By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Cyrus Jones has now spent over a full calendar year attempting to show the Patriots why they drafted him in the second round. The second-year corner out of Alabama has been horrific so far in his young career, and it’s not just the fact that he’s been burned in coverage. Jones entered the NFL known for his dynamic return ability, but gave the Patriots little confidence to hand him a regular role as the football spent more time on the turf than in his hands.
Jones’ astonishing, persistent struggles to hold onto the ball as a returner have made him a common target of some of the most acute criticism from Patriots fans and media, even to the point that the team should consider cutting him and moving on. But finally, on Saturday night against the Texans, Jones showed why the Patriots keep giving him chances on special teams – and why they won’t be giving up on him any time soon.
Now that Jones was able to actually hold onto the ball and break free on a return, he put his potentially game-breaking return skills on display. He showed good field vision and straight-ahead speed on this 32-yard return in the second quarter:
And later in the game, near the end of the fourth quarter, Jones showed some serious elusiveness as he turned a potential zero-sum play into a 15-yard return:
Even Bill Belichick had high praise for Jones’ individual performance.
“I thought Cyrus did a good job in the return game, both punts and kickoffs,” Belichick said during his Sunday conference call. “He ran hard, ran aggressively, made good decisions, with and without the ball. We had a couple situations where the ball hit the ground or was going out of bounds. I thought he did a nice job.”
Even if Jones is still a disaster as a coverage corner, he’s at best their fifth option right now. His true value comes in the return game, where he could suddenly transform into a real asset for Belichick and the special teams unit … if he could truly put his fumbling woes in the past and do more of what he did on Saturday.
It will obviously take much more than one solid preseason game for Jones to earn the trust of his critics, but he at least found a way to reward Belichick and the team for continuing to show confidence in him as a returner. More importantly, Jones for the first time looked like he had confidence in himself.
No matter how Jones’ game would have gone on Saturday, it’s likely that he would have earned a spot on the Patriots’ 53-man roster. There’s no way the Patriots would pull the plug this soon with a second-round pick, and Jones in particular was the Patriots’ highest draft selection in 2016.
That’s not to say that the Patriots haven’t had their misses in the second round in recent years, but even the total busts lasted at least two full seasons. Even 2011 second-rounder Ras-I Dowling, who only played nine games in two seasons with the Patriots, lasted two full years until the Pats finally cut him in August 2013. Receiver Aaron Dobson lasted three full seasons. Safety Jordan Richards has barely made a dent beyond special teams work, but he’s entering his third season in the league and is just now finding himself possibly on the bubble.
Another discussion, and it’s a valid one, is whether Jones would still be a wasted second-round pick even if he developed into a good, reliable return man. Jones will need to be a good cover corner in addition to a good returner to justify that selection. But for now, he’s at least taking steps in the right direction (for a change) toward potentially being the Patriots’ return man, and stepping further away from being cut.
So even if Jones fumbled a couple of times and got toasted in coverage like many were expecting on Saturday, Belichick was still going to give him this season to figure it out. The Cut Cyrus Jones Movement™ has always been a waste of time, even if you feel strongly that it still should happen and if you turn out to be right.
But it simply wasn’t going to happen this season. Finally, mercifully, Jones has shown you why.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @Dolloff985 and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.