Secret Superstar: Adam Jones
PFF's Ben Stockwell examines Adam Jones' rise from a troubled young player to the Cincinnati Bengals' Secret Superstar.
Secret Superstar: Adam Jones
It’s not often that a former Top-10 draft pick is able to meet the criteria to warrant a spot in our Secret Superstar series, but such is the career path that Adam Jones has taken in his eight-year NFL career. Jones emerged from West Virginia University in 2005 as a precocious talent who was prone to going off the rails and losing his way off the field. At the time, working under his alter ego of “Pacman” Jones, he wore out his welcome at his first two stops in the NFL in very short order. The Titans and Jeff Fisher didn’t even get to their third season with Jones before cutting their losses and letting him go after a slew of off-field incidents. After a detour to professional wrestling, Jones spent a not unsuccessful season in Dallas in 2008 (+0.2 coverage grade, 405 snaps). Once again, he was set loose to free agency and it again took him a year to catch on with another NFL team.
The third time seems to have been the charm with Jones though, long since dropping the Pacman moniker, who has been one of the Bengals’ successful “reclamation” projects. Jones has gradually built up his playing time during his three seasons in Cincinnati and earned a positive coverage grade in each of those seasons. Even though he has kept his head down and not brought attention to himself off the field with the Bengals, (fully aware that he is running out of strikes), those misdemeanors of years ago are still the thing he is most noted for. That is still the case even though Jones is really starting to shine in a crowded defensive backfield for the Bengals.
Building on 2011
Though he has been in Cincinnati since the start of the 2010 season, Jones’ first two seasons with the Bengals can essentially be boiled down into one season’s worth of games. During his first start in Week 7 of 2010, Jones was lost to injury and didn’t re-surface with the Bengals for another 12 months. He didn’t play on defense until the Bengals’ Week 11 game in Baltimore in 2011. Across those two seasons, Jones played a combined 673 snaps, earned a +2.7 coverage grade, and allowed just over 50% of the targets into his coverage (27/50) to be completed.
The big disappointment for Jones in 2011 was how his season finished in the Bengals’ playoff defeat to the Texans. Jones only surrendered one reception on two targets to Andre Johnson (pass defense on the other target) in that game. However, the one reception he did allow was a 40-yard touchdown pass. Jones slipped trying to react to an out-and-up move by the Texans’ No. 1 wide receiver and Jones simply never got close to getting back in on the play that stretched Houston’s lead to two touchdowns. Despite his solid work in his first two seasons with the Bengals, breaking up five passes and intercepting another, that final pass left a bitter taste in the mouth entering 2012.
Jones quickly erased that bitter taste as he settled into his role as the Bengals’ No. 3 corner behind Terence Newman and Leon Hall at the start of 2012. In most games, he entered the game at right corner allowing Hall to slide inside to cover the slot in sub-package defenses. In the first half of the Bengals’ 2012 season, Jones never allowed more than three completions in a game and only allowed more than 30 yards in a single game on one occasion. As the Bengals hit the turn, Jones had allowed only 11 of 19 targeted passes into his coverage to be completed and had only allowed two completions of more than 20 yards. While he wasn’t getting his hands on the ball, (only one pass defense prior to Week 10), he was doing a solid job of ensuring that he wasn’t victimized and that any completions that he gave up didn’t go for many yards.
Big Games Down the Stretch
Things turned for the better for Jones and the Bengals as their season turned for home over the second half of the season. In the Bengals’ Week 10 game at home against the Giants, Jones was targeted a season-high 10 times. He gave up only six completions at fewer than 10 yards per completion (53), with only five of those yards coming after the catch. In that game, Jones also got his hands on half as many passes as the receivers he was covering, coming up with three pass defenses.
The only real negative on Jones’ record the rest of the season was a 60-yard touchdown pass surrendered to Antonio Brown. The play was a near carbon copy of that playoff touchdown he had given up to Andre Johnson in the previous season’s playoffs. Jones bit on a double move to the outside by Brown who then tore past him as Jones again failed to recover to the receiver who beat him to the goal line on a play that got the Steelers back into the game just prior to the half.
Save for that big play he surrendered to Brown, Jones’ 2012 season was a story of real success grading among our top ten corners in terms of coverage grade (+9.9, including playoffs). He rated highly in terms of coverage metrics (Top 20 in yards per coverage snap, 0.97; top 25 in coverage snaps per reception allowed, 11.5) and added his first sack since 2006 in a game against the Chiefs in Week 11. If you want consistency in a sub-package corner, Jones provided precisely that. He graded below -1.0 in coverage only once all season in the Bengals’ home loss to the Steelers in Week 7.
Maintaining His Place in 2013
Cincinnati showed their faith in Jones by taking advantage of a soft cornerback market to bring a solid contributor back on a three-year deal worth under $6 million in late March. Jones rejoins an ever-crowded cornerback crew in Cincinnati but his performances in 2012 should ensure that he maintains his workload through the life of his contract. The Bengals drafted Dre Kirkpatrick in the first round last season but showed no signs of trying to force him onto the field before he earned that honor last season. While Jones may be overtaken by Kirkpatrick, it is as likely that Kirkpatrick’s ascendancy would make Terrence Newman expendable once the Bengals have got everything from Newman’s late career revival, keeping Jones in his role as the No. 3 corner.
Playing as a solid third corner may never make people forget the indiscretions of his early career years in Tennessee but Bengals coaches and fans will be more than happy with how Jones has acquitted himself as a Cincinnati Bengal. The Bengals hope that his fine performances will continue to go under the radar as both opponents and the media underestimate the strength Jones brings to their sub-package defenses.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.