Jonathan Jones thriving in new role as outside cornerback for Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Before Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones fielded a handful of questions in front of his locker, he had some cleaning up to do, neatly placing his cleats, sneakers and slides in the drawer underneath his locker.

"Just trying to do my part," he said before flashing his megawatt smile.

Even upon his arrival in Foxborough as an unheralded, undrafted free agent in 2016, Jones carried himself with a quiet confidence, working his way up the ladder from a special-teams-only player to carving out a small role on defense to eventually becoming an indispensable piece of that unit.

"Jon's one of our best players," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said earlier this week ahead of Sunday's game against the Jets. "I think everybody's got a ton of confidence in him. Coaches, players, guys that are out there with him and the guys that are watching him. He's a really solid dependable guy."

Devin McCourty echoed Belichick's praise.

"It has been really cool to see his growth. He came in here undrafted with a ton of ability, and he earned it and he did it the hard way," said McCourty, adding, "I cannot say enough about him."

Jones has a new role this year, one that was unexpected. The longtime slot corner was moved outside during training camp because the Patriots were a little leaner at that spot than they've been in recent years, with studs like Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson plying their trade elsewhere. Though Jones is listed in the media guide as 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, that's not accurate. He's smaller than that, and lighter. Jones just doesn't perform that way.

"I make fun of him all the time about being under 190 (pounds), but you don't see that," McCourty said. "When he is out there, he's hitting. In the Super Bowl in 2018 he basically broke [teammate Patrick Chung]'s arm coming down and making a tackle on [then-Rams RB Todd Gurley]. I think that along with his smarts, he is one of our smartest football players. You see him playing outside, inside, he could even play free safety and make all those calls and do all those things. He is a fun guy to play with."

Jones has thrived on the outside. Per Pro Football Focus, there is not a single player with as many coverage snaps (237 for Jones) who has surrendered fewer completions (11). He also has a pair of interceptions (including a pick-six two weeks ago vs. the Colts) and has allowed just 174 yards over eight games (he missed one due to an injury). So what's changed, being outside versus his normal slot role?

"For me, it's just patience," Jones told NFL.com. "Like being in the slot, you're so much more involved in the run game. You get to see so much because it's right there, and being outside, you're out there and it's locking in play after play. And like I said, I'm just a guy who loved to be in action, so that was the biggest adjustment for myself."

The other? Well despite his size, or lack thereof, the 29-year old misses the physicality of playing inside the most.

"I don't get to hit people as much." Jones said, laughing, "I miss that part."

But true to form, he added, "when you do have to show up, you show up."

Jones has done that. He's always done that. And as long as he stays healthy, that's not just the expectation but the standard he's set.

Follow Mike Giardi on Twitter.