Adam Jones is a special player on the football field.
That’s been the case dating back to Jones’ college days, when he was an all-everything performer for the West Virginia Mountaineers. Jones’ talents weren’t limited to just one aspect or ability. He was a lockdown corner on defense who looked destined for stardom in the NFL.
Additionally, Jones was a dynamic returner in an era when kickoff returns were still a major part of the game. That helped make Jones one of the greatest defensive backs that NFL.com writer and former NFL player Bucky Brooks ever scouted.
Brooks ranked Jones sixth among the 10 best defensive backs he ever scouted when coming out of college.
6. Adam Jones, CB, West Virginia
Drafted: Sixth overall, 2005, Tennessee Titans
Before rolling your eyes at the sight of Jones on this list, you might want to Google some of his highlights from his days as a Mountaineer. The oft-troubled defender was one of the most spectacular playmakers in the country as a cornerback/return specialist. Jones earned Big East Special Teams Player of the Year honors (2004) and dotted All-American lists as a two-position playmaker (cornerback and kick returner). Although Jones' diminutive dimensions made some skeptics question his ability to be a CB1, the big-play specialist flashed impressive skills as a young player until his off-field issues forced him off the field due to a league-imposed suspension. To his credit, he bounced back to eventually lead the league in kickoff return average (31.3 yards, 2014) and earn Pro Bowl recognition (2015) as a corner. But Jones' epic emotional meltdowns (see playoff games from the 2015 season) and questionable off-field behavior prevented the West Virginia standout from fully maximizing his potential as a two-phase contributor.
Jones' career with the Bengals is one of redemption and defiance of father time as he's continued to improve almost every year. Say what you will about Jones' history of bad decisions or questionable attitude, but you can't deny he's been one of the NFL's better cornerbacks in recent years.
The kind of talent he displayed at West Virginia was showcased early on in his NFL career with his dynamic returner abilities on special teams. He was a game-breaking player with the Tennessee Titans, the team that originally spent a top-10 pick on him, but he was never able to put that talent together on defense. That, combined with repeated off-field infractions, led to Jones bouncing around between the Titans and Dallas Cowboys before he revived his career with the Bengals in 2010.
From there, Jones slowly developed into a great cornerback in addition to being a game-changer on special teams. But 2015 was the first time in Jones' now 12-year (10 season) career that he made the Pro Bowl, and it came after he had arguably his best season as a pro. Appearing in 14 games this season, Jones was the Bengals' No. 1 corner and someone who routinely locked down opposing receivers on the boundary.
Bengals CB Adam Jones received heat for how year ended, but allowed 5th-lowest QB rating: https://t.co/OH1HX8VLYb pic.twitter.com/LgyJIKkx5q— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) March 10, 2016
He was a big reason why the Bengals ranked fourth in passing yards allowed per pass attempt (6.6), fifth in opponent passer rating (78.9) and allowed the second-fewest touchdown passes (18). Jones also racked up 62 total tackles, 12 pass deflections and three interceptions in 2015.
All of this is why Jones is now getting paid handsomely for the next two years in Cincinnati, even though his off-field issues suggest he shouldn’t be. Jones also had a subpar 2016 by his standards, though he was still arguably the Bengals’ best defensive back. But at age 33 (turns 34 in September), one has to wonder if he can continue to be a worthy starter.
Even so, Jones’ journey of all-world talent in college to finally realizing it late in his career is an admirable one.