Over the last decade-plus, one of the rarest things we’ve seen from the Patriots is a rookie stepping right in as a starter from Week 1. Mac Jones being the obvious exception. And Cole Strange, who signed his contract yesterday, is a mortal lock to be the left guard from the jump. Isaiah Wynn would’ve been, but he blew out his Achilles in a preseason game. For the most part, these guys have to prove themselves first. Take as examples Christian Barmore, Kyle Dugger, and Sony Michel who were put in rotations initially and earned more playing time as their performance warranted it. Or Damien Harris, who redshirted for a full season before being installed as the lead back as a sophomore. Michael Onwenu became a starter as a rookie, but only after injuries forced him into emergency duty and he took full advantage of the opportunity. Nothing in Foxboro is given. It’s earned.
Some choose to take this track record proof they are crappy at drafting. But to me, it’s evidence of Bill Belichick’s master plan. Of an organizational philosophy in which they build for both the short- and the long-term. As they always have. They’re willing to be patient and let someone develop whenever possible, in order to get a reliable, fully-formed pro down the line. If that means sacrificing some or all of a guy’s rookie production in order to get there, that’s a price they’ve traditionally been willing to pay. It certainly worked with the quarterback they drafted in 2000 and stashed away at the No. 4 spot on their depth chart for a year.
It’s obviously early in the process with this year’s draft class. But in addition to Strange, one name keeps coming up as the guy the literati think is a likely Game 1 starter. Someone who happens to play a position that is the critical area of need on this team. Cornerback Jack Jones, their fourth pick, 121st overall.
Source – One of the Patriots’ top questions entering training camp is who will replace J.C. Jackson as a starting cornerback, and fourth-round pick Jack Jones has quickly put himself in position to challenge for the role.
This likely doesn’t surprise longtime scout and front-office executive TJ McCreight, who tweeted that Jones was his favorite pick of the fourth round. In addition to Jones’ physical traits and high-end instincts, McCreight highlighted how Jones was coached by Herm Edwards (a former DB himself), Marvin Lewis and Donnie Henderson at Arizona State, so he’s already benefitted from NFL-level tutelage.
“It’s a good spot for him [New England], as there will be people there to keep the thumb on him,” Edwards said in an interview with ESPN.com. … “He’s a very explosive athlete. Very competitive. He has pretty good ball skills, finding and turning and locating the ball,” he said.
Yeeeahhh … About that keeping of thumbs thing. Here’s what I wrote in my draft preview of Jones:
Jones was recruited to USC where he led the team with four interceptions in 14 starts as a sophomore. But as they say on every 30 for 30, “Off the field, there were signs of trouble …” He was declared academically ineligible (which will happen as USC when your mom isn’t a sitcom star) and then arrested on misdemeanor charges of breaking and entering into a restaurant after hours. After a season at a Juco, he transferred to ASU and promptly got suspended for all but one game for always vaguely ominous, “violating team rules.” In spite of all that, his skill sets explains why he was so heavily recruited and got a second and a third chance. …. But there’s enough talent there that with some chiseling and polishing, the diamond within might be found under all that rock.
And judging by those who’ve been paying attention to the limited practices the Pats have had and people around the team, there was less chiseling and polishing needed than idiots like me suggested. More from TJ McCreight:
Same source – “Outstanding instincts and eyes. A tremendous feel for routes, and outstanding ball skills and hands,” McCreight said on the Ross Tucker Football Podcast.
“He has the physical ability. He’s big enough [5-foot-10 6/8]. He’s fast enough. You see him do some little things. He’s blocked punts in high school. He’s blocked kicks in his career.
“He has ball production; he can catch. He had a pick-six [vs. Arizona], heaved the ball into the stands. He’s got some moxie. … To me, that was a steal because he’s going to get coached well in New England now. And you have a guy who is a playmaker.”
And according to SunDevil Express, Jones was not only one of the top corners in his recruiting class, he’s owned up to that B&E he committed at the Panda Express:
Prior to college, Jones was a 247Sports Composite five-star recruit out of Long Beach (Calif.) Long Beach Poly. He was also the No. 19-ranked overall player and the No. 2-ranked cornerback in the recruiting class of 2016.
“Honestly, it was a humbling experience,” Jones previously said about his time away from football in college. “Football was almost taken away from me for life. That made me open my eyes. There was no bigger wake-up call than that. When I was sitting at home, not being able to play football for a year — this is my life, this is what I do, this is what I want to be. It was really just a big wake up call, like you’ve got to get it right or it all could be gone with a snap of the fingers.
“Like I was telling the scouts, I’m a guy who’s been through something. I know how to deal with adversity, I know how to get over the hump.”
Aside from the obvious difference that JC Jackson’s run-ins in his college career didn’t involve mall-based Chinese fast food, Mike Reiss is not alone in mentioning the two in the same breath. Let’s go to the video tape:
My impression of the man from the one practice I went to is that he’s got all the raw materials and good instincts for mirroring a receiver and sticking to his hip, the way Jackson does. He’s small (174 lbs) compared to the types of corners they’ve gravitated to over the last few years. But then again, so is Tyreek Hill. So is Emmanuel Sanders (180 lbs), who blew past the much larger Joejuan Williams like he was a highway sign on the way to a 34-yard touchdown in the Wild Card game. As long as there is still room in the league for undersized elite athletes on the offensive side of the line, there will be room for sub-180 corners who can cling them and are “competitive” (Herm Edwards’ term), have “moxie” (McCreight’s), and were the No. 2 recruit in the country out of high school. Not to mention, this team loves a guy who had failures in college, worked through them (he went to a Juco in order to work his way back to DI with Arizona State), and is hungry to prove the doubters wrong.
We’ve yet to see these guys in pads. And he could stand a few weeks of hitting the training table for a man’s portion of proteins and carbs. But if Jack Jones were a company issuing an IPO, I’d invest heavily in him. Everything I see and hear about him tells me he’ll be the Pats starting corner. If not in Week 1, soon thereafter. Mark it down.