FOXBORO — New England Patriots rookie cornerback Marcus Jones has added both depth and pop to the team’s defensive backfield in 2022.
However, his most notable contribution might be earning his spot as the Pats return man for both the present and beyond.
New England’s third-round draft selection (85 overall) has helped to resurrect what had been a dismal return game in 2021. Through the Patriots first nine games, Jones has run back 13 punts (174 yards) and 14 kicks (340 yards) in eight games played. The ex-Houston Cougar ranks among the NFL’s top-10 in kick-return yards (2nd), punt-return yards (7th) and yards-per punt return (3rd) averaging 13.4 yards per return. He also leads the league in averaging 24.3 yards-per-kick return.
While Jones still remains an option at slot corner, his elite return skills have made him a prominent Patriot in short order. For a team which places a premium on special teams prowess, New England clearly saw a great deal of potential on Jones from his time at Houston. In 2020, Jones was named to the first team, All-American Athletic Conference as a return specialist after leading the nation with 337 yards on 17 punt returns. He also returned one for a touchdown. During his redshirt senior season in 2021, Jones returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown with 17 seconds left against 19th-ranked SMU to win the game 44–37. To cap off the season he won the Paul Hornung Award, given to the nation’s most versatile player. He was also selected to the Associated Press All-America first team as a defensive back. He also won AAC Special Teams Player of the Year along with being named first team All-AAC as a return specialist and second team All-AAC as a cornerback.
Though his pro-level pedigree may have been cultivated during his collegiate career, the seeds were planted during a childhood with military roots. Jones’ father, a 32-year U.S. Army veteran, set a significant example for him. In fact, he praised the life-lessons he learned from his father during a Veterans Day interview with patriots.com.
“He definitely taught me a lot about military life, structure and hard work,” Jones said Friday. “Being a military child, stationed in different places like Fort Campbell, Fort Rucker helped me be social. playing sports as well, traveling, seeing different people and how people interact with each other … it taught me to have fun while remaining disciplined.”
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Discipline has allowed Jones to play through adversity of all types. Listed at 5-8, Jones’ lack of size may have deterred some potential suitors at the pro level. However, they may have done a disservice to themselves by underestimating him. Apparently, it was not enough to cause the Patriots to shy from selecting his services. Jones is a phenomenal athlete with breakaway speed — known for displaying tremendous athleticism on pass defense and outstanding open-field tackles. During his final season at Houston, he finished with 48 tackles, five interceptions, 13 passes-defensed, one forced fumble and one tackle for a loss. He ranked second nationally in interceptions and sixth nationally in passes defensed per game with 1.4. Despite a limited sample size of snaps at cornerback (14 percent of New England’s defensive plays), Jones has still logged four total tackles and two passes-defensed.
As the Patriots prepare to enter the second-half of their season, Jones factors prominently into their plans both on defense and on special teams. Embodying a blend of speed, field-savvy and determination, he appears poised to continue the Patriots tradition of efficiency in several key areas of the game.
Simply put, you can’t ask for a better return on investment.
Follow Mike D’Abate on Twitter @mdabateNFL and Listen/Subscribe to his daily podcast: Locked On Patriots
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