Why Lean Sidney Jones Should Still Be in The Frame for the 49ers
With an anaemic pass rush doing little to pressure opposing quarterbacks, there was little help for the 49ers secondary in 2016.
The play of the 49ers' defensive backs last season therefore arguably deserves more praise than it has received, with San Francisco's 2-14 record leaving the franchise to be deemed irrelevant by most.
Yet there were players on the back end of the 49ers defense who impressed, with rookie Rashard Robinson among those to catch the eye for a floundering San Francisco team.
Robinson impressed after being taken in the fourth round despite concerns over his off-the-field conduct while at LSU as well as his lean frame.
The success of Robinson in spite of his relatively skinny build has done little to change the dialogue in this draft process.
Indeed, Washginton's Sidney Jones - seen by many as a potential first-round pick - has received similar scrutiny to Robinson because of his build.
However, there are a number of reasons why, in spite of his physical makeup, the 49ers should have their eye on Jones, particularly if they choose to trade out of the No. 2 pick and obtain more draft choices.
A first-team All-Pac 12 selection in 2015 and 2016, Jones was one of the stars of an excellent Washington secondary that helped the Huskies reach the College Football Playoff.
Jones is a superb cover corner who has the speed and athleticism to stay with receivers downfield. He demonstrates fluid hips that allow him to efficiently transition from press coverage and turn upfield.
But he also displays intelligence and awareness of his surroundings when in coverage, with this play in the Pac-12 title game with Colorado serving as evidence of that.
Here Jones uses his hands to widen the receiver to the sideline, making the pass much more difficult and eventually resulting in the ball being thrown out of bounds.
Jones recorded eight interceptions and 21 pass deflections in his college career and it is easy to see why he was able to consistently make plays on the ball.
An excellent tracker of the ball, Jones boasts the leaping ability to go up and compete with receiver for it at the highest point and displayed both those skills on this play against Arizona State to prevent a touchdown.
As talented in off coverage as he is in press, Jones exhibits excellent closing speed to fly to the football and force incompletions on short passes, such as this one from the Arizona game.
He demonstrates the same closing speed on the below play against Washington State, deciphering the play quickly and making an immediate tackle to ensure a stop on third down.
His short-area burst translates well to the run game, which he defends in an aggressive manner by attacking downhill, though he could serve to refine his tackling technique - often lunging at the feet of ball-carriers.
But the biggest concern surrounding Jones will be his 6'1" and 170-pound frame, which has been to his disadvantage in his career.
Jones has been bullied physically by bigger receivers such as Juju Smith-Schuster, who explodes off the line and knocks him off his stride to gain an inside release and make a catch for first-down yardage.
Smith-Schuster uses the power in his hands to beat Jones inside again later in the same game, but is unable to make the catch on this occasion.
Yet if Jones' weakness in dealing with physical receivers can be eliminated or at least minimized, then Jones has all the tools needed to develop into an excellent cover corner at the next level.
Rated as the No. 23 overall player in the draft by CBS and the No. 12 prospect by NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah, Jones could fall anywhere from the middle of the first round to the second.
He would be something of a stretch for the 49ers with the No. 2 overall pick but, if he falls to the second, or San Francisco trades down, Jones should definitely be on their radar.
General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan will have seen how Robinson excelled when able to stay healthy in spite of his frame. That should ahelp allay doubts over Jones and, if they are in position to take him with anything other than the No. 2 pick, the 49ers should think extremely hard about adding him to their secondary.