The 2015 Dallas Cowboys did not exactly leave us with many bright spots heading into the off season. Of course, that is not to say that through the fog of a 4-12 campaign there were not players that overwhelmingly stood out and provided some hope for 2016. From their 2015 draft class, first round selection Byron Jones was impressive all season long in the secondary.
Drafted out of UCONN mainly because of his off-the-charts athleticism and Combine numbers, Jones was asked to play as an outside corner, inside corner, free safety, and single-high safety all in his rookie season. Byron was always ready for the challenge, sticking to targets in coverage no matter where he was lined up.
Most notably, Jones was used to take opposing tight ends out of the game, which he was able to do even against some of the game’s best like New England’s Rob Gronkowski.
Having Jones on the field for this defense was a refreshing site to Cowboys fans, as we have watched the team’s secondary struggle with the same cast of players for a long time. However, now that Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli has designated Jones to focus on the free safety position, he will be playing behind familiar faces in Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr.
Claiborne and Carr are both back with the team after Carr took a pay cut entering the season and Claiborne returned on a one-year deal. Returning from injury to cover in the slot is veteran leader Orlando Scandrick. Behind these three starters, players like Terrance Mitchell, Deji Olatoye, Josh Thomas, and rookie Anthony Brown will add depth while competing for potentially significant playing time.
Byron Jones can help out all of the names listed above by remaining at the safety position. The Dallas Cowboys’ passing defense surprisingly ranked 5th in the league last season in yards allowed, while trying to support an offense that provided just over 17 points per game. Hopefully playing with an offense that puts up points while dominating time of possession, the Cowboys’ secondary can once again force some turnovers like we saw in 2014.
These turnovers were all but absent in 2015, but with Jones now being able to now drive downhill towards the football in support of his corners, the expectation for the second-year player should be that he can help in this area.
While Jones will use the rest of OTAs, training camp, and the preseason to practice his skills at the safety position, he should also be available to play down at CB in the case of an injury.
The ideal scenario though for the Cowboys is to keep their veteran corner backs healthy, and let them make plays on the ball knowing the athletic Byron Jones is behind them at free safety.
Potentially, the Cowboys’ passing defense could be one of the strongest we’ve seen from this team in a long time in 2016. For that to be the case, #31 Byron Jones will be absolutely pivotal.
What do you expect from Byron in 2016? Start the conversation by leaving a comment below!
“Cowboys Sophomores” is an ongoing series that will look at second-year players and their roles for the 2016 Dallas Cowboys here on Inside The Star. For previous player profiles, click here.