Tue, 05 Jul 2022

Jack Jones brings gritty, ball-hawking play to New England

New England Patriots
21 May 2022, 20:34 GMT+10

Patriots fourth-round pick Jack Jones is a competitive playmaker who has overcome a challenging road to the NFL.Mike Dussault

Jack Jones' talent to play the cornerback position has never been in question. A highly regarded recruit out of high school football power Long Beach Poly, Jones' college career had its ups and downs, beginning at USC and ending at Arizona State, but when he was on the field, he was a tough, competitive player who made his fair share of game-changing plays, the kind of plays the Patriots hope will make him an impact player in their secondary.

It wasn't a straight or easy route, but now that he's on track, Jones' talent can finally shine through on the biggest stage.

Jones was the second-ranked cornerback back in 2016, making the short trip from Long Beach to Los Angeles and USC where he made 13 appearances as a freshman with the Trojans. Jones' production exploded in his second season, racking up 12 passes defensed and leading the team with four interceptions. But his future at USC took a turn following the 2017 season when he was ruled academically ineligible, then arrested for allegedly breaking into a Panda Express and subsequently left the team.

Jones spent the following year at Moorpark College, taking a season off from football to get his academics in order. That year would lead to a reconnection with former NFL linebacker Antonio Pierce, who had coached Jones at Long Beach Poly and had since moved on to Arizona State, providing Jones with a second chance.

"I've known Jack since he was 13 years old," Pierce told Devil's Digest in 2019. "I know him inside and out, I know the family, I know everything about him. When he was at SC and I was at Poly, we kept in touch and when things went sour with him there, we just kept in touch and tried to help."

Joining Arizona State and reuniting with Pierce was an opportunity that Jones would not waste, making honorable mention All-Pac 12 in two of his three seasons and leading the team in passes defensed and interceptions in both of those seasons. Despite a suspension during the 2020 season that held him to just one game during the COVID-19 shortened season, Jones got back on track in his final season with his best overall production of his college career.

That was enough to entice the Patriots to select him in the fourth-round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

"Sometimes talent can be a curse," Sun Devils head coach Herm Edwards told Patriots Wire last month. "I just think that he needs a place with structure and this place (the Patriots) will give him structure. Honestly, he's going to a place where - when you think about the system and how they use their players - I think it's a good fit for him. I think he needs that type of fit. He needs the strictness of what's asked to do, of what's required."

New England could clearly use an injection of what Jones has - feisty man coverage skills, instinctive plays on the ball and a willingness to play physical despite his lack of size and skinny build. The consistent production throughout his career is intriguing. Five career forced fumbles, 10 career interceptions and 39 passes defensed are not things that just happen by accident. Jones has the instincts and is the gritty kind of football player who can overcome any perceived weaknesses.

But he'll have to stay on the right path and manage the jump to being a professional athlete and everything that it entails.

"I just go out there and play, play every play hard," Jones told the New England media after being selected, adding on whether he considers himself a ballhawk, "I mean, I don't know. I'll just let you guys decide on that."

Patriots Draft Pick Profile

Strengths: Fluid athlete with quick feet and the ability to stick in the pocket of receivers... Excellent ability to break on the ball and make plays... Knack for beating receivers to the catch... Led USC in interceptions in 2017 with four to go with 12 passes defensed...Led Arizona State in interceptions, passes defensed and forced fumbles in 2021, also adding the only sack of his career... scrappy and competitive on every down... special teams potential.

Weaknesses: Off-field issues hurt his status after being the number two cornerback in 2016 recruiting class... smaller frame that could signal potential durability issues at the next level... does not have the height to match up against the bigger outside NFL receivers.

Personal: Attended notable Long Beach Poly where he was coached by former NFL player Antonio Pierce... Played all over the field in high school before settling in at cornerback... Was first-team all-state WR as a junior... Consensus All-American CB as a senior... Former HS teammates include Juju Smith-Schuster and Iman Marshall.

Comparable NFL player: Antoine Winfield - Winfield was undersized but used his smarts and aggressiveness to put together an excellent NFL career. Jones showed the quickness, anticipation and athleticism to offset his size deficiencies in college but there will be less places to hide in the NFL. He'll have to learn to play within the structure of the defense and then he could excel.

By the NumbersWorkout NumbersWhat they're saying ...

Chad Reuter/NFL.com: As a player, he's a ball-hawking cornerback with playmaking instincts. Despite solid ball production, though, Jones also gave up a lot of touchdowns at the college level. His lack of size/strength should make technique a top priority, as his talent for finding the football won't matter as much if he can't get on the field.

Dane Brugler/The Athletic: Although his guessing will get him in trouble, Jones is proven catch-point disruptor because of his sticky cover skills and ability to innately find the football (38 passes defended in his final 39 games in college). Everyone knows he is undersized except for him, but he will struggle to win body position against NFL size and accuracy. Overall, his lack of size and discipline (on and off the field) create doubt about his next level future, but his short-area agility, ball instincts and compete skills are NFL-worthy traits.

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