Watch out, Julian Edelman. You might be Wally Pipp’d soon.
The New England Patriots selected the best punt returner in college football last season, Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones, with the 60th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft on Friday night.
Jones returned 42 punts for 530 yards and four touchdowns in 2015, flashing his 4.49-second 40-yard dash speed and 6.71-second three-cone agility. He came to Alabama as a wide receiver before converting to cornerback in his sophomore season.
Jones also was one of the top cornerbacks in the Football Bowl Subdivision last season, despite his 5-foot-10, 197-pound stature. He allowed 39 catches on 68 targets for 497 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions last season, according to Pro Football Focus, which wrote in its draft guide that the cornerback “has allowed 10 TDs over the past two seasons, but plays very well between lapses.”
Jones joins a young group at cornerback, which also includes Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Justin Coleman, Darryl Roberts, E.J. Biggers and Rashaan Melvin. Butler, Ryan and Coleman will be free agents after the 2016 season. Butler will be a restricted free agent, while Ryan will be unrestricted.
Jones could immediately contribute as a punt returner, aiding Edelman and Danny Amendola in staying healthy, while competing with Coleman, Roberts, Biggers and Melvin for the No. 3 cornerback role behind starters Butler and Ryan.
Jones is a classic fit for the Patriots from a measureables standpoint. He ran a 1.55-second 10-yard split and also posted a 4.21-second short shuttle, 33-inch vertical leap and 9-foot, 8-inch broad jump.
One of Jones’ biggest strengths is his run defense. The Patriots value tackling ability and run defense at cornerback more than most teams. He’s also versatile, with the ability to play man and zone coverage, which the Patriots mix in their hybrid defense. He had seven interceptions and 25 passes defensed in his college career.
Thumbnail photo via Butch Dill/USA TODAY Sports Images