While the Pittsburgh Steelers will most certainly want to address their secondary at some point in the earlier rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft, fans should expect the organization to take a possible look at the cornerback and safety positions in the later rounds of the draft. This profile covers a potential sleeper in this year's draft in Auburn's Jonathan Jones.
Jones is an undersized cornerback who stands at 5'9" 186 lbs. and is projected as a fourth round draft pick. The fourth year senior made his reputation as being a feisty cornerback who, despite his size, challenges passes often and has decent ball skills. Many analysts and fans like to write-off cornerbacks who are under 6'0" due to the large wide receivers and tight ends in the NFL that present challenges to the pass friendly league.
However Jones makes a case because of his explosive speed, quick feet and fluid hips in coverage. Jones has shown that he can adapt to the ball while it is in the air on multiple occasions in his collegiate career. His peak came in his junior season when he recorded six interceptions in 2014, but only managed to snag one interception in 2015. To his credit he managed 13 passes defensed (averaged one per game) in his senior season and still appears to have the fluid hips that scouts want to see in cornerbacks.
His combine performance bolstered his draft stock with recording the fastest 40 yard dash time for all cornerbacks at 4.33 and also putting up the second most repetitions on the bench press with 19. We take a look at Jones' skills in coverage and a tackling clip for our film room's evaluation of his skills in college.
Quick hips and good adjustment to the ball
Watch how as the receiver sets up Jones with his double move to the corner, Jones does look to be in position to play the inside pattern, but is able to effortlessly open up his hips and stay with the play for an easy interception. This highlight displays solid footwork and the hip fluidity that the scouts will talk about when watching Jones.
While his height maybe a deterrent to some, the extra inches can be made up by a corner who can run with sharp route runners. Highly touted larger cornerbacks in the NFL like Joe Haden can shutdown taller receivers but struggle with the shorter quick route runners like Antonio Brown Odell Beckham Jr. and T.Y. Hilton, so having players that can matchup with those types of receivers can be crucial in today's NFL. Jones seems to fit that mold.
Can play the press
One thing I like about Jones is how he uses his hands at the line of scrimmage. Notice how on the receiver he immediately engages his assignment and perfectly runs with him down the sideline to end up in a better position to catch the ball than the receiver. While other tape on Jones shows that larger receivers can push him around because of his lack of size on run plays, Jones often played back in college unless the situation called for tight coverage.
Height is a real issue but could be mitigated
Jones' frame is not his friend on well-thrown jump balls. While that does not stop him from being a contentious defender while the ball is in the air, it is not difficult to see how this can be a problem against receivers such as A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Sammy Watkins and Brandon Marshall, all of which are receivers on the rosters of teams which Pittsburgh will play in 2016.
Jones does a solid job of running with the tight end here and making sure the throw has to be perfect for there to be a completion; in doing so he also forces the tight end to throw every effort into making a tall grab which opens himself up for a crushing hit from a safety which forces an incomplete pass.
Does not give up on plays
One thing that every fan loves to see in a player is heart, and this play shows just that in Jones. Back when LSU's running back, Leonard Fournette, was running over everything in his path, Auburn was next on the list and he started to take over early in the game. However watch how Jones comes from his right cornerback position, runs seventy yards down the field to track Fournette down, sheds off a downfield blocker and makes the tackle at the five yard line.
While those are not plays which help Pittsburgh's pass defense, plays like this can show the determination and grit of a defender who never gives up on a play; a trait that is always useful.
While Jones' profile does not ring the bell of him being a superb run support cornerback, he is not devoid of the ability to bring down the ball carrier in open space. Jones gets off his block here to explode into the running back and prevent the first down conversion for a solid solo tackle.
Jones is a solid addition in the fourth round
While there are a lot of positives to see in Jones' tape, his height is a legitimate concern for fans to have should he be selected. Not in the sense that it would prevent Jones from being a playmaker, but when taking into consideration that the Steelers already just made a similar type of selection last season in Senquez Golson, Pittsburgh may look to have a larger cornerback added to its roster to combat the taller targets in the league. Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce are two perfect examples of athletic tight ends with height that are difficult to cover, and both of which are on teams scheduled to play Pittsburgh this season, and a tandem of Golson, Jones and William Gay is not encouraging for a defense to go up against these super tall players.
Still, having a cornerback to be in depth at the position who can run with receivers up and down the field is something which Kevin Colbert and the Steelers should consider. If the team has not selected a cornerback in the first three rounds, look for Jones to be a foreseeable target in the later rounds should he still be available.