Patriots Star Slot Cornerback Looking to ‘Bounce Back’ in 2022

New England Patriots

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The New England Patriots will have a massive hole to fill at cornerback, but they might get some help from a “bounce back” candidate.

Jonathan Jones, a seventh-year defensive back, could be a key player on New England’s defense, even if he is behind starting DB Malcolm Butler on the Patriots’ depth chart.

Heading into 2022, Jones received some high praise from Pro Football Focus, which ranked him as the third-best slot corner in the NFL.

“Jones is eyeing a bounce-back season after injuring his shoulder early in 2021,” PFF’s Anthony Treash wrote in a June 2 story. “Before missing most of last season, the seven-year pro was on a two-year run of stout slot coverage play, as his 84.4 coverage grade ranked top-five at the position from 2019 to 2020.”

With J.C. Jackson, a Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro in 2021, signing with the Los Angeles Chargers, the Patriots likely will look to Jones and veteran Malcolm Butler to replace the void created by his departure.

In fact, the Patriots persuaded Butler, 32, to come out of retirement, signing him in April. But as Butler, who spent four season with New England starting in 2014, adjusts to playing again, Jones might have a chance to stand out. He has never started more than nine games in one season.

“Jones did a great deal of that work in single coverage and didn’t falter,” Treash wrote. “In those two years combined, his slot coverage grade in one-on-one situations ranked second-best in the league.”

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What Can Jonathan Jones Do to Improve in 2022?

With a shoulder injury ending his 2021 season prematurely, the cornerback will simply be hoping to play all 17 games in the regular season.

Jones combined for 20 tackles and an interception in just six games played last year, leaving Patriots fans to wonder what could have been had the cornerback stayed healthy for the entire season.

If Jones ends up sidelined, New England might be forced to move one of their rookie cornerbacks into the starting lineup. In 2022, New England drafted Marcus Jones and Jack Jones in the third and fourth round, respectively.

On the day Marcus Jones, who is 5-foot-8 and 177 pounds, was drafted, pundits weighed in calling him a “best fit” and a “versatile defender.” NFL Network’s Mike Giardi tweeted that Jones had “speed to spare and [he] hits hard. Smells like a slot corner to me.”

How Important Is Defending the Slot?

Treash, of Pro Football Focus, wrote that slot cornerback is “the most undervalued position in the NFL.”

And with the rise of slot receivers, Jonathan Jones’ job isn’t an easy one.

“I couldn’t do it,” said Deion Sanders, one of the game’s all-time best defensive backs, in a 2019 Washington Post story. “In that slot, man, you’ve got to be on it. You can’t guess. You’ve just got to play it honest, because you’re involved in so many different [things]. . . . Especially when it’s all-out blitz, that ball is coming out of there quick and it’s coming to your guy oftentimes. It’s tough.”

With Jackson gone, that job only gets harder.

Just as Tom Brady acted as a safety blanket for the Patriots’ offense for nearly 20 years, Jackson routinely made high-impact plays and big stops for New England’s defense. Now that Jackson is gone, the pressure is on the remaining cornerbacks to keep their collective foot on the gas.

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