We just finished taking an in-depth look at each of the Jets’ futures signings, but there’s one player already on the active roster who we haven’t broken down yet.
Wide receiver JJ Jones is listed at 5’10” and 173 pounds and was undrafted out of West Georgia last season. Jones, who is 26, played for the Chargers in the first three games of last season, before ending up on the Jets’ practice squad in October. He briefly saw action for the Jets in the last game of the season in New England.
Jones was a junior college transfer at West Georgia, although he wasn’t a particularly productive receiver at the NCAA level. After catching 11 passes for 150 yards and two scores in 2015, he missed almost the entire season in 2016.
In 2017, he posted better numbers, but still only ended up with 24 catches for 278 yards. However, he had established himself as a return specialist and further boosted his stock with an impressive pro day.
Jones went undrafted and was unable to sign a deal until a couple of weeks after the draft, when he was picked up by the Chargers. However, he made the most of some injuries and flashed his return skills in preseason to earn a spot on the 53-man roster for opening day.
Unfortunately, Jones would be released a few weeks later, having played in just three games. He didn’t catch a pass and lost a costly fumble on a punt.
The Jets signed Jones to their practice squad in October and then, on the eve of the season finale, signed him to the active roster on a deal that runs through 2020.
Now let’s take a look at what Jones brings to the table, divided into categories.
Jones is very small, but also very fast. He posted excellent numbers in the 40-yard dash (4.35), three cone drill (6.83) and vertical (38”) and broad jumps (128”) at his pro day. However, his short shuttle was only average and he managed just five bench press reps.
Due to his lack of speed, Jones probably needs to establish himself as a contributor out of the slot. However, his only preseason catch with the Chargers came when lined up outside.
With his speed - Jones claims to have been clocked at 4.2 for the 40-yard dash - Jones should be an effective deep threat. However, he averaged just 12 yards per catch at West Georgia and hasn’t been able to get deep at the pro level yet.
Scouting reports indicate that he’s effective at coming back for the ball because cornerbacks will tend to play off him, knowing he has good quickness. He showed an example of that in preseason:
The book on Jones was that he wasn’t asked to do much route running in college and generally just used his speed to get separation on crossing routes or by being quick off the line.
His technique on out-breaking routes was described by one scout as lazy and it seemed like his routes may not have been particularly precise because he didn’t seem to be on the same page as the quarterback in terms of timing on any of his preseason targets.
As you can see on this play, Jones tries to lose his man with a whip route, but it doesn’t really work, although he ends up making a catch anyway as the defender trails him out into the flat:
In a small sample size, Jones didn’t fare too well catching passes in preseason action, catching just one of five targets. Two of those incompletions were catchable, including one that he allowed a defender to disrupt on a slant pattern and this play:
At the moment, Jones would have to be considered more of a playmaking and big play threat than a red zone option, although someone with his speed could be an effective option on certain plays.
Yards after the catch
With his kick return experience, Jones obviously has the ability to elude tacklers and make extra yardage with the ball in his hands, although he hasn’t really had a chance to show that yet at the pro level.
However, there was one play with the Chargers where he got the ball on an end around and slipped a tackle as he cut back to turn a potential loss into a four yard gain.
While you wouldn’t expect Jones to contribute much as a blocker, if he improves his play strength, perhaps he can be effective because he showed some promise on this play from last year’s season finale:
From the limited film on Jones, he could do with being a bit stronger because he tends to be out-physicalled on his routes and at the point of the catch and goes down too easily on first contact with the ball.
In college, he did show an ability to avoid the jam using his quickness to get off press coverage.
Jones’ best chance of making his mark is in the return game. He showed the potential he has there with this dazzling touchdown in preseason:
Jones returns both punts and kickoffs and has averaged 23 yards per kickoff return in preseason and regular season action with a long of 33. On punts, other than the touchdown, he’s only managed 40 yards on 11 returns.
Ball security is a slight concern, after he lost this fumble at a key juncture in his first ever game:
Other than that play, he didn’t fumble in preseason or regular season action, although he did bobble the catch on one punt, which led to him being tackled for a loss.
Scouting reports when Jones was drafted indicated that he can leave yards on the field because his vision on kick returns can be lacking:
There was evidence of that with the Chargers, as he lost yards a few times on punts and got stuffed inside his own 20 on some kick returns.
Jones did well to make the Chargers as a supreme long-shot last season and will be in a similar position with the Jets this year. Chargers coaches praised his effort and Jones has said he looked up to the veteran receivers there to learn how to take care of his body and improve his skill-set.
Jones entered the NFL as a 25-year old having red-shirted his senior year following a broken leg on the first play of the 2016 season. Otherwise, he hasn’t been hampered by injuries, although he reportedly had a minor ankle issue in mini-camp last year.
Jones seems like a long-shot to earn a spot in the Jets’ rotation but if he’s made improvements since last year, his best shot at a role on offense would be in the slot. The Jets could add a veteran slot option or draft one, but his main competition at the moment would be Deontay Burnett or Tim White.
The return game is where Jones’ best chance of making the Jets lies. Obviously, if they bring back Andre Roberts, then Jones is unlikely to make the roster, but could be kept in reserve by being stashed on the practice squad.
He certainly brings some impressive athleticism to the table, although his decision making in the return game needs to be better and he needs to make big strides as a pass catcher if he’s going to see any action on offense.