Upon Further Review: Patriots selecting Marcus Jones the right move

Houston Cougars cornerback Marcus Jones (8). Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports
Houston Cougars cornerback Marcus Jones (8). Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports /

My first reaction to the New England Patriots selecting cornerback Marcus Jones in the third round of the NFL Draft: they selected a returner in the third round.

It wasn’t a surprise that New England took the former Houston Cougar. There were multiple analysis that said Jones was a Patriots type of player. Despite all the reports suggesting his selection was a strong possibility, when the announcement was made, I was disappointed.

After trading Stephon Gilmore and JC Jackson’s free agency departure, the Patriots absolutely needed cornerback help. Adding Jack Jones in the fourth round eased my concerns, but still, the Patriots needed a starting corner, not a slot corner.

That’s what I thought, until I did a little research. Sharp Football Stats tracked NFL offensive alignments in 2021 and revealed that offenses used three receivers, one tight end, one running back formations 61 percent of the time. That’s well more than half the time.

The New England Patriots drafted Marcus Jones to keep up with the league

Looking at the New England Patriots’ 2022 opponents, the Buffalo Bills aligned in 3 WR 1 RB 1 TE 71 percent of the time last season, the Cincinnati Bengals 77 percent, and the Pittsburgh Steelers 75 percent. Out of the Patriots’ 14 opponents, nine used the above formation more than 60 percent of the time. Out of their 17 games, eleven games will be against offenses that used the 3 WR 1 RB 1 TE alignment at least 60 percent of the time last season.

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Some of the slot receivers the Patriots are scheduled to defend are the New York Jets’ Braxton Berrios (twice) and Las Vegas Raiders’ Hunter Renfrow.

Add Tyreek Hill, one of the most explosive receivers in the league, who was traded to the Miami Dolphins. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Dolphins join the above club after using the 3 WR 1 RB 1 TE formation just 28 percent of the time in 2021, the lowest frequency in the league.

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Worth noting, the league leader was the Las Angeles Rams. They lined up in 3 WR 1 RB 1 TE 83 percent of the time. Can’t blame them as it kept Cooper Kupp on the field. He led the NFL in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. New England won’t see Kupp and the Rams this season, but the NFL remains a copycat league.

The New England Patriots needed a starting cornerback? In today’s NFL, a slot cornerback is a starting cornerback. And according to scouting reports, the Patriots got a good one in Jones.

Jones is described as a playmaker, and not just at cornerback. He’s an elite returner, which will get him on the field quickly. On defense, Jones has the quickness and change-of-direction to cover the slot, and the scrappy fight to challenge receivers on the perimeter.

He also has 10 career return touchdowns (six kickoff, three punt, one interception), nine interceptions, and 31 passes defended. Jones put an exclamation point on his career in 2021 with five interceptions, 13 passes defended, a forced fumble, averaged 34 yards per kickoff return with two touchdowns, and averaged 14.4 yards per punt return with two touchdowns.

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Jones won’t be solely responsible for covering the slot. Jonathan Jones is expected to be back from shoulder surgery, Shaun Wade was an excellent slot corner for Ohio State in 2018, and even fifth round draft pick Jack Jones will get to compete for snaps inside. The New England Patriots will try to keep matchups favorable.

Most likely Marcus Jones’ immediate impact will be as a returner. How many snaps on defense will Jones get will be determined over time. But as a third round pick, the expectation is Marcus Jones will be on the field on defense soon, assigned with shutting down opposing slot corners.

Doesn’t mean I love the Marcus Jones pick. But I understand it.