In a divisional matchup against the New York Jets that did not see one touchdown for almost the entire game, the Patriots had a saving grace in the form of an 84-yard punt return for a touchdown by rookie returner and cornerback, Marcus Jones. Jones made one man miss and then tight roped the sideline with some blockers ahead and cut towards the middle of the field, taking the punt to the house. This play came with five seconds left on the clock afterward, sealing a 10-3 Patriots victory, sweeping the Jets for the season.
As early as training camp, Jones was sneaking his way into first team reps at cornerback along with fellow rookie Jack Jones. It was not until recently that Jones became one of the primary returners and started seeing some playing time at cornerback. So far in the return game for New England, Jones has recorded 283 yards and a touchdown on punt returns and 340 yards on kickoff returns. On defense, Jones has four tackles and two pass defenses.
Jones was drafted with the 21st pick in the third round coming out of Houston with a draft prospect grade of 6.27. Jones initially went to Troy University where he made a reputation for himself as a dangerous return man before transferring to Houston in 2019 where he would maintain that level of play. At Troy, Jones racked up 1,463 yards on 53 returns, and at Houston he would put up 612 yards and three touchdowns off 20 returns, bringing his overall college return yardage to 2,075 yards.
Jones was deemed one of the best returners in the country in 2021 and received first-team Associated Press All-American and American Athletic Conference Special Teams Player of the Year honors, ranking fourth in the FBS, averaging just over 14 yards per punt return.
Jones exhibited an instinctive style of play at the cornerback position as well, where he would record nine interceptions, 153 tackles, one fumble recovery and fumble forced in his college career. Jones also showed the ability to play on offense, with 15 receptions for 137 yards and a touchdown. Jones’ versatility was recognized by many, with him winning the Paul Hornung Award as the nation's most versatile player in 2021. At the 2022 combine, Jones showed off his speed, running a 4.38 second 40 time. The versatility Jones showed in college paired with his impressive combine resume caught the eye of Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
Jones will likely hope to keep his progression going throughout the season and may even work his way into the starting lineup as a cornerback. The Patriots will be going to Minnesota on Thanksgiving to face the Vikings and will try to extend their winning streak to four games. On a short week, special teams may prove to be a vital part of the upcoming game, so look out for number 25 for New England on Thursday!
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