Going into the 2015 season, the competition for the title of NFL’s Best Cornerback seemed like a clear two-man race between Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis. But midway through the schedule, Josh Norman of the Carolina Panthers has surprisingly played his way into the discussion.
The hierarchy at safety was, and has been, less obvious and more inclusive. Earl Thomas, Eric Weddle, Harrison Smith, Kam Chancellor, Tyrann Mathieu and Devin McCourty were all realistic contenders for NFL’s Best Safety going into the season. And now, Reshad Jones has been added to the list.
While the Miami Dolphins have been through drastic ups and downs on their way to a 4-5 record that has them in last place in the AFC East, Jones has been consistently outstanding and routinely featured on the highlight reel. The sixth-year pro out of Georgia leads Miami with 83 tackles through nine games, while adding two sacks and three interceptions — two of which he’s returned for touchdowns.
In Week 6 against the Tennessee Titans — the Dolphins’ first game after firing head coach Joe Philbin and turning the team over the interim coach Dan Campbell — Jones had a 30-yard pick-six in a 38-10 victory. The next week against the Houston Texans, he had a 23-yard pick-six in Miami’s 44-26 victory. In last week’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Jones made a big stop on fourth down late in the fourth quarter and intercepted a pass in the end zone to help preserve a 20-19 victory.
Sun Sentinel writer Omar Kelly recently profiled Jones and detailed his rise to his place among the NFL’s elite at his position:
A luxury is exactly what Jones has been for the Dolphins this season.
In a decade that has been filled with dozens of draft busts this former University of Georgia standout is what a success story in the NFL resembles.
Jones is a 2010 fifth-round draft pick that eventually worked his way into a starting role. He often faced adversity during his career — which includes last year’s four-game suspension for using a supplement that contained PEDs last offseason — but has risen to superstar status at an important position.
Jones, who is playing on the second year of four-year, $28 million contract extension he signed with the Dolphins, has come a long way in Miami. He’s gone from the young safety few veterans on defense trusted because he freelanced too much, to becoming a ball-hawking playmaker called on to seal games by relying on his instincts.
At his core Jones is still the same player — a risk taker — he’s just learned how to position himself to be successful more often.
And that has allowed him to make more of an impact.
“He’s a stud,” Dolphins interim coach Dan Campbell said. “You talk about a guy that’s doing everything right. He’s a team guy, he works hard. He makes plays.”
Kelly goes on to compares Jones’ production to that of future Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu, who racked up 399 tackles, 13 interceptions and seven sacks through the 81 games of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Through his first 81 games, Jones has 452 tackles, 13 picks and 8.5 sacks.
But while Polamalu was already a decorated Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion at that point in his career, Jones is still looking for his first Pro Bowl nod and his first postseason appearance.
His chances of earning that individual honor look much better than his chances of enjoying that level of team success. The Dolphins have a lot of ground to make up if they’re going to sneak into the playoffs this year, and while they may not be rebuilding, could be making some significant moves in the offseason.
The franchise made huge financial commitments this year to QB Ryan Tannehill and DT Ndamukong Suh to anchor the offense and defense, respectively, but given the high expectations both have been somewhat disappointing so far. RB Lamar Miller and WR Jarvis Landry have had big games here and there, but the O needs more playmakers. And while Jones has been great and DE Cameron Wake was doing well (7 sacks, 4 forced fumbles) before recently suffering a season-ending injury, the D needs more consistency. The Dolphins currently rank 20th in the league in points allowed and 21st in passing yards allowed.
Whatever moves Miami makes in the future, Jones shouldn’t be going anywhere, as he is turning out to be a valuable cornerstone.
“I would say that anybody that has to play against him, any opponents that have played against him and any opponents that watched him on film, they identify that guy,” Campbell said in the Sun Sentinel piece. “You can’t miss a guy like Reshad Jones and you better know where he’s at because he can change a game.”