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Complements to Reshad – Pairing an All-Pro with an All-American

Travis Wingfield

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Technically speaking, Reshad Jones has never been voted an all-pro. Coming from the same class as Earl Thomas, playing predominantly for a losing team or whatever the case may be, Jones has largely been overlooked in his NFL career.

Despite utterly dominant 2015 and 2012 seasons, the two-time pro-bowl Georgia alum has been topped by the likes of Dashon Goldson, Jairus Byrd and Reggie Nelson by the Associated Press.

In 2016, New York Giants’ safety Landon Collins earned unanimous first team all-pro honors amidst a season that flirted with Defensive Player of the Year recognition. That season Collins registered five interceptions, 13 PBUs, four sacks, 100 tackles and scooped up one fumble (zero forced). Additionally, one of his turnovers went the distance for a touchdown.

In 2015 Reshad Jones reeled in five picks of his own (two for touchdowns), broke up 10 passes, sacked the quarterback twice, forced and recovered one fumble each, and made 106 tackles. For his efforts, Jones was the third highest graded safety according to Pro Football Focus (matching his 2012 season when he was also graded the third best safety).

Week six of the 2016 season featured one of Jones’ signature plays. Ranging from the hash to the perimeter, Jones picked off a pass thrown by Ben Roethlisberger. Lunging to his left, Jones secured the football despite smashing to the surface with only his shoulder to break the fall. He would finish the game but not the season – he was placed on I.R. later that week.

A slow start to the 2017 season sparked questions about the lifelong Dolphins’ safety. Was he past his prime? Had he properly recovered from the injury? Did Miami make a grave mistake by ponying up $60 million ($35 guaranteed) to Jones the previous March?

Those concerns were quickly quelled when Jones put together an authoritative two-game stretch. Facing the Titans and Falcons respectively, Jones scooped and scored a fumble, caught a game-clinching interception and added a half-sack to bring the Dolphins to a 3-2 mark on the season.

Jones has long been labeled a box-safety. Earning his salt lurking around the line-of-scrimmage, supporting the run-game as well as rushing the quarterback. Pro Football Focus agrees – the following are Jones’ recent grade-ranks against the run:

Year League Run Defense Grade Rank
2017 3rd
2016 Did Not Qualify
2015 1st
2014 5th

Devising a plan to sustain that level of play is imperative for Dolphins’ defensive coordinator Matt Burke. Adding the third defensive back in college football history to capture the Jim Thorpe and Chuck Bednarik Awards in the same season takes a step in a direction Miami has yet to explore. (Charles Woodson and Patrick Peterson are the only others to accomplish the feat Minkah Fitzpatrick achieved).

Before diving into Minkah Fitzpatrick’s addition to the defense, let’s revisit Jones’ counterparts through the years:

Year Player(s) League Grade Rank(s)
2017 Nate Allen, T.J. McDonald 78th and 59th
2016 Isa Abdul-Quddus 56th
2015 Michael Thomas 43rd
2014 Louis Delmas, Jimmy Wilson 47th and 36th
2013 Chris Clemons 20th
2012 Chris Clemons 23rd

The position has had turnover akin to the Browns quarterback tribulations. Enhancing the strengths of a football team can take a unit from an asset, to a game-changer. Miami has never supplemented Jones’ strengths as a safety – until now.

More than just a box safety and run support specialist, Jones is a capable robber and short-area cover-guy. A trusty free safety allows Jones more range to freelance within the scheme and make the plays that has endeared the Dolphins’ fan-base to the eight-year veteran.

His forte has never been deep-coverage. He will play single-high as needed, but he often finds himself racing toward the line-of-scrimmage to assist in run-support.

The Locked On Dolphins blog and podcast has harped on some key areas of contention with the current iteration of the defense: 1.) Third-and-long defense, 2.) Red-zone defense, 3.) Run defense from nickel and, 4.) Pass defense from base.

Something of an archaic scheme, the Miami defense has been among the league’s basement in regards to employing a dime defense. Sticking with linebackers in coverage, opposed to bringing on more athletic cover specialists, Miami hasn’t properly utilized this inherent chess piece for nearly a decade.

At his best, Jones supports the run-game as a quasi-linebacker and disrupts the passing lanes 10 yards and in. Early in his career, Chris Clemons provided Jones an analogous mate to Jones. Functioning as the deep center-field-safety in Kevin Coyle’s defense, Clemons’ presence freed up Jones to execute the plays that fill up the highlight reel.

Here’s a clip of Jones taking Rob Gronkowski up the perimeter in man-coverage – interception:

And his counterpart, Chris Clemons, coming off man-coverage to make a touchdown saving interception:

The 2014, 2015 and 2017 defenses took on similar endeavors. Louis Delmas and T.J. McDonald had similar skill sets to one another, and too closely related to that of Reshad Jones. Although not as effective as #20, Delmas and McDonald made their money closer to the line-of-scrimmage.

Notice McDonald completely turned around by Brandin Cooks:

Despite a poor grade in 2016, Isa Abdul-Quddus supplied Miami with a rangy compliment to Jones. The marriage only lasted six games as Quddus would join Jones on injured reserve with a career ending injury. And here a rangy center field pick for Abdul-Quddus:

Miami drafted Jones in the fifth round in 2010, the same year the club passed up an opportunity to draft Earl Thomas with the 12thselection of the draft. Thomas went on to produce a Hall of Fame career alongside a player not unlike Jones – Kam Chancellor.

Eight years later, Miami invested the 11thpick of the draft on another All-American safety. Minkah Fitzpatrick acted primarily as a slot corner (the “star’ position) in Nick Saban’s accomplished defense in 2017. In 2016, however, an injury forced the captain of the Crimson Tide defense to work primarily as a deep-safety.

The results were the same – dominant.

Fitzpatrick’s 2016 PFF grades were the summit of the illustrious defensive back’s career. On passes 20-yards or more down the field, quarterbacks posted a rating of 10.1 in Fitzpatrick’s coverage area. His elite coverage numbers ranked as follows:

Yards Per Coverage Snap – 12th
Cover Snaps Per Target – 17th
Cover Snaps Per Reception – 11th

The rangy, preparation-oriented rookie will step into Miami’s defense from day-one with an resounding impact. Detailed in the brilliant journalistic endeavor of Yahoo’s Pete Thamel was Fitzpatrick’s dedication to excellence.

The Dolphins paired all-pro pass rusher Cam Wake with fellow all-pro Ndamukong Suh in 2015. Wake missed most of the ’15 season with an Achilles tear, but returned with a vengeance in the following two seasons. The 35-year old former CFL star added 29 sacks to his Canton resume in just 39 games with Suh alongside him.

The difference is quantifiable. Rather than relying on an all-pro to carry a unit, supplement that player with more equals and turn a good unit into an utterly dominant group.

That’s the aim for Jones and Fitzpatrick – dominance.

@WingfieldNFL

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