Jones Adding to His Toolbox While Waiting for an Inevitable Move Outside
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Sidney Jones was a star in college at the University of Washington, a potential top-15 pick in the NFL Draft until a torn Achilles' at his pro day slowed his career trajectory.
A redshirt rookie season in Philadelphia, playing in only the meaningless regular-season finale against Dallas has been ramped up now that Jones is healthy again.
Through the first two weeks of the 2018 campaign, Jones has played in 59 percent of the team's defensive snaps as the slot corner in the team's nickel defense, grading out as the top inside CB in the NFL during Week 2 against Tampa Bay, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Overall, PFF has Jones' as the 19th best CB in football through two weeks.
The Eagles' outside corners -- Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby -- didn't play as well in Tampa and are Nos. 57 (Darby) and 98 (Mills) out of 103 through two weeks. The context added there, however, is that it's Mills and Darby who have had to deal with Julio Jones, Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson over that time frame.
That said few will dispute that Jones' ceiling as a player almost demands a move to the outside at some point so why not sooner rather than later?
"At the end of the day, I’m here and wherever my team needs me and wherever they’re going to put me is where I’m going to be at," Jones said earlier this week. "It's wherever they feel we’re going to have the best success. I never imagined [playing in the slot], but I can do it. So why not?"
In the modern NFL the so-called 4-3 base defense is actually the sub-package and the traditional sub-packages like the nickel defense are going to be played 65 to 70 percent of the time so Jones is already essentially a starter in his second season but if you're most talented CB in the room, playing 59 percent of the time versus 98 percent for Mills and 93 percent for Darby isn't going to make sense in the long run.
As Jones' experience slowly creeps upward to match his talent, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will ultimately have a decision to make whether it's some time this season or 2019 where Darby could leave via free agency and open up a starting job on the outside.
For now, Jones is just adding to his toolbox.
"The way our defense works, we value versatility," he said. "Me playing the slot and nickel, I’m gaining that versatility. I’m showing that I can play inside. I know I can play outside. Just having both in my toolbox is good for me and the team."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen