In the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles took a page from former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie’s playbook and drafted a potentially elite player who may not play a single game in year one. Sidney Jones was going to be the first cornerback taken in the draft before he tore his Achilles at his pro day last March.
Some fans are frustrated with drafting a player who is a slight injury risk at a position the draft was so deep with, while others are excited about getting a prospect who was expected to go in the top 10 before the injury.
I love the pick in the second round. Had the Eagles taken him 14th overall instead of Derek Barnett I would be very concerned, but getting him outside of the first 40 picks is easily worth the risk. And let’s be honest about this “risk”, if Jason Peters can come back from two Achilles tears in a month and still remain an elite left tackle, then I believe a 185 pound cornerback in his early 20s will recover just fine.
WEAKNESSES- I saw two flaws with Jones game that had me a bit concerned, but nothing he can improve upon at the next level. First off, his lack of strength. It doesn’t show up in run support, he’s outstanding there, but he does struggle against bigger receivers. When I put on the tape against USC in 2016 I saw JuJu Smith-Schuster manhandle him at times.
On one play JuJu pushed off on Jones and immediately gained about 5 yards of separation. He didn’t face a ton of physical wide outs in the PAC-12, but that game against USC was easily his worst on tape. I’d like to see Jones add some strength and play closer to the 195 range. He’ll never be known as a physical corner, that’s not his game, but he can be a really good press corner so you don’t want this to be an issue going forward against a lot more physical wide outs in the NFL.
The other issue I saw on tape was Jones getting beat inside a lot. He tends to play a bit outside of the receiver and that quick move inside leads to immediate separation. It might be how he was coached in college, and it’s really positioning more than a lack of quickness on his end, but it’s something he has to clean up or NFL quarterbacks are going to pick him apart.
STRENGTHS- Jones does so many things well at the corner position, but it’s his three biggest strengths that will allow him to have a very long pro career as long as he stays healthy. First off, his feet are exceptional. His feet allows him to stay tight with the receiver and always stay in perfect position to make a play on the ball.
His instincts are what really sets him apart. He reads screens very quickly(picked one off against USC in 2015), jumps routes and disguises his blitzes better than any corner I saw on tape. At times he looks like a 10 year NFL vet playing against college freshmen. This will allow him to come right in and succeed at this level whenever he is fully recovered from his Achilles tear, whether that is 2017 or 2018.
The one area of his game that really surprised me, in a good way, was his run support. He’s quick to the ball, he wraps up properly(not with his head or shoulders) and he never looks like a 180 pound corner in run support. Teams not only threw away from his side, they also ran away from his side as well.
NFL PROJECTION- Jones is going to be a starting cornerback for the Eagles in 2018 and maybe sooner depending on his rehab. He played in so many different coverages and thrived in all of them. His learning curve is going to be small compared to most rookie corners. If he can add a little weight to his frame, even better.
He should develop into a top 10 cornerback in this league pretty quickly, he’s really the total package. He’s long, has good speed, great feet and instincts and plays physical despite his frame.