The Pats' biggest 2017 breakout candidate: Jonathan Jones
With so much talent across the roster, it's hard to find a true out-of-nowhere "breakout" candidate in New England. But with that being said, the Patriots are known for taking players nobody has heard of and turning them into stars--especially when those players are undrafted cornerbacks from the state of Alabama. If history is any indication, second-year cornerback Jonathan Jones could be in line for a much larger role in 2017.
Jones, a former Auburn Tiger, went undrafted in 2016 primarily due to concerns over his size. But while he's (a bit generously) listed at 5'10" and 183 pounds, the corner makes up for his stature with his blazing 4.33 speed and hair-on-fire attitude. While Jones was mostly confined to special teams in his rookie year, he racked up 14 tackles (10 solo) and forced a fumble. This year, he's poised to take that next step.
During OTAs, Jones has seen most of the work as the starting slot corner between Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler. Ironically enough, his small stature has helped him in the slot--he's better than any other corner on the roster at sticking with quick-twitch, shifty slot receivers. Even better yet, his starting reps signify that Bill Belichick and the New England coaching staff trust him more than the other players on the roster. While it may seem trivial, earning that kind of respect is no small accomplishment for a second-year man.
With Jones on the field, the Patriots defense is far quicker and more flexible than it would be with somebody like Justin Coleman or Eric Rowe. The speed and punch he brings are invaluable parts of a championship defense. If Jones can continue to impress the coaching staff with his offseason work, expect him to be the Pats' breakout story of 2017.