You may know him as one of the greatest college football return specialists of the past decade. But beyond his return capabilities, Houston CB Marcus Jones also has a scouting report worthy of NFL Draft hype on defense. What does Jones bring to the table as a player overall, and how will his draft stock reflect that in April?
Marcus Jones NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Cornerback
- School: Houston
- Current Year: Redshirt senior
- Height: 5’8″
- Weight: 185 pounds
Marcus Jones Scouting Report
A select few prospects ever entertain first-round interest. The rest are left to vie for real estate in the later rounds. In that fight farther down the board, being versatile can be the deciding edge for prospects. Are you able to fulfill a multitude of roles and potentially provide the value of two players in one roster spot?
That versatility can set certain prospects apart, and it’s a reason why some go higher than anticipated. That may ultimately end up being the case with Jones. A supremely versatile prospect if there ever was one, Jones can provide exceptional value in multiple phases. Here’s how.
Marcus Jones’ athletic profile
He may be a mere 5’8″, 185 pounds, but Jones makes up for his size with his athleticism. He’s a twitchy, jittery athlete who can explode out of his stance and close with great quickness. The Houston CB possesses great initial burst and is a springy athlete who plays at a fast pace.
Beyond his burst, Jones also has the fluidity to quickly flip his hips out of his stance and carry receivers downfield. He’s able to change directions quickly and match releases off the line.
Additionally, Jones has a smooth backpedal, and he’s able to transition from his backpedal and run with receivers. With his explosiveness, fluid hips, and strong top-end speed, Jones can be difficult to leave in the dust.
Despite his smaller frame, Jones is willing to deliver hits coming downfield, and he plays larger than his frame. He can be physical at the stem, and as a tackler, he knows how to square up, surge into runners, and wrap up the lower body. Jones’ not often passive in the tackling phase. He gets himself in position and uses his arms to wrangle opponents.
Execution beyond the physical traits
Years of experience have culminated in operational development for Jones. Beyond his athleticism, he’s a smart defender, and he shows it in numerous ways. Jones is able to read the quarterback’s eyes and break on passes. He sees plays develop quickly. The Houston CB can recognize screens by identifying blockers and closes with urgency. Jones plays with hustle in pursuit, and he chases down plays with his speed and play pace.
In coverage, Jones shows a particular affinity for movement. He has solid footwork at the line of scrimmage. He can mirror releases with reactive quickness and keep his hips loose. Jones does a great job of putting his feet first in press coverage. In zone, he has the awareness to peel off and follow the QB’s eyes on broken plays. He also has good ball skills. Jones can track the ball and position himself to make plays. Moreover, he’s competitive at the catch point, actively seeking to disrupt receivers.
Surprisingly, Jones also provides value in run defense, even with his lesser frame. He keeps his feet active when meeting blockers, and he’s able to sneak past by making preemptive cuts to destroy blocking angles. And in the box, he brings decent physicality in contact situations.
Among other things, Jones knows how to turn and correct his leverage when receivers enter his blind spot. He also has the versatility to cover the slot or move to the boundary. Finally, it’s very much worth noting that Jones is an elite return specialist on top of his defensive prowess. His explosive, twitchy style translates perfectly on special teams.
Areas for improvement
Jones’ size does bring expected shortcomings. With his smaller frame and shorter wingspan, Jones naturally has a limited disruption radius at the catch point. His play strength is also lacking in some matchups. He can be simply outmuscled by larger receivers in contested situations.
Going further, Jones’ lacking play strength limits his ability as an open-field tackler, and it can also limit his ability to get off blocks. The Houston CB can be displaced easily in run defense when blockers get their hands on him.
Even with his experience, Jones can improve in some areas as a defender. He can improve his timing and coordination at the catch point against larger receivers in some instances. Moreover, he can do a better job getting his head around to get his eyes on the ball when covering downfield. There are times when he freezes at the catch point, torn between maintaining positioning and seeking out the ball.
Moving onward, Jones sometimes gives up too much cushion on route breaks. Additionally, he can be drawn off his man by overlapping route concepts, leading to communication lapses. When he does stick with his man, he can get grabby in contested situations. This can lead to penalties. Jones’ length also impacts his ability to jam receivers at the line, limiting his versatility in press. With his shorter strides, he doesn’t always have the desired range out of transitions.
Marcus Jones’ 2022 NFL Draft scouting report overview
Jones’ size will be limiting. There’s no working around that. He’ll also turn 24 years old during his rookie season, so his projected prime years aren’t as plentiful as others. That said, in the immediate timeline, the Houston CB does provide good value and versatility.
On defense, Jones has shown that he can line up in multiple spots. While he projects better in the slot at the next level, his lower-body press technique is good enough that he can match receivers on the boundary without being overpowered at the line. His fluid hips enable him to stick to players in coverage, and with his burst and instincts, he can close on passes and make plays on the ball.
For what Jones lacks as a defender, he makes up for ten-fold with his returning ability. He’s an electric return man with home-run potential on any given opportunity. That ability alone may give him some Day 2 buzz for teams in need of a return specialist. His versatility gives him some security with his stock.
Nevertheless, even as a mere defender, Jones is worth an early-to-mid Day 3 pick at the latest. He can be a valuable rotational playmaker with starting upside in the right role.
Jones’ Player Profile
Prospects on the high school stage often get overlooked for their size alone. That just makes it more impressive that Jones — then listed at 5’8″, 164 pounds — was still a three-star recruit on ESPN’s board, in spite of his stature.
Undersized or not, Jones has proven since his high school days that he can play. As a senior, he hauled in 5 interceptions and logged 4 touchdowns on special teams, earning first-team 7A All-State honors from the Alabama Sports Writer Association.
Proving to be an electric playmaker with his 4.72 40-yard dash and 34.9-inch vertical, Jones drew a respectable amount of interest. Despite fielding an offer from Big Ten stalwart Purdue, Jones committed to Troy, staying in his home state.
At Troy, Jones wasted no time morphing into a star. He returned 3 kick returns for touchdowns his true freshman season, and also logged 2 interceptions and 6 deflections on defense, taking home Sun Belt Freshman of the Year honors as a result. In 2018, he scored another kick return TD, while adding an interception and 8 more breakups to his total.
After 2018, Jones chose to enter the transfer portal and take his talents to a higher level. He eventually chose the Houston Cougars as his destination.
Jones’ career at Houston
Jones transferred before the portal rules were changed to grant immediate eligibility. Thus, he had to redshirt the 2019 season. His addition to the team was heavily anticipated in 2020, and by no means did he disappoint.
The Houston CB only played in seven of the Cougars’ eight games in a truncated 2020 season, but he managed to make an impact. Jones racked up a pick and 4 deflections, as well as a punt return touchdown. It was a nice introduction to the AAC, but he saved his best for last in 2021.
Jones had always been a versatile playmaker, but he took his game to new heights on defense in his redshirt senior season. He accumulated 47 tackles, a tackle for loss, 5 interceptions, 13 pass deflections, and a forced fumble in 13 games played, while also adding 2 more kick return and punt return touchdowns each. Incredibly, he drew first-team all-conference honors as a return specialist and second-team honors as a CB.
Over his entire career, Jones stacked up 9 interceptions and 31 pass deflections on defense. As a returner, he piled on almost 3,000 total return yards and 9 total touchdowns.
Jones’ NFL Draft ascension
On the surface, the main issue with Jones’ NFL Draft scouting report is how his size translates on the defensive side of the ball. That size naturally limits him in some situations. Nevertheless, he’s shown he can compensate for it somewhat with his athleticism, instincts, and proactivity as a playmaker. He can also move between the slot and the boundary, and he provides excellent special-teams value on top of that.
Opinions on Jones may be more wide-reaching because of his size, and he may not be a scheme fit for some defenses as a result. But as an energetic, productive slot cornerback who doubles as an elite returner, he has a lot of appeal. If someone likes him enough after his Senior Bowl performance and athletic testing, he could sneak into Day 2 range.
Tony Pauline’s scouting report for Marcus Jones
Positives: Athletic defensive back who was a game-impacting return specialist for Houston. Instinctive, shows great awareness, and works hard to make plays. Quick flipping his hips in transition, easily runs downfield with opponents, and mixes it up throughout the route.
Explodes to the ball out of his plant, quickly closes to the action, and plays with a nasty attitude. Plays faster than his 40 time and works hard against the run. Occasionally used at receiver last season and ran sharp routes to separate from defenders. Game-changing kick and punt returner.
Negatives: Small and gets overmatched. Had shoulder surgery after the season and was unable to perform for scouts.
Analysis: Jones was a tremendous college player for both Troy as well as Houston, and he offers possibilities as a dime back in a variety of coverages on Sundays. His biggest contribution will ultimately be on special teams as a return specialist.
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