Jones earning a regular role even as a rookie seems possible.
Does he have positional versatility? Jones has an intriguing skillset and offers plenty of experience, but his versatility on the defensive side of the ball still appears to be limited. A look at his positional alignments over his three seasons under Herm Edwards at Arizona State illustrates this: Jones was on the field for 1,306 defensive snaps between the 2019 and 2021 seasons, but only 124 of them saw them align on the inside either as a slot defender, box safety or deep-fielder. That means that 90.5 percent of his snaps came as an outside cornerback.
What is his special teams value? Jones was a four-unit special teamer during his time at USC and also found success in the game’s third phase while at Arizona State. He returned only six punts in three seasons for an average of 3.8 yards per runback, but earned considerable experience as a coverage player; as noted above, he was also able to block a field goal attempt during his final season as a Sun Devil. The expectation is that Jones will see some action right away — unless he earns a starting spot on defense.
What is his salary cap situation? Just like every other drafted rookie, Jones will be playing on a basic four-year contract. As for the 2022 season, that deal carries a salary cap number of $891,746 that is split up into a non-guaranteed salary and fully-guaranteed signing bonus proration: the salary, which is currently not counted against the Patriots’ books under the NFL’s Top-51 offseason rule, is worth $705,000; the signing bonus is listed at $186,746 and does hit New England’s books regardless of Jones making the team or not.
How safe is his roster spot? Joining the Patriots as the 121st overall selection in the fourth round of this year’s draft, Jones can be considered a lock to make the roster. Everything else, however, is uncertain. Based on offseason workouts, the youngster might be able to compete for a starting role on the outside opposite Jalen Mills; obviously, though, Jones has yet to experience NFL-level physicality and real in-game speed. Regardless of how he fares once tested that way, his spot on the roster is secure.
One-sentence projection: Jones will not just be on the 53-man roster come the regular season but also receive some prominent snaps as a potential CB3 on the outside.