2017 Patriots Training Camp Position Battles: 3rd Cornerback

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22: Jonathan Jones
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22: Jonathan Jones /

One of the best New England Patriots roster battles to watch in training camp will be the one for the No. 3 cornerback role, with Rowe, Coleman and the Jones’ duking it out.

In part 3 of my 5 part New England Patriots training camp position battles features, I’ll take a look at who will win the No. 3 cornerback job behind Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler.

If you missed part 1 (No. 3 WR)  and part 2 (DE), you can check them out here and here.

The battle for the nickel corner role will be a four player race. Eric Rowe, Justin Coleman, Jonathan Jones, and Cyrus Jones all have a chance at the position, though some are just a step or two ahead. With the lockdown ability of Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler, the Patriots should be able to depend on this No. 3 corner to stop the third option of their opponents. A strong nickel corner will make the Patriots one of the top defenses in the NFL.

Without further ado, here is my take on the four players mentioned above, and who I think will win the job on the New England defense.

Eric Rowe

2016 Regular Season: 9 Games, 20 Tackles, 8 Passes Defended, 1 Interception

2016 Playoffs: 3 Games, 9 Tackles, 3 Passes Defended, 1 Interception

Eric Rowe took some time to learn the New England Patriots defense before diving in last season and contributing as the nickel corner. With the departure of Logan Ryan, Rowe could have been competing for the No. 2 corner role, but the signing of Gilmore pushes his back down the depth chart.

A full offseason in New England should help Rowe to be an even better player in 2017. If he slightly improves his play from last season, I could see him finishing with nearly 40 tackles and 3 or 4 picks. Rowe’s playing time in the playoffs also signifies the trust that Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick have in his abilities.

Justin Coleman

2016 Regular Season: 10 Games, 8 Tackles, 3 Passes Defended

2016 Playoffs: 2 Games, 7 Tackles, 2 Passes Defended

Back for his third year, the Patriots will be looking for a solid jump from Justin Coleman. Over the last few seasons, he hasn’t been able to carve out his role and earn playing time. It’s now or never for Coleman, as undrafted free agent CB D.J. Killings will also be vying for a New England roster spot.

Jonathan Jones

2016 Regular Season: 16 Games, 5 Tackles, 1 Pass Defended, 1 Forced Fumble, 1 Fumble Recovery

Jonathan Jones still has plenty of room for improvement defensively, though he’s already a solid special teams player. Jones got a lot of work as the nickel corner this offseason, so perhaps he has the best chance to win that spot according to the team staff.

While Jones’ 2016 numbers look low, he played well at times when he was able to get on the field. His eye for the ball and willingness to work hard are shown in his forced fumble and fumble recovery. Those are pure effort plays.

Cyrus Jones

2016 Regular Season: 10 Games, 3 Tackles, 2 Fumble Recoveries

Cyrus Jones has a chance to make this team as a punt and kick returner, but for now, we’re going to focus on his defensive ability. Of this group, I believe he’s at the bottom of the depth chart. Jones was extremely inconsistent in camp last year, and he clearly did not improve much in practice since Matt Patricia didn’t grant him much playing time. When he was in on defense, Jones seemed to always get beat. He will need to make an aggressive jump if he has any shot at landing playing time alone, not the No. 3 role, on the Patriots defense this season.

My pick for the No. 3 cornerback

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Behind Gilmore and Butler, Rowe should be the man. While Jonathan Jones has the best chance to take down Rowe for that role, I believe training camp will prove Rowe is the better pick. Though he’s not as talented playing the slot, the Patriots have the ability to move guys around on the field and find ways to get the No. 3 corner involved. Rowe has the ability of a solid No. 2 corner in this league. Jones could get there one day, but that time won’t come early in 2017.

Justin Coleman has to deal with the possibility of being cut, especially if D.J. Killings shows up with a strong training camp and preseason campaign. Killings, out of UCF, had a very good offseason with the team, and some believe he could be a steal as an undrafted free agent.

Next: Patriots Training Camp Position Battles: 3rd Wide Receiver

Part 4 of this series will cover the starting outside linebacker role on Monday morning, and part 5 will cover New England’s running back situation on Tuesday.