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Combine Star Byron Jones Continues to Attract NFL Attention at UConn Pro Day

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIIMarch 31, 2015

Byron Jones ran the 40-yard dash as part of the University of Connecticut's pro day Tuesday.
Byron Jones ran the 40-yard dash as part of the University of Connecticut's pro day Tuesday.Jessica Hill/Associated Press

A little more than one month after he made a name for himself at the NFL Scouting Combine with a record-breaking 12’3” broad jump, Connecticut cornerback Byron Jones continued his leap up draft boards Tuesday at UConn’s pro day, where he worked out in front of 29 NFL teams.

Jones did not participate in the jumps or shuttle drills on Tuesday; he had no reason to, as his marks in the broad jump, vertical jump, 20-yard shuttle, 60-yard shuttle and three-cone drill each ranked him within the top three cornerbacks in each test at the combine, according to NFL.com’s combine tracker.

He did, however, complete his athletic profile by participating in the 40-yard dash and bench press at the pro day. His results continued to impress: His 40 time of 4.44 seconds (unofficial hand time) would have tied him for third among cornerbacks at the combine, while his 18 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press would have tied him for sixth.

Byron Jones' Combine/Pro Day Measurables
40-Yd DashBenchVerticalBroad3-Cone20-Yd Shuttle60-Yd Shuttle
4.44 sec*18 reps*44.5"12'3"6.78 sec3.94 sec10.98 sec
*Pro day; combine measurables via NFL.com

Jones, who measured in at 6’1” and 199 pounds at the combine, might very well have the best combination of size and athleticism of any cornerback in this year’s draft.

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In addition to sprinting and lifting, Jones also went through a 15-minute positional workout, a drill that was led by Jacksonville Jaguars defensive backs coach DeWayne Walker and Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.

Jones caught the ball cleanly in his hands and looked smooth in his transitions, putting a strong exclamation point on a workout session that furthered his draft stock’s positive momentum.

“Overall, good day,” Jones said while meeting with the media after the workout. “I felt like I ran fast, I felt confident.”

In spite of that, Jones acknowledged that he had some issues picking up the new coverage techniques that Zimmer was teaching him on the spot.

“He was trying to change my backpedal and be more relaxed in the upper body; instead of getting down too low, stay up a little more,” Jones said of the coaching from Zimmer. “It’s stuff that I need to work on if I’m going to be on his team, and I have no problem working on those techniques.”

Jessica Hill/Associated Press

Rapidly Rising Draft Stock

Since the combine, there might not be any player whose stock for the 2015 NFL draft has risen more—at least in the eyes of the media and general public—than Jones.

Rewind back to the middle of February, and one would be hard-pressed to find any examples of draft analysts hyping up Jones as an early-round draft pick. Since his eye-opening showcase in Indianapolis, Jones’ hype train has quickly filled up with passengers, as a steadily increasing number of prognosticators have begun projecting Jones to be a first-round pick.

Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller is among those who has acknowledged that Jones’ workout numbers have led to a shift in his perception of the player.

Matt Miller @nfldraftscout

Byron Jones an example of a guy who was hurt, which created late start on eval and then dominated workouts @zazillin

As Miller noted, Jones suffered a shoulder injury midway through his senior season, which forced him to miss UConn’s final five games and also kept him out of the Senior Bowl. Had Jones stayed healthy, he likely would have garnered more attention prior to the combine.

Quite frankly, though, none of that matters now. Being overlooked by the media in the fall and early winter won’t change the fact that Jones is well on his way to being one of the first defensive backs off the board this April.

ESPN’s Louis Riddick and NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah are among those who have noted repeatedly that Jones’ athleticism, and the skill set of a player who deserves to be an early-round pick, has been on tape all along.

Louis Riddick @LRiddickESPN

B. Jones not just an athlete. Watch him "play" the CB position. Snap to finish. All disciplines & techniques. He is a good football player.

Daniel Jeremiah @MoveTheSticks

Here's my report on UConn CB Byron Jones: http://t.co/kcbeAJyjOb

Jones’ health might have been billed as a concern a couple months ago, but his performance in the bench press Tuesday proved that his shoulder injury is no longer an issue.

“I have full mobility, full strength,” Jones said of his shoulder Tuesday. “I wanted to come here and bench and show people that I am healthy…I was surprised with 18 [repetitions on the bench press], I was expecting about 14, maybe 15.”

Whether Jones’ draft stock is truly rising because of his measurables, or the majority of media draft analysts are simply late to come around to him, is unknown. Either way, it is clear that he now has the NFL’s attention.

On a date that was headlined by Jameis Winston and Florida State’s pro day, Zimmer was not the only NFL decision-maker to spend the morning in Storrs, Conn., instead. Also in attendance was the Philadelphia Eagles’ contingent of head coach Chip Kelly, vice president of player personnel Ed Marynowitz, defensive coordinator Bill Davis and senior advisor Tom Donahoe.

Dan Hope @Dan_Hope

Chip Kelly talking with Byron Jones. http://t.co/3uNBEvqf8F

Jones, who said he has a number of private workouts and official visits scheduled but did not specify with which teams, acknowledged that he has gotten more attention from teams and media alike since the combine but is trying to filter out the talk of his rising draft stock.

“I’m just trying to focus on what I can control at this point, and that’s just preparing hard and doing well at pro day and killing these meetings,” Jones said.

 

Beyond the Numbers: Why Jones Will Be an Early-Round Pick

Given that traits and potential tend to trump production in draft evaluations, it’s probably true that Jones would be an early-round pick even if his play on the field had not been particularly impressive. That said, he had more than enough impressive play on the field to support the notion that he can be a great football player, and not just a workout warrior.

According to Pro Football Focus, Jones allowed the second-lowest passer rating among all cornerbacks in the Football Bowl Subdivision this past season. That number should be taken with a grain of salt, because he played only seven games and did not face much premier receiving talent in those contests, but it nonetheless supports the fact that Jones is a consistent cover corner who does not typically allow big plays.

Geremy Davis, who played wide receiver at Connecticut and is also a prospect for the 2015 draft, said Tuesday that going up against Jones—who was also his roommate—was a consistently tough matchup in practice.

“We always went against each other,” Davis said of practicing against Jones. “He’s going to give you his best every time. We would always keep score when we did one-on-ones, so that just shows his competitive nature. He hates losing, and so do I, so we always went back and forth.”

Over the course of his four-year career, Jones put his ball skills on display by recording eight interceptions and 18 additional pass breakups. As noted in the aforementioned tweet by Jeremiah, one of his most impressive plays on the ball came on a deep, high-pointing interception against Michigan in 2013.

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Another reason teams could be intrigued by Jones, in comparison to many of the other defensive backs in this year’s draft class, is his versatility to play both cornerback and safety, as noted Tuesday by NEPatriotsDraft.com’s Mike Loyko.

Mike Loyko @NEPD_Loyko

The thing that makes Byron Jones attractive is not necessarily his athleticism. It's the fact he has multiple years exp. at both CB and Saf

While Jones said NFL teams are mainly evaluating him as a cornerback, he is willing to change positions if asked to do so.

“I don’t mind if they move me to safety, I’d actually enjoy that,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, you’re a defensive back, whether you’re a corner or a safety.”

It is evident in Jones’ game film that he is more comfortable in press coverage than off-man coverage at this point. Jones acknowledged Tuesday that he needs to improve in off-man coverage but also expressed that he expects to get better in that area with experience.

“Off-man coverage, for me, is something I need to work on, reading the three-step drop and the five-step drop,” Jones said. “As I work on the off-man, I’m going to be comfortable in that as well.”

Realistically, Jones is going to be known best for his leaping ability until he proves he can play football at the professional level. But Jones made it clear Tuesday that he wants to be known for what he can do on the gridiron.

“I’m a football player, not a track guy,” Jones said. “My main goal is not to be a world-record breaker or the fastest 40-yard sprinter, my main goal is to be a great NFL player.”

 

Natural Athleticism + Hard Work = Great Results

It’s evident, from what he has done this predraft season, that Jones is a special physical specimen. The vast majority of people, no matter how hard they might train, will never come close to jumping more than 12 feet from a standstill or running a sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash.

“I always say there’s human beings, and then there’s Byron Jones,” defensive lineman and fellow 2015 draft prospect B.J. McBryde said. “He’s in a separate category. The dude is just unreal.”

Davis also testified that the athleticism Jones has shown in predraft workouts was always evident during their time together at UConn.

“He’s always been that explosive,” Davis said of Jones. “He just has freak flexibility, and we always joke and say he has three pairs of lungs—he never gets tired.”

Even so, achieving those marks might not have been possible for Jones if he didn’t properly train himself to maximize his physical capabilities.

Matt Balis, the strength-and-conditioning coordinator for UConn, said Jones’ combination of natural gifts and work ethic is what has enabled him to perform well in predraft testing.

“He’s one of those guys that just does it above and beyond, whatever it takes,” Balis said. “There’s guys out that are just as explosive that may never reach these levels that he has, because of his work ethic, his heart and who he is inside, that’s what taken him to the highest level.”

Those qualities, and Jones’ clean off-field record, are reasons beyond his demonstrated football skills and athleticism that he could appeal to NFL teams as a potential draft pick.

All quotes and measurables were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Pro day 40-yard-dash times are unofficial; the times listed here were as hand timed by the writer on site.

Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

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