When the Eagles used a second-round draft pick on cornerback Sidney Jones in 2017, they did so knowing they would likely not see results for at least a season with Jones recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered six weeks prior to a draft in which he was expected to be a high first-round draft pick.
Patience, in this case, remains a virtue.
After what was basically a redshirt rookie campaign, Jones earned the starting job as the team’s nickel (third) cornerback in 2018, playing against a bunch of quick, start-and-stop inside receivers and generally starting to show his NFL chops.
And then Jones went down with a hamstring injury. And, for all intents and purposes, he stayed down through the season, playing in only nine games, with four starts. More notably, Jones played in only 322 snaps, 31 percent of the defensive snaps.
“We saw some good things from Sidney and then he had the injury,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “He needs to get healthy and take the next step. I think he has it in him.”
Jones practiced throughout the spring and played well, had a lot of energy, and most important he stayed healthy. The Eagles are only a few weeks from opening their 2019 training camp, and Jones is in the mix at a cornerback position that, after being ravaged by injuries a season ago, has a glut of promising, young talent.
But promising, young talent has to develop and contribute on the field, and that’s why Year 3 for Jones is so pivotal. Is he a legitimate candidate to help the Eagles as a “shutdown” kind of player at such a critical position? Can he elevate his game and, at the same time, be a difference-making kind of player the Eagles envisioned he would be when they drafted him?
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in myself and I’m preparing to take my game to a new level,” Jones said. “That’s the idea. That’s what I’m working so hard for. It’s been frustrating the first two years, not being fully healthy and able to compete. I’m in a much better position to do that now. I’m mature and I know the defense and I know how it works in the NFL.
“I feel great. I have to go out and show it on a consistent basis.”
That’s the whole key here, because Jones has terrific natural talent. He’s long and lean and he has speed and quickness, and he also has great anticipation to the football. The pieces are there for him to be a standout cornerback in this league.
But can he put it all together?
As it stands now, cornerback is a critical position for the Eagles. They’ve got Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills coming back from injury. Avonte Maddox showed in his rookie season that he needs playing time, and he’s going to be hard to take off the field at one cornerback position. Rasul Douglas improved significantly in his second season. Cre’Von LeBlanc was a late-2018 find who played the nickel position well with Jones injured.
So where does Jones, prior to his injury considered a first-round talent, fit into the picture?
“I’m just looking to get better every day,” he said. “It will all work out. This is my time to step up, and I intend to do just that.” ••