The safety position may just be one of the most important positions on the defensive side of the football. Some of the best football players of all time come from the position. Think Ronnie Lott, Ed Reed, and Darren Woodson. These are just three players that have transformed defenses to elite caliber. Particularly with Rod Marinelli's defensive formation, the free safety position has so much importance.
It's more than just the range and field vision, it's about a combination of sure-tackling, reliability, and toughness in the box. In his rookie year last season, there were times where Jones was extremely impressive. There were also times where he looked lost in coverage, getting beat by bigger and stronger receiving options. But that was to be expected out of a guy who was making the transition from the University of Connecticut to the NFL. Nevertheless, Jones' pros outweighed his cons and the future looks extremely bright for the 2015 NFL Combine's biggest winner.
Coming into his second season in the NFL, Jones will jump from a nickel/dime cornerback (and part-time starter because of injuries) to an every-down starter at the safety position. And if you really think about, it's been awhile since the Cowboys have gotten a consistent presence at the position. The one player that comes to mind is Darren Woodson and he last fully played for the Cowboys in 2003. Woodson truly did it all for the Cowboys. He not only consistently blew up opposing receivers, but he would always cover opposing team's inside receivers.
As a free safety in today's NFL, Jones will not be asked to consistently make big hits, but there are a variety of things he will have to do to be successful. We saw at times in his rookie year that he can hold his own in the slot. There are some glitches in technique that Jones will need to improve upon, but in terms of what he will be asked to do on an every-down basis, Jones is exactly what the Cowboys need in the back-end of the secondary.
For the longest time, the Cowboys have lacked range and a true ballhawk not only at the safety position, but also in the secondary as a whole. Jones doesn't have any career interceptions, but his athletic ability will allow him to become a playmaker on defense. Dallas' safety duo of the past two years has consisted of Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox and while each have put in decent performances at times, both are wildly inconsistent and have problems in coverage.
In fact, Church and Wilcox both have better makings in their careers as strong safeties rather than free safeties. So with Jones taking over the free safety position, it's going to be interesting to see who lines up next to him. There is also an option at the safety position in rookie Kavon Frazier, who's quite eerily similar to Church in terms of his tackling ability, but has a better pedigree in pass coverage.
With the Cowboys going through a youth movement, giving Jones the chance is going to be a move that could pay huge dividends for the Cowboys. Athleticism and SPARQ ratings continue to be a big evaluator in terms of how the Cowboys go about doing their homework in the draft. In the 2015 NFL Draft, there weren't a ton of players that finished with a higher SPARQ rating than Jones. After seeing how well Jones transitioned to the NFL, the Cowboys followed suit in the 2016 NFL Draft by drafting players with high testing scores in the SPARQ analytic.
There may be some growing pains, as he has never played this position, but Jones has all of the facets you look for in a free safety. He's an extremely intelligent player with a high football IQ and excels at covering space across the field. We haven't gotten a professional NFL sample size of his ball skills, but he did have seven interceptions and 16 pass deflections during his time at UConn. Regardless, Jones is the best option the Cowboys have had at the position in years and once he figures out the kinks in his game, he'll be a really nice component of this defense.