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Byron Jones becomes an elite corner in press coverage during the 2018 season

Kris Richard trusted Byron Jones like no other corner was trusted.

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NFL: Tennessee Titans at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve all become familiar with the Byron Jones story by now. Drafted by the Cowboys in 2015, he was a freakish athlete coming out of Connecticut, but initially the Cowboys weren’t sure how to utilize him. He spent his rookie season playing some corner and some safety. By his second year, he was plying his trade at safety and stayed there until Kris Richard arrived in the 2018 offseason.

Richard, with his well-known preference for big, athletic corners, immediately switched Jones to corner. It was a brilliant stroke. Pro Football Focus lays out some of the stats that moved Jones into the top-tier of the cornerback community. His 83.1 grade ranked him seventh out all corners, his 10 pass breakups was tied for 10th, and his catch percentage of 53.6% was 14th. A couple more stellar stats include ranking eighth in catches allowed per cover snap and tying for 12th in yards given up per cover snap.

That’s quite an accomplishment for a guy who hadn’t played the position regularly in quite a while. What’s even more amazing is how well Jones can play the preferred defense of Richard. When the defensive passing game coordinator came over from Seattle, he brought with him his his preference for press coverage and disrupting the receiver at the line of scrimmage. It’s a great strategy when it works, but it also carries risks if the corner gets beat at the line.

That was no problem for Jones. Richard trusted him completely.

One part of any good cornerback’s game is press coverage, and Jones was one of the best at that very thing last season. As an outside cornerback in the Cowboys’ Cover-1/Cover-3 scheme, Jones was used in press coverage on a whopping 448 snaps last year, which is 40 more than the next cornerback (Steven Nelson, 408) and nearly 90 more than the next player after that (Stephon Gilmore, 359). Jones was used in press coverage for a reason — he was one of the very best in the league when lined up in right in front of the opposing receiver.

Jones had a coverage grade of 82.2 when in press coverage, ranking seventh out of 80 cornerbacks who had at least 100 press coverage snaps. The fact that Jones was able to maintain such a high grade in press coverage — which is a risky coverage by nature — given his high volume is even more impressive, especially when you consider the fact that among the 17 cornerbacks with at least 250 snaps in press coverage, Jones was one of only two to earn a coverage grade of 80.0 or higher.

Diving further into his press-coverage numbers, Jones allowed just 0.78 yards per cover snap, ranking seventh among cornerbacks, and he had a forced incompletion rate of 24.5% that ranked sixth. Additionally, Jones allowed a reception just once every 17.1 press-coverage snaps, ranking fourth at the position. Evidently, Jones is an absolute monster when he’s in the wide receiver’s face at the snap.

Richard must be overjoyed in having a corner like Jones in his system. We also have to remember that Jones picked up his hip injury late in the 2018 campaign. He was stellar through the first 10 or 11 games, then started having some trouble. The injury obviously slowed him down, but even with that he put up elite stats for the year. If he could have played the final part of the season injury-free, his 2018 season might have been one for the ages.

The team hoped that rest would resolve his hip issue, but eventually it came to the point where surgery was needed. That has put the start of Jones’ 2019 campaign in jeopardy. Jones is also in the line of Cowboys stars that need a new contract. He’ll be playing under his fifth-year option in 2019, and that’s calculated as a safety so he’ll only get just under $6.3 million, a bargain for the Cowboys.

Soon, though, they’ll have to pay him. Another season like 2018 and they will have to pay him a lot.

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