In the midst of garbage which fans have tossed towards the Cowboys defense over the years, now third-year defensive back Byron Jones has caught some stray bullets. Citing plays such as the season-ending Aaron Rodgers completion in 2016, fans constantly tweet at me and other Cowboys writers that Jones is overrated, and a bust of a first round pick.
I am here to tell you that those people are wrong. Flat out wrong.
Byron Jones brings a lot to the Cowboys defense, with the versatility to play all over the field and excel in those different roles. An extremely smart and instinctive player, Jones allows his smarts to lead him to places before his freakish athleticism takes over.
Jones is also a sticky coverage guy, shutting down tight ends and receivers alike in man coverage.
Back in October of 2016, the Cowboys faced a determining moment in their young season. On fourth down and medium and trailing by a small margin, the Packers decided to go for it and attack Byron Jones with Randall Cobb.
Lined up in the slot, Jones doesn’t allow Cobb to get a free release, forcing him to the inside. Once Cobb gets by Jones, he sticks to his back-hip and maintains his leverage down the field. Then, with the ball in the air, Jones goes up, deflects the pass, and forces a turnover on downs.
A key play in a big win for the Cowboys, Byron Jones’ ability to stick to wide-outs in man coverage shined through.
Byron Jones is also an incredible defender in the red zone. Later in the season against the Steelers, Jones slaps away a two-point conversion attempt in the corner of the end zone.
Pittsburgh tried to rub Jones off his man and send Le’Veon Bell underneath with a slant route, but Jones stays patient and physical with the tight end. Sticking to his back-hip to the pylon, Jones then goes up and interferes with the catch radius at the perfect time.
His ability to cover a wide-range of offensive weapons, as well as use his long frame to defend passes in the red zone, make Jones an incredible defensive weapon for the Cowboys.
Byron Jones also flashes the ability to play as a single high, center-field type of safety. While Jeff Heath tended to man this role when in the game, Jones still has the versatility to play here when needed.
Against the Bengals here, Jones rotates to the deep center of the field, keeping his eyes on the quarterback. Recognizing the Bengals are trying to hit AJ Green on a post route, Jones breaks on the route, comes over the top, and deflects the pass away.
Byron Jones is an instinctive player who can anticipate route combinations and recover quickly when necessary. With the ability to play as a deep safety, a cover-guy both in the slot and on the outside, and in the box as an overhang defender, Jones’ versatility makes him a vital part of the Cowboys defense.
The Cowboys might have re-loaded their secondary core during the 2017 NFL Draft, but Byron Jones is a fundamental piece of that defensive back group, and will be so for a long time.