COMMENTARY | Cornerback Adam Jones of the Cincinnati Bengals is still a name most fans associate with negative feelings thanks to his past transgressions, but Jones is one of the most important players on Cincinnati's roster.
Leon Hall is one of the better corners overall in the NFL. Dre Kirkpatrick is essentially entering his rookie season after being selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft but succumbed to an injury that saw him miss his rookie campaign.
Yet, Jones may be just as important as both but receives little credit.
Well, Jones is finally starting to receive some recognition in the media. ProFootballFocus recently listed Jones as a secret superstar. Ben Stockwell cited Jones' long journey to redemption and provided a neat summary of his absolutely outstanding 2012 campaign:
"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."
Stockwell hit the nail on the head as far as Jones goes. He's arguably the best No. 3 cornerback in the NFL and has an added value for Cincinnati as an exceptional punt returner.
Fans and media alike are quick to forget the stellar year Jones had in 2011 after Hall went down with a torn Achilles. Jones stepped in as the No. 1 cornerback because of his speed and athleticism. All season long the defense never skipped a beat and remained one of the NFL's best units.
Of course, what folks do remember is Jones getting torched by Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans in the playoffs. Jones struggled all game, but it's hard to hate him too much for the performance considering he stands at just 5'10" and was tasked with shutting down the 6'3" Pro Bowler.
There's a reason Cincinnati brought back Jones on a three-year deal this offseason. He's insurance if an injury occurs or Kirkpatrick struggles in what amounts to his rookie season.
The scary part is, 2013 may end up being the best year from Jones we've seen yet in Cincinnati. According to Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, Jones is finally fully recovered from a herniated neck disk from five seasons ago when he was a member of the Dallas Cowboys. Jones says he feels the best he ever has as a member of the Bengals:
"I feel unbelievable," he said. "I'm running faster, I'm working hard and I know the defense like the back of my hand, so I don't have to think while I'm out there. It's just all reaction. I'm out catching punts every day. I feel good, man."
It's no secret Jones was a special talent coming into the NFL before his professional career was derailed with off-field incidents. While it's easy (or lazy?) to point out those flaws from his past, Jones has acted as a role model off the field by advising rookies to the perils of the NFL and has performed better each year on the field as a member of the Bengals.
Jones is finally starting to get the credit he deserves. Watch him closely in 2013 with the Bengals, as he continues to be one of the NFL's most underappreciated players. Next season could change that entirely if he truly feels the best he has physically in his career.
Chris Roling is a graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. His work has appeared on Bleacher Report, Fansided, The Cincinnati Enquirer and more. He is the co-host of a Cincinnati Bengals podcast, @BengalsCentral
You can follow Chris on Twitter @Chris_Roling
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