Special teams win hidden yardage. Offense wins games. Defense wins championships. New England Patriots rookie Marcus Jones can do all three.
The former Houston star made tackles as an All-American Athletic Conference defender from either cornerback spot. He also returned kicks and even ran routes as a receiver.
Yes, run the routes, not just cover them.
Houston coach Dana Holgorsen saw a cornerback that mirrored every route a receiver would run inside with ease. He asked if Jones would be willing to work on the opposing side of the football and instantly, the transition seemed natural.
"If Marcus wasn't as valuable as he was to our defense, he probably would've taken even more offensive snaps," Houston defensive coordinator Doug Belk said on the "Next Pats" Podcast of the now Patriots' corner. "But we wanted to manage his body throughout the season. He actually wanted to play more offense than we played him."
Jones, the Patriots' third-round pick, has the chance to be an integral part of the team's development this season. New England's Bill Belichick likely isn't keen on making him a two-way player, but whose to say that he wouldn't be open to giving it a shot on simply offense for reps?
Slot receivers and New England have a connection unlike most teams. It started with Wes Welker and soon translated over to Julian Edelman. Danny Amendola also carved out a role during his five seasons in Foxboro while Jakobi Meyers hopes to do the same now on a new deal.
Belk believed that Holgersen wanted to see Jones develop his hand-eye coordination, footwork and ability to break on the route. It's why he initially began to work with offense once he arrived from Troy in 2020.
No one thought that Jones would end up becoming an option in the passing attack during the team's 12-win season in 2021. The 5-8, 178-pound nickel defender recorded 10 catches for 109 yards and even scored a touchdown on the way to the Cougars' best finish since 2011.
Make no mistake on his defensive skills. Belk has coached talent at Alabama like Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey. Coming out of school, Jones is more NFL-ready than either Pro Bowl defensive back in his mind. If not for the smaller frame, he likely would have been a first-round pick.
The results speak for themselves. Jones won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation's most versatile player last year, recording five interception and breaking up 13 passes. He also was arguably the nation's the top return man, averaging 14.4 yards per punt return and 34 per return on kickoffs.
He also had two punts returned for touchdowns and two kickoff scores.
The versatility aspect makes Jones New England's most intriguing rookie entering the summer. The Patriots are looking for stability on the outside to replace All-Pro J.C. Jackson. Even though smaller cornerbacks have found success in Belichick's man system, 5-8 likely limits Jones inside at the pros.
Jonathan Jones currently controls the slot inside for New England, but he's entering a contract year. Would Belichick be willing to move him to the boundary? Or is Big Game Bill thinking ahead and willing to try Marcus Jones on offense?
Adding him to that side of the ball give Mac Jones another option in the passing game. There's more to it, however, in terms of getting the best out of Marcus Jones. It's a season to where he can learn more about the receiver position and how routes are formed at the highest peak.
Next season when Jonathan Jones is up for a new deal, perhaps Marcus Jones is viewed the stronger option. The reason? His footwork and timing working receiver drills as a rookie.
Belk could see how it would work. He also could see where Belichick elects to keep Jones on offense, pulling a Devin Hester 2.0 when he was drafted by the Bears coming out of Miami.
"He's that good with the ball in his hands," Belk said. He's even harder to tackle than most offensive players we play on a weekly basis, based on his change of direction and balance and body control. There's typically not one guy ever tackling him."