NFL Draft Profile: Connecticut CB Byron Jones

With the NFL Scouting Combine now in the books, teams now have a battery of information after watching the nation’s best draft-eligible college players run the gamut of tests, exercises, and drills. Among hundreds of athletes, Connecticut CB Byron Jones gained wide-eyed notice with a standout performance. Dave Archibald profiles the talented Husky defensive back.

Jones, who logged 228 tackles and eight interceptions over his collegiate career, made waves by posting a vertical jump of 44 ½ inches and a broad jump of 12 feet, 3 inches. The former mark was the best among this year’s DBs by a full three inches and second-best among all position groups. The latter mark is the best ever ‒ the official world record, set in 1968, is 12 feet, 2 inches. Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins held the previous combine broad jump record at 11 feet, 7 inches ‒ eight inches shorter. It was an unexpectedly awe-inspiring display for a player that NFLDraftScout.com has pegged as a seventh-round pick.

Tale of the Tape

While Jones didn’t run a marquee 40-yard dash, he starred in the agility drills logging times (in seconds) of 10.98 in the 60-yard shuttle (best among DBs), 3.94 in the 20-yard shuttle (third), and 6.78 in the three-cone drill (fifth). Standing at 6’1” with 32-inch arms and weighing a solid 199 pounds, he has the frame of a shutdown corner.

Broad Jump: A Historical Comparison

Obviously, the 22-year-old from New Britain is a terrific athlete, but a look at the history of the broad jump leaders shows that explosive athleticism is no guarantee of success. Below are all the cornerbacks that have jumped at least 11 feet (132 inches), along with where they were taken in the draft, how many NFL games they played, and their career AV (approximate value, a rough estimate of success).

Year Name College Distance (inches) Drafted NFL Games AV
2015 Byron Jones Connecticut 147 TBD TBD TBD
2005 Scott Starks Wisconsin 137 87 54 3
2003 Terence Newman Kansas State 136 5 174 64
2005 Chris McKenzie Arizona State 136 UD 3 0
2009 Donald Washington Ohio State 135 102 32 1
2009 Darius Butler Connecticut 134 41 83 16
2006 Will Blackmon Boston College 133 115 66 9
2014 Pierre Desir Lindenwood 133 127 5 1
2012 Josh Robinson Central Florida 133 66 42 9
2013 Xavier Rhodes Florida State 132 25 29 8
2006 Antonio Cromartie Florida State 132 19 143 60
2010 Chris Cook Virginia 132 34 40 8
2015 P.J. Williams Florida State 132 TBD TBD TBD
2013 B.W. Webb William & Mary 132 114 26 2
2013 Robert Alford Southeast Louisiana 132 60 26 6

Distance data from nflcombineresults.com

The list contains Pro Bowlers Newman and Cromartie, and rising star Rhodes, but also has draft busts in Butler, Cook, and Starks. Five of the 13 draftees went in the fourth round or later, with McKenzie going undrafted entirely. Looking at other metrics paints a similar picture ‒ the only cornerbacks to best Jones’s 44.5-inch vertical are McKenzie and Washington. It’s clear that athleticism alone is no guarantee of success, or even of high draft status.

Leaping Into Action

Film of Jones’s college career isn’t easy to find, but he was able to turn his prodigious jumping ability into a big play against Michigan in the 2013 season*.

Byron-Jones-interception-against-Michigan

Jones is matched up against 6’3” Jehu Chesson (#86), who runs a streak route up the sideline. Chesson appears to gain a couple of steps on Jones, but the ball is thrown a bit short and to the middle of the field. Jones follows the ball with his eyes and leaps to high-point it over the taller receiver. The cornerback holds onto the ball as he falls to the ground despite Chesson’s best efforts to dislodge it. As if his other physical gifts weren’t enough, Jones boasts 10-inch hands, tied for the largest among cornerbacks at the combine. His oversized mitts perhaps helped him hang on to the interception here.

Flagged Down

While Jones shows strong recovery ability in the play above, earlier in the contest with Michigan he appears to panic after giving up separation*.

Byron-Jones-interception-against-Michigan

Michigan lines up in a stack to the right side and Jones picks up Jeremy Gallon (#21), who runs a vertical stem. Jones sticks close to the diminutive receiver, but when Gallon cuts to the sideline at a 45-degree angle (a flag or corner route), he gets open. Jones races to catch up with Gallon, but he doesn’t read the receiver’s reaction to the pass. The ball is again underthrown and Jones might be able to make a play, but instead he hits Gallon, leading to an avalanche of penalty flags for pass interference.

Safety Warning

Jones has experience at both cornerback and safety, but experience isn’t the same as success*.

Byron-Jones-interception-against-Michigan

Jones is lined up deep in Cover 2. He recognizes the run at the snap and charges in, but miscalculates the angle and watches Syracuse running back Jerome Smith (#45) zip by him. He shows his athletic ability by turning and helping chase down the RB from behind, but his initial mistake helps turn a modest pick-up into a big one. Later in the same game, he was out of position and let a 5-yard slant go for a 40-yard gain.

Jones had his struggles, but he was just a redshirt sophomore at the time. On a better team he likely would not have been forced into action. Still, for teams that may be considering him more as a safety than a cornerback, film like this could raise questions about his instincts on the back end.

The 2014 Conundrum

Little film is publicly available on Jones. UConn’s lack of success (the Huskies were 2-10 last season and 15-33 over Jones’s career) and an untimely injury that limited his senior season to seven games are the likeliest reasons.

What little footage exists is mostly encouraging and points to some positive strides as a senior. NFL.com identified Jones as a possible breakout candidate heading into 2014. This film of Brigham Young highlights against Connecticut in the season opener runs 10 ½ minutes, but Jones appears sparingly. He occasionally gave up a short curl or was the closest defender in zone coverage, but few of BYU’s 35 points or 308 passing yards came at Jones’s expense; the Cougars preferred to attack other members of the Huskies secondary.

Jones’s declining tackle numbers suggest that avoiding him was a common strategy by opponents in 2014. He averaged five tackles per game in 2013, but that average dropped more than a tackle-and-a-half in his senior season. This highlight against East Carolina suggests a possible improvement in lockdown coverage ability**:

Byron-Jones-interception-against-Michigan

Near the goal line, Jones lines up against Cam Worthy (#9), who piled up 1,016 receiving yards in 2014. Jones backpedals, then hand-checks the receiver and rides him inside. Shane Carden, the Pirates quarterback, scrambles. Worthy cuts back outside, but Jones hounds him the whole way. Carden finally tosses up a jump ball, but the throw is high and Jones hauls it down for the interception. The catch itself is impressive, but it is merely the icing on a delicious cake of textbook man coverage.

Jones left the ECU game in the first half with a shoulder injury, one that he’d had ongoing struggles with. He missed the remainder of the season after labrum surgery. The injury is not expected to impact Jones in the future, but it limits the film available from his senior season and casts further mystery on the true level of his performance.

Odds and Ends

  • Jones struggled to get off blocks and make tackles against the run game and checkdown passes, even in 2014 tape. Perhaps his shoulder injury impaired him, but he will need to improve in this area to avoid being a liability on Sundays. He has good size and sound tackling technique, so there is reason to believe he can evolve into a solid run defender.
  • Jones gets high marks for his off-the-field attributes, serving as team captain in 2014 and making AAC All-Academic in 2013. Coach Bob Diaco lauded Jones’s “incredible résumé socially; academically, he’s an ‘A’ student and on all the committees. At that position, he has some intangible traits that are an incredible commodity.”

Conclusion

Without access to more film or medical records, it’s tough to evaluate Jones, and his spectacular Combine results only makes things more confusing. Lance Zierlein’s profile at NFL.com praises Jones for being “extremely smart and instinctive” but calls him “not a quick-twitch athlete” and says “overall athleticism could be a concern in man coverage,” a report that certainly seems at odds with his Combine excellence. Was Jones on the way to a breakout season before his shoulder injury cut his campaign short? Is he a workout freak who inconsistently translates his athleticism to the field? There are more questions than answers, but Jones’s historic Combine performance makes him a compelling figure to watch in April’s draft and the upcoming NFL season.

Follow Dave on Twitter @davearchie.

Dave Archibald knows pass defense, specifically how coverage, the pass rush, excellent cornerbacks, versatile safeties and in-game adjustments can make a big difference.

 
Images from CollegeFootballDude.com (*) and HTC247 (**).

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