FRISCO, Texas – At long last, Byron Jones has found a home.
It was something that seemed unlikely to happen at times. From the time he was drafted, the Cowboys' super athletic defensive back has been marked by his versatility. There were arguments going back to 2015 about whether he belonged at safety or corner, and in the meantime the Cowboys have asked him to do every job in between.
Four years into his NFL career, Jones got some news that will settle that debate: he's a Pro Bowl cornerback.
"I'm home from now on -- no more bouncing around," Jones said.
The news shouldn't be all that surprising for anyone who has followed the Cowboys this season. There was buzz that Jones would excel at cornerback from the moment the Cowboys moved him there, back during the offseason.
Every step of the way from that point, he has proven those expectations correct. Throughout the year, he has routinely locked down his half of the Dallas defense, allowing a completion percentage of 49 percent and an opposing quarterback rating of just 65.3.
"Ever since OTAs, I've felt comfortable at the cornerback position," Jones said. "And what Coach Richard has been coaching the technique, it kind of fit my style and my ability. It feels good just to have a home, no question, and to play this well is one of the better feelings in the league."
Good call on Jones' part. It'd be hard to tell this story without mentioning Kris Richard, whose arrival in Dallas from Seattle has been a big part in the development of the Cowboys' secondary. The fiery defensive backs coach has worked with the likes of Richard Sherman, and Jones was quick to credit him for his hand in this Pro Bowl turnaround.
"It's a testament to where I came from and the technique that he's teaching," Jones said. "Everything he says, I hang on to every word he says, so he appreciates that. A lot of my success is because of him."
Throughout the season, Jones has been a constant on the right side of the defense, which is such a departure from the rest of his career. As a rookie, he bounced all over the defense, playing safety, corner, nickel back and dime back. He followed that up by starting two years at safety alongside Barry Church and Jeff Heath.
"He's been really selfless in a lot of ways, playing the different spots we needed him to play throughout his career with us," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "But certainly settled in at corner and playing at a very, very high level."
It all speaks to how quickly things can turn in the NFL – a fact that Jones pointed out himself. At this time one year ago, the Cowboys were preparing for a do-or-die Christmas Eve game against Richard's Seattle Seahawks.
Jones was still playing safety at the time – and not particularly well, given that the Cowboys had taken to rotating him in and out of the game on a situational basis. He was a decent option at safety, finishing the season with 71 tackles, five pass breakups and an interception – but he was not living up to the billing of a first-round pick.
Fast forward just 12 months, and Jones is just the third Cowboys defender to earn a Pro Bowl nod in the last five years.
"Just looking back at last year and where I was toward the end of the year, being a rotational safety. I think it means more knowing where I came from, no question," he said. "It wasn't always pretty, but I kept fighting to get myself in that position."
As impressive as Jones has been, it's at least a little surprising that he made it to the Pro Bowl without a single interception. Corners are typically only noticed if they're getting beaten or if they're getting interceptions – neither of which has happened to Jones this year.
For him to reach the league's all-star game without the benefit of that statistic speaks to his level of play this season. Obviously, Jones said he'd prefer to get a pick, but he appreciates that players and coaches around the league are taking note of his technique more so than the stat sheet.
"Of course I want one," he said. "My brothers are making fun of me because I have no interceptions. But it'll come at some point, I've just got to keep working."
Hard work has gotten Jones to this point. It wasn't that long ago that questions abounded about his future – which position should he play, whether the Cowboys should exercise his fifth-year option, what his long-term future looked like.
Earning one's way to the Pro Bowl has a way of quieting those conversations. And whatever else the future might hold for Byron Jones, he's home.
"I hope this year kind of solidifies my home at cornerback," he said. "Yeah, I'm versatile but I'm probably best at corner over any other position on the field."