Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
Over the next few weeks, we're going to look back at last year's rookies in an effort to assess what their role will be in 2018 and where we can expect them to make improvements on what they brought to the table last year.
Derrick Jones was considered a bit of a long-term project when the Jets selected him with their final pick in 2017's draft. He's a terrific athletic with excellent size and length, but was considered raw having spent much of his collegiate career as a wide receiver, starting just eight games in total. The Jets carried him on their active roster all year, but he only suited up for three games and didn't get any defensive reps.
Preseason stats: Four games played, seven tackles, one pass defensed, one interception
Regular-season stats: Three games played
Projected role: Backup cornerback
In his limited regular-season action, Jones was used sparingly as a vice on the punt unit, but other than one holding penalty didn't make any kind of an impact. He saw more action on special teams in preseason, impressing with his ability to get downfield as a gunner on a few occasions. Despite some underwhelming production in college, he has all the tools to be a useful asset on special teams. However, how close is he to being ready to start competing for a role in the secondary?
On defense, Jones predictably showed the anticipated rawness, both in camp and preseason. In the first preseason game, he was burned on a deep ball, although the receiver dropped it. He started to turn the corner toward the end of camp, making a series of plays in the last few days. That spilled over into the final preseason game when Jones made a diving interception and showed some good closing speed to limit some underneath passes to short gains.
The first thing Jones needed to work on was immediately apparent, as he was clearly too lanky and wiry for the NFL level. Although wide receiver Robby Anderson has defied the odds despite having a similar build, even Anderson has added some bulk to his frame and Jones needs to prove that he has been able the do the same otherwise he'll be unable to match up physically with the elite receivers at the NFL level.
Another weakness for Jones is his lack of experience and natural instincts. Being in his second year in the system with no doubt help him and the fact he came on strong at the end of camp last year is a positive sign that this could be a developing area for him.
Part of Jones' allure is that his length could be a useful tool in press coverage. However, while he was often up at the line of scrimmage with the Rebels, he wasn't very effective at jamming his man at the line to slow him up. Adding some strength, which he will no doubt have been working on over the last year, should make a difference. He only managed nine bench press reps at his pro day, so this was clearly something he needed to improve upon.
Another area where he needs work is in terms of the running game. Jones didn't make too many bad mistakes but was extremely tentative in run support in college and didn't contribute much against the run in preseason.
It's unclear how high the Jets are on Jones, who doesn't seem to be making much noise during offseason practices so far. On some level, there's the impression that the Jets' approach to finding their next young cornerback prodigy is to throw a number of players at the problem and hope one rises above the others.
Outlook: Jones is long and athletic, so he could potentially be a prototypical press cover corner if the Jets can coach him up. Unfortunately for Jones, the Jets already have a few other players who meet that description and they all have more experience at cornerback than he does. If the Jets had a good recent record of coaching up young cornerbacks to be successful at the NFL level, then it would be easier to feel optimistic about Jones' chances. However, if that was the case, the Jets wouldn't still be in need of a young corner to step up.