Rookie watch: Marcus Jones continues to shine for Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MA - DECEMBER 01: Marcus Jones #25 of the New England Patriots carries the ball during a game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on December 01, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - DECEMBER 01: Marcus Jones #25 of the New England Patriots carries the ball during a game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on December 01, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images) /

We are at the point in the NFL season where a lot of rookies start to hit the proverbial wall. By this point a season ago, they were either done with their college season or enjoying an extended break before playing in a bowl game. They weren’t preparing for five more games and five more weeks of practice. By this point, with preseason and 13 weeks of the regular season, they have played more football than any other season they’ve ever been a part of, and it can take its toll. However, Patriots rookie cornerback Marcus Jones seems to continue to get better as the weeks go on finding a myriad of ways to contribute. We knew about the defense and the special teams, but offense? That was a new one and hopefully we see the Patriots continue to find ways to utilize Jones’ speed going forward. Here’s how he and the rest of the rookie class performed in the loss to the Bills.

Marcus Jones, A

Maybe the only bright spot of the night for the Patriots as Jones scored the lone touchdown on his first offensive play of his career. In what can be viewed as a microcosm of this season, it was a defensive back that was the team’s leading receiver as Jones caught two balls for a team-high 51 yards and a touchdown. On special teams, Jones was his usual self, returning three kickoffs for 65 yards (21.7 average) as he ranks third in the NFL in average kick return yardage. The most recent development in Jones’ season is that he also saw more time on defense, tying a season-high with 34 snaps, replacing the ineffective Myles Bryant at times. Jones had one tackle and one pass defense on the only target that came his way. After playing 34 snaps in Cleveland, Jones had played a combined 22 defensive snaps over the past five games, including zero in each of the past two weeks. His stock and playing time continue to go up.

Brenden Schooler, B+

The Patriots kick coverage was much improved a week after surrendering a kickoff return for a touchdown against the Vikings. The Bills averaged just 13 yards per return on two kickoffs and returned two punts for a total of four yards. Schooler added to his team-high with yet another tackle in kick coverage.

Jack Jones, B-

Very much an up and down game for Jack Jones. With Jalen Mills out with an injury, Jones took the starting cornerback position opposite of Jonathan Jones (too many Joneses to keep up with), facing a tough matchup with a strong Bills receiving corp. Jones showed continuous improvement when it comes to tackling, making two strong tackles for loss but disappointed in the passing game. The numbers show that Jones only gave up two receptions for 11 yards on four targets, but he also committed two penalties. After the Patriots had gone ahead 7-3, the defense had Buffalo in a third and seven situation but couldn’t get off the field as Jones committed pass interference. The play extended the drive which the Bills scored a touchdown on and never looked back.

Tyquan Thornton, B-

Thornton had his second-highest yardage total of the season as he hauled in two receptions for 31 yards which were good for second on the team behind Marcus Jones’ 51 receiving yards. Both receptions also resulted in first downs. However, Thornton continues to find himself buried on the receiver depth chart (he finished fourth among Patriot receivers in snaps) and all three of his targets came in the last eight minutes of the game, well after this one had been decided.

Cole Strange, C

Maybe no Patriots rookie has hit the wall harder than Cole Strange who continues to struggle down the stretch. The good: Strange had the highest run blocking grade among Patriots offensive linemen. The bad: he had the lowest pass blocking grade and committed another holding penalty.

Kevin Harris, D-

Without Damien Harris, I was wondering if one of the two rookie running backs would get a shot. Kevin Harris did indeed get an opportunity and he promptly ran into the back of Mike Onwenu, getting tackled for a one-yard loss. It was his only snap of the game.

DaMarcus Mitchell, D-

Mitchell only plays special teams but committed a holding penalty on a punt return which backed the Patriots up inside of their own 10-yard line. They immediately went three and out and then gave the Bills a short field.

Incomplete: Pierre Strong, Sam Roberts, Bailey Zappe