The New England Patriots face a difficult problem entering the 2019 season. Currently, they have too many good cornerbacks and not enough roster spaces. New England has arguably the best cornerback depth chart in football, and they’ll need to make some hard decisions in the coming months. The Patriots need a slot cornerback, which means that Duke Dawson and Jonathan Jones are fighting for the same roster spot.
New England Patriots Training Camp Battles: Duke Dawson vs Jonathan Jones
Duke Dawson is one of the biggest mysteries on the Patriots roster. Initially selected in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Dawson didn’t see the field as a rookie. The Florida product suffered an injury early in training camp and landed on the short-term injured reserve prior to Week One. Dawson returned to the active roster after eight games but never played a snap.
The lack of action is obviously discouraging, but it’s easy to write off Dawson’s underwhelming debut. The rookie didn’t have a real training camp and was behind the eight-ball all season. By the time he got healthy, he was already buried on the depth chart. New England’s secondary was one of the best in the league and Dawson simply had no opportunity to play.
Dawson projects primarily as a slot cornerback. The Florida product doesn’t have the size to match up with larger receivers but has great quickness and lateral agility. On paper, he could develop into a solid slot cornerback. Unfortunately for Dawson, the Patriots already have a solid slot cornerback in Jonathan Jones.
Jonathan Jones initially arrived in New England as an undrafted free agent prior to the 2016 season. After first carving out a role on special teams, Jones slowly developed into New England’s top option in the slot. He’s no superstar, but Jones is a dependable starter at an affordable cost.
Jones boasts lightning-quick speed and the ability to match anyone step-for-step. The three-year veteran played in all 16 games, finishing the year with three interceptions, 1.5 sacks, seven passes defended, and 56 tackles. His best game came in the AFC Championship Game when he held Tyreek Hill to just one catch all game.
Pro Football Focus ranked Jones as the 73rd-best cornerback in the league with an average 63.3 grade. The former undrafted free agent is a serviceable starter, but there’s certainly room for improvement on the roster. The only question is, can Dawson improve on Jones’ performance?
Who Will Win?
What makes this battle interesting is Jones’ contract and Dawson’s draft status. New England invested a second-round pick in Dawson just one year ago and obviously wouldn’t want to part ways after one season. Contrarily, Jones is in the final year of his contract and will probably receive a decent offer in free agency. With Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Joejuan Williams, and Jason McCourty roster locks, New England is unlikely to carry both Jones and Dawson.
Ultimately, the Patriots have every reason to hope Dawson wins this battle. He’s under contract for three more seasons, meaning he could be the long-term answer. Jones probably won’t be around for the long haul, and New England will want to maximize his value. Trading Jones for a mid-round pick makes all the sense in the world. However, in order for any of that to happen, Dawson will need to produce.
Dawson determines his own fate here. If he can put together a good training camp and preseason, look for New England to move forward with him in the slot. However, if he suffers another injury or simply struggles in the preseason, expect Jones to take the job. Bill Belichick isn’t afraid to move on from highly-drafted players if it’s obvious they won’t pan out. While it’s hard to envision Dawson getting released, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Expect this competition to go down to the wire, with the tie going to Dawson.
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