Patriots

Expect third-round pick Marcus Jones to contribute right away for Patriots

Jones might not have an inside track to play on defense (yet), but the Patriots will likely use his special teams ability and overall versatility during his rookie season.

Marcus Jones Patriots
Houston cornerback Marcus Jones, right, intercepts a pass intended for Memphis wide receiver Roc Taylor (3) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, in Houston. AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith
Recent Links

Whatever people think of the Patriots taking Cole Strange and Tyquan Thornton with their first two picks in the 2022 NFL Draft, experts and fans alike at least seem largely united in their approval of third-round pick Marcus Jones.

After all, New England’s defense badly needed speed and coverage ability against the explosive offenses they’ll be facing in Miami and Buffalo, and Jones has the chops to provide both (in time, of course).

The young cornerback also fits the mold of a quintessential Bill Belichick-approved football player: a guy who can help you win football games in several ways — especially on special teams.

Advertisement:

That latter part especially might be the thing that makes him a candidate to be the most impactful Patriots rookie in the 2022 season.

Here’s a look at what the diminutive Houston cornerback should bring to New England as a rookie and beyond.

The outlook

First thing’s first: Jones’s path to playing time in the NFL is not going to come through defense at first. It will be through special teams.

The Patriots need a punt returner with All-Pro Gunner Olszewski headed to the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason. Jones just happens to be a very good one.

He’s not as flashy as a Devin Hester or Dante Hall from years past, but his no-nonsense, get-vertical style is something that both served him well in college (nine return touchdowns in college) and should endear him to Belichick and Cam Achord. Jones will get the yards that are there and likely won’t force things too much, but he’s got enough wiggle to find creases and break tackles in the open field and the juice to hit home runs.

As he avoids putting the ball on the ground, he stands a good chance of being the team’s starting punt returner during training camp and when the season opens.

Advertisement:

But the Patriots aren’t just getting a return man in Jones: they’re also getting a new-age cornerback that could help them deal with the nightmare matchups they’ll face in the AFC East.

On one hand, Jones is absolutely not an outside cornerback due to his lack of size (5-foot-8, 174 pounds) and length (arms under 29 inches). Big receivers in college, like SMU’s Danny Gray, were able to box him out on deep balls down the field. Jones also doesn’t track the ball deep down the field terribly well, suggesting a role closer to the line of scrimmage could be better for him.

However, that might be just what the Patriots need in their secondary.

New England was able to make do with players like Jalen Mills on the outside last season and seems set to try to do so again. What’s more: Belichick has always been good at scheming top-end outside receivers out of games.

But the Patriots got cooked last year by quick-twitch slot guys like Buffalo’s Isaiah McKenzie or Miami’s Jaylen Waddle on crossing routes or in the flats because the likes of Myles Bryant couldn’t stay with them. Even with Jonathan Jones expected to be back in action, it can’t hurt to have another fast slot corner in the mix to deal with those speedsters running across the middle of the field.

Advertisement:

On top of that, Marcus Jones (that’s going to get confusing) is tenacious as a man-coverage player even against bigger competition and will throw himself into the fray as a run defender as well — something Belichick has always valued in cornerbacks.

He has the speed, athleticism and change-of-direction ability to eventually be a starting-caliber slot corner. That could happen sooner rather than later depending on his health — he’s recently had surgery on both shoulders and might not be ready to play until training camp — and whether or not Jonathan Jones, who’s in the last year of his contract, becomes a cap casualty.

Best case scenario

Jones wins a job as the starting punt returner out of the gate and makes his mark as a special teams weapon. Then, when opportunities present themselves in practice, Jones proves dependable, especially against speedy slot receivers.

Then, in a shocking move, the Patriots trade or cut projected starting slot corner Jonathan Jones in a cost-cutting measure, giving the rookie Jones more chances to get on the field defensively early in his career.

With several players in front of him coming off the books in Year 2, Marcus Jones heads into the year as the top option to take over slot corner duties and locks down the position for the duration of his first contract while being a spark in the return game.

Worst case

Jones’s shoulder issues crop up again, and they limit his practice time in training camp. The missed playing time keeps him from getting off the ground, and he ends up redshirting his first season.

Advertisement:

He’d still have a shot to turn things around in Year 2 and beyond, but recurrent injury issues could lead to him falling behind on the depth chart and ultimately flaming out with the Patriots.

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com