Byron Jones' Incredible Combine Performance Poses More Questions Than AnswersFebruary 23, 2015
What if an NFL draft prospect ran a 3.99-second 40-yard dash? Or put up 52 reps on the bench press? That's essentially what UConn cornerback Byron Jones did at the NFL Scouting Combine, when he set his feet and broad-jumped an astounding 12'3".
Per NFL Media's Mike Mayock, the best he'd seen since covering the combine in 2003 was 11'7"; Jones beat that mark by 5.8 percent.
The 6'1", 199-pounder's incredible explosion was on display in the vertical jump, too. His 44.5" mark was best among defensive backs this year and second to only Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley overall. In case you missed it, NFL Media kindly provided the jaw-dropping clips:
As fantastic as those numbers were, we didn't get to see the one drill we wanted to see most: Jones sprinting halfway down the Lucas Oil Field sideline. Unbelievably, per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, Jones is still recovering from labrum surgery, so we'll have to wait until Jones' pro day to see him in full flight.
The 2015 draft class is thin at cornerback—a premium position—and elite athleticism commands a premium above and beyond that. Did Jones just vault to the top of draft boards around the NFL?
Going into the combine, Bleacher Report NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller didn't have Jones in his top 50 prospects. In fact, Jones only barely cracked Miller's top 25 cornerbacks, at No. 24. With his big frame and aggressive, physical approach, Jones' explosion numbers should make him a lock for the first round. So why isn't he?
As the Hartford Courant's Desmond Conner wrote during the season, the team captain and four-year starter fell short of everyone's expectations on the field in 2014.
"I think I need to step it up," Jones said, per Conner. "Being as athletic as I am, I have to apply that to the game of football. There's no reason to be in a good position and not get an interception or not bat the ball away and make the tackle."
That quote came in a story reacting to Jones' poor game against FCS squad Stony Brook, where one of the Seawolves went up over Jones for a crucial catch in an unexpectedly close 19-16 UConn win.
"I'm working on it every day," Jones said. "I talked to Coach multiple times. We're on it together. He's down my back. I'm down my own back. I was frustrated with the play but you have to roll with the punches and keep playing. I couldn't crawl into a corner."
Five weeks later, Jones returned his first interception of the season for a touchdown against South Florida. One week after that, Jones snagged another pick—and then suffered the torn labrum that ended his collegiate career.
NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah shared his scouting report on Jones, calling him a potential "steal":
Across the NFL, scouts will be going back to the miles of tape Jones put out in four seasons at UConn to figure out where those top-of-the-draft tools were hiding. They'll also try to spot what held Jones back from getting the most out of his jaw-dropping skill set. Per Chip Malafronte and Jim Fuller of the New Haven Register, it isn't an issue of character or motivation.
With so few elite athletes at the cornerback position, NFL teams will do their homework on this kid. Of course, there have been plenty of workout warriors who failed to translate those skills to the football field. Plenty of freakily athletic prospects never became All-Pros.
Jones did, however, catch the attention of everyone in the football-watching world. After all, there's a huge difference between a player who can't jump 44.5" and a player who doesn't always out-jump Colonial Athletic Association wide receivers—and sometimes, NFL coaching can bridge that difference.
If Jones wants to keep the football world drooling, first he'll have to repeat the feats (or come close) at UConn's Mar. 31 pro day, per DraftInsider.net's Tony Pauline. Then Jones will have to top himself by cutting a very fast 40-yard dash.
If he does those things, Jones just might jump up the draft board—way, way up.