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What is wrong with them? Part 1: Byron Jones


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I thought a series about particular players we have shown reservations about, or have prehaps not lived up to expectations, or otherwise underwhelmed at least in 2017 would be a neat addition to the forum. With a background in both coaching, scouting and recruiting I have a pretty good grasp on understanding film, and a good comprehension how the stats we read, the plays we watch on TV and the production we expected translate into how a player is actually playing. 

Please feel free to comment, ask questions, or make observations.

Part one: Bryon Jones, DB

Byron Jones has simply not been the player we expected since he was drafted. Or...has he?

Before we understand this, we must ask ourselves: Just what is it the Cowboys say in the UConn prospect that made him their pick a few years ago?

The answer is simple, although multifaceted. 

Byron played in college with the physical prowess you expect of a corner in the NFL. A firm extension of the elbows to reroute the receiver off the line. A competitors edge when fighting in the zone. A knack for sticking his body in there on tackles. The rangey burst to hold a zone. The stride for stride ability to keep pace with most receivers. Yes, there were faults - perhaps not fast enough for the elite NFL speed of receivers. Perhaps not the most sound tackler. Maybe just a bit too lax in his zone. Playing the ball a bit too conservatively, preferring the same deflection or keeping the catch in front of him, rather than attacking.

Then enter the combine, where his performance, setting a record even, set him aside from many of his peers also slated in that second round range. It proved his athleticism and competitors mindset. His work ethic. And he skyrockets a bit ahead of the others in his grouping.

This gets him picked late in the first round by Dallas, who in the end, couodnt quite figure out where he best fit in the defense.

Is he a safety? Is he a corner?

Perhaps he is neither. Maybe, after all is observed, he is simply a defensive back.

See, his rookie year at corner, and the film doesnt lie, he was simply too overwhelmed covering option routes and vertical breaks. His stride for stride ability was there. But the speed to sprint and makeup ground on the cut was not. He looked lost in zones, too, simply misreading route combinations designed to put him in bad positioning. And it worked often. On the plus side, he showed his physical competitiveness, keeping himself in every play even when beaten. Playing the ball, not the man, to good success when he kept himself positioned well.

The move to safety the following two seasons made sense. It kept the play in front of him, allowing him to do what he does best - play the ball, not the man, and be physical when coming downfield. This put him in a better position to be the player that was evident on film at UConn - safe, physical, reactive and instinctive.  We also saw a drastic improvement on how he was utilized to cover tight ends. His physicality allowed him to stay on his man, while his lack of stride for stride speed but ability when going stride for stride in man coverage was accentuated - he no longer had to make up ground against faster receivers, and was able to keep close to even the best TEs in the league.

However, we saw also, his faulty tackling mechanics. See, as a corner, his ability to get in there and put on a tackle was really good. Against receivers on a hitch or screen, or a back just getting across the line, no problem. But at safety, when his man was coming up with a full head of steam? He was tackling far too high, without enough bend to his knees. This generated a poor balance and not enough power to drive through the ball carrier, be it receiver or runner. This became a nagging issue, especially when he was tried down in the robber role. All too often we saw his tackles slipped with relative ease.

However. And this is a big however. We saw a DRASTIC improvement in 2017 with how he recognizes what the offense is doing. You can see him on film pointing out the routes and play to the younger DBs. You can see him reacting faster and getting to proper positioning more often. You rarely caught him playing out of position, and when you did, it was often the result of trying to cover a poor positioning by a teammate. 

Enter the upcoming season and a lot has been made of his move back to corner. This is a risky move, as he was just truly grasping what it took to be a safety. However, several things are aligning here:

Jourdan Lewis looks poised to take on the faster players who run the vertical breaking routes Byron struggled with. He will no longer have to do this.

As a safety, his tackling left much to be desired. As a corner, however, he will be one of the better tackling corners out there.

His short range explosion will be an immediate boost to the mid range zone coverage, where the team had issues in 2017. 

His ability to cover the TE will still be in play, particularly on the nickel, allowing Chido and Lewis to hold the fort outside.

His safe style of play - playing the ball and not the man, preferring to break up the catch or tackle the catcher for shorter gains - is a primary staple of both zone defense and inside corner play. 

If he lines up outside on early downs, his ability to get in there and help against the run will be a boost.

His ability to press will help the DL rotation to get home more often.

All that having been said, I do feel it will be best to utilize Byron in multiple spots. He is by no.means a typical corner; and in no facet a prototype at safety. But if you line him up on a TE in man coverage, or have him play man on the outide and press, or play a smaller area deep coverage like a cover 3 with him at safety, these elements of his game will put him in prime positioning to prevent big plays, help other players do their job, and show his true value.

So, to answer my initial question...was he what they expected? Personally, I believe he has been. He is safe in his play, his knowledge and recognition have grown, and his physicality is a blessing to a secondary that has been one of the least impressive units over the last several years. A complete defensive back. I do not believe they selected him expecting some lock down corner or ball hawking safety, nor expected some 5 pick a year guy, but a safe and solid cover guy who can contribute, prevent big plays, and be physical at the line.

And in that, theyve gotten what the expected. Will moving to corner help him become a more integral part of the defense, able to make bigger plays? Maybe not bigger plays, but perhaps, more reliable plays. Time will be the judge, however.

So, whats wrong with Byron Jones? The expectations placed upon him, mostly by the fans. Because there is nothing wrong with Byron Jones. He is exactly what his film in college showed he would be. Now the team is putting him, hopefully, in a better position to be just that.

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