Marcus Jones can make Denver’s special teams fun again while solidifying CB room

Houston Cougars cornerback Marcus Jones (8) returns a punt for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Navy Midshipmen at TDECU Stadium.
Sep 25, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars cornerback Marcus Jones (8) returns a punt for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Navy Midshipmen at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason the Denver Broncos have so far lost Nate Hairston, Bryce Callahan and Kyle Fuller, who combined to play 96.3% of Denver’s slot-corner snaps in 2021.

As a replacement, the team signed K’Waun Williams, but there are still a lot of vacant snaps at slot corner that need to be filled, and the Broncos could target the draft to fill that need.

If the Broncos want to kill two birds with one stone, and revitalize their special teams while also upgrading their secondary, cornerback Marcus Jones, out of the University of Houston, could be an ideal fit.

Positives

Whenever discussing Jones, his special athleticism has to be the first topic of discussion.

Jones is one of the best athletes in the class, with twitched-up and explosive movement skills that leap off the screen. His short-area quickness might be the crowning jewel of his gaudy athletic toolbelt, as he’s able to reach top speed instantaneously. That allows him to eliminate gaps and explode towards the catch point when necessary.

He also has an excellent vertical leap — which is important considering Jones’ undersized frame — and the long speed to match his twitchiness. Plus, despite having underdeveloped aspects of his game, Jones checks a lot of the boxes you can’t teach.

Boosting Jones’ otherworldly movement skills is his impressive fluidity as an athlete. He is able to backpedal, and flips his hips naturally without stuttering, or drive on the ball at the catch point with ease.

Jones also regularly showcases the type of demeanor NFL teams covet, as he has an uncommon amount of grit and toughness to his game for a cornerback of his size, and has a motor that never runs cool.

You’ll frequently find him in an all-out sprint attempting to chase down a play, and he has no problem competing with much larger receivers in contested-catch situations, thanks in part to his physicality and vertical skills.

 

Lastly, no Jones scouting report would be complete without mentioning his prowess as a returner. With all those remarkable athletic traits at his disposal, Jones is able to tear off massive returns with ease and did so frequently during his time at Houston.

Jones is able to consistently create big plays on special teams, but that isn’t the only place where his big-play ability shows up.

He has excellent ball skills and attacks the ball like a wide receiver, which can be deadly for an offense, especially when paired with his ability to create plays with the ball in his hands.

Negatives

Having a nose for big plays is an appealing part of Jones’ game, but it also gets him into trouble plenty. Whatever team drafts him will have to either be comfortable with the fact that sometimes Jones’ big-play gambles go wrong, or believe they have a solid plan to coach that habit out of him.

A good professional example, to give you an idea of his gambles, would be a player like Marcus Peters. Peters has been a terrific cornerback for long stretches of his career and even won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors for recording eight interceptions his first year, but he’s also allowed big plays and has created broken coverages plenty of times.

Also, while he has nearly every physical trait you would want, the size of his frame (5-foot-8, 176 pounds) leaves a lot to be desired. Fortunately, he’s able to mitigate some of those size concerns with his other special traits, but they’re still present.

That’s not ideal for a cornerback in Denver’s Fangio-esque scheme, which demands physicality from the cornerback position. Jones’ gritty demeanor and excellent tackling technique help make him functional in this regard, but it’s still a major issue.

That’s also just one of the few aspects of his game in which Jones is technically proficient. As of now, he’s still relying way too much on his athletic traits to win reps at the collegiate level. In the NFL, he won’t be able to get away with that nearly as frequently, and opponents will be happy to exploit his shortcomings in technique.

He’s slow at reading the play and showcases a lack of instincts at times as a result. He’s a more reactionary player as a result, and when he does try and read the play, he’s often caught guessing wrong.

He also panics at times in coverage, resulting in him grabbing the receiver and creating pass interference penalties. College officials are much more lenient on pass interference calls than NFL officials, who will swiftly punish Jones for his grabbiness if he doesn’t get that bad habit under control. Lastly, when in off-man coverage, Jones can be spotted rounding off routes and breaks occasionally, creating windows for the offense to exploit.

Verdict

Jones has a lot of serious shortcomings in his game, but he would also be a terrific and sensible fit for the Denver Broncos.

With K’Waun Williams and Patrick Surtain installed, the Broncos would have avenues they could take to bring Jones along more slowly if he was struggling to develop the technical aspects of his game, and he would immediately rejuvenate Denver’s special teams unit.

Plus, despite his limited development, it would be surprising if he wasn’t able to get onto the field for Denver in dime looks as a rookie, as there are still plenty of aspects to the position that he performs at a high level.

Not only is the floor acceptable, but the ceiling for Jones’ development is so exciting that it induces drool upon imagination. He has special physical traits you just can’t teach at the position, and his short-area quickness and athletic fluidity give him the ability to match up with even the NFL’s best slot receivers if he’s able to finetune some areas of his game.

The Broncos could take him with their first pick, at No. 64 overall, but a better value for Jones would likely come around Denver’s picks at No. 75 overall and No. 96 overall.

Projected range: Third Round

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