When the Dallas Cowboys made Byron Jones their first-round pick in 2015, his versatility was part of the draw. Jones began his college career at the University of Connecticut as a cornerback, moved to safety after two games and stayed there through the end of his sophomore year, then moved back to corner for his junior and senior seasons.
He could play on the outside, in the slot, or on the back end, and for a team with needs all over the secondary, that kind of flexibility made a great deal of sense.
The Cowboys took advantage of that versatility during Jones' rookie season, using him all over the field. He played left and right corner, slot corner, and free safety. He matched up with No. 1 wideouts, No. 2s, slot guys and tight ends. He made himself useful all over.
"Honestly I was just doing what I was supposed to do and coached to do," Jones said, per ESPNDallas.com. "They gave me a great challenge, and I tried to step up and meet it as best I could. That was something they told me when they drafted me with me being a versatile player. That was part of the deal."
That won't continue in his second season. Jones is moving to safety full time. "His range is really good," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "He's got good vision back there. I'm real excited to get him in a spot. We moved him around so much last year, so hopefully we get him in a position to use his talent and his vision. He is really smart."
Jones himself said that while sticking at one position will simplify things a bit in terms of the position-drill work he has to go, sticking at safety brings different challenges from playing corner. "You've got to know a little bit more [at safety]," Jones said. "You've got to understand offenses a little bit better. [At corner], it's knowing your side or your receiver."
The Cowboys have been using the tandem of Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox at safety (with Jeff Heath backing them up) for a couple years now, and it has left much to be desired. They've ranked 20th and 29th in Football Outsiders' DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, which adjusts performance for down, distance, and opponent) against deep passes (15-plus yards) the last two seasons. Jones' range and ball skills should hopefully give Dallas the upgrade it's been looking for on the back end of the defense, even if they still badly need to upgrade their cornerback situation.