A Jack of All Trades in Dallas: How Byron Jones Helps the Cowboys
In the 2010 NFL Draft, despite the presence of two starting-caliber players at both cornerback positions in Leigh Bodden and Kyle Arrington and having used a second-round pick the year prior on Connecticut defensive back Darius Butler, the New England Patriots selected Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty with the 27th overall pick.
Selected for the depth he provided at both the corner and safety positions thanks to his versatile skill set, the Patriots' investment immediately paid off as McCourty was selected as a Second Team All-Pro in 2010 as a cornerback and then again in 2013 as a safety.
This season the Dallas Cowboys are trying to do their best New England Patriots impression by adding a similarly versatile cornerback out of UConn with the 27th overall pick of this year's draft in Byron Jones.
"Spygate" and "Deflategate" aside, you could do worse than to imitate the New England Patriots.
And similar to McCourty, the Cowboys hope to use Jones' athleticism and versatility to address the many problems ailing this team's secondary.
An Athletic Freak
If you were asked to build the ideal cornerback, you would be hard-pressed to find a better example than Byron Jones. The former UConn Huskie demonstrated at the scouting combine that he has ideal metrics in almost every category you could ask for.
|Name||Pos||Hght||Wght||Arms||Hands||40 yd||Vert||Broad||3Cone||20 ss|
|Byron Jones||CB||6' 1"||199 lbs||32"||10"||4.36 s||44.5"||147"||6.78 s||3.94 s|
Standing 6'1" and weighing 199 pounds, Byron Jones possesses the height and size that all NFL teams covet. As Denny Carter pointed out last offseason, the composite top-12 wide receiver from the past five seasons (2009 to 2013) stands at just under 6'2" and 213 pounds. That remained true this year. Jones' height and build is therefore ideally suited to match-up against the most elite wideouts of the league.
But Jones is more than just a big corner. He is also a supremely gifted athlete. Indeed, Jones rated out as a top performer in every single event he participated in at the combine.
His explosiveness was demonstrated by his 44.5-inch vertical leap (fourth-best in combine history) alongside his 147-inch world-record broad jump (which tops the second-best mark in combine history by eight inches).
Beyond this, his agility scores are also off the charts. His 3.94-second 20-yard short shuttle and 6.78-second 3-cone drill times keeps pace with the numbers put up by the two wideouts of this draft class singled out for their deft route running in Amari Cooper (3.98 and 6.71) and Tyler Lockett (4.07 and 6.89).
If this wasn't enough, he's also impressively fast for a corner his size. His ability to eat up a lot of real estate with his sub-4.40 40-yard time ensures that he has the speed to keep up with the fastest receivers on the field.
His speed, explosiveness, and agility combined with his intelligence and anticipation allows him to operate well in space to avoid blockers and make plays as seen on this play as well as this one.
This ability to serve as a playmaker was apparent his senior season as a Huskie. Despite playing in just seven games due to a shoulder injury which would later require surgery to repair, Jones recorded 24 total tackles alongside four pass break-ups and two interceptions, including this 70-yard pick six against the University of South Florida.
With his elite athleticism and size, Byron Jones now stands poised to translate his skills to the NFL to make an immediate impact for the Cowboys secondary.
Byron Jones in Dallas
Byron Jones enters a Cowboys team with a number of obvious needs in the secondary. Indeed, according to our Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) metric -- which measures how many points a defense gave up relative to league expectation on a per play basis and is adjusted for schedule strength -- the Cowboys ranked as the ninth worst passing defense last season, surrendering 0.12 points per play. (To learn more about NEP, check out our glossary).
Using the 27th overall pick to select Connecticut cornerback Byron Jones addressed all of these issues at once.
First and foremost, Byron Jones possesses a rare combination of size, athleticism, and skill to make an immediate impact at cornerback should the Dallas coaching staff decide to use him at this position.
Starting left cornerback Brandon Carr has vastly underperformed the hefty contract he signed with the Cowboys in 2012. Despite counting more than $12.7 million against the cap next season, Carr was rated as the league's 90th best corner in 2014 by Pro Football Focus. Thanks to the presence of Byron Jones in Dallas, the Cowboys front office might just have the leverage they need to ask the veteran corner to restructure his contract and take a pay cut.
On the other side of the field, the situation at right cornerback is no better. The incumbent at the position, Orlando Scandrick, has skipped voluntary spring workouts as a result of contract disputes with the team. And the man he replaced for the starting job in Week 3 of last year, Morris Claiborne, is entering the 2015 season on the heels of a ruptured patellar tendon, which may have sapped what little value Claiborne still provided to this team.
From all of this, it becomes clear that Jones provides the Cowboys not only the depth needed at the corner position as the NFL continues to shift to a passing league but also gives Dallas a starting-caliber player at either corner position should the need arise.
Now, should everything work out this offseason and the Cowboys not need Byron Jones at corner -- thanks in large part to his 6'1" and 199-pound frame and his experience at the position during his early years in UConn -- Jones could also serve as a solution to Dallas' needs at safety.
The Tampa 2 system that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli employs in Dallas relies heavily on its two safeties to act as playmakers. But unfortunately for Dallas, current starting free safety J.J. Wilcox, and strong safety Barry Church have both done a sub-par job in filling this role.
With his willingness to deliver contact and excellent ability to patrol and operate in space, Jones could make an instant impact for the Cowboys as the playmaker at safety this team has been sorely lacking.
Given Byron's elite talent level, build, and versatility it's evident that regardless of how the situation unfolds for Dallas' secondary this season, Jones can step right in and serve as the team's utility player at defensive back to provide an immediate impact for the Cowboys.