Ever since Connecticut cornerback Byron Jones jumped into the national spotlight, both figuratively and literally with his 12’3″ broad jump at the combine, he’s been getting quite a bit of attention. But no team appears to be more interested in Jones than the Philadelphia Eagles. With the 2015 NFL Draft just four days away, it’s clear that the Eagles and head coach Chip Kelly have been keeping a close eye on Jones.
The former Huskie could certainly be the team’s target with the 20th overall pick in the draft. Jones checks all the boxes that the Eagles look for from both a physical and mental standpoint. At 6’1″, 199 lbs. with 32″ arms, Jones has the size that teams look for in a top outside cornerback. Add in the fact that he’s a ridiculous athlete with a 44.5″ vertical jump and was clocked running as fast as a 4.39 40-yard dash at his pro day, it’s easy to see why the Eagles love him.
Jones is also described as a high character player and was also a team captain for the Huskies which Kelly values highly. Since he fits what the Eagles look for so well, they’ve really been all over him. For starters, they attended Connecticut’s pro day to get an up close and personal look at Jones. But they didn’t just send a regular area scout, they sent all of the team’s “big shots” including Kelly, defensive coordinator Bill Davis, vice president of player personnel Ed Marynowitz and senior advisor Tom Donahoe. Here’s a picture of the Eagles entourage talking to Jones at the event:
But it didn’t stop there. The Eagles then brought Jones in for one of their thirty allotted pre-draft visits to their team facility, according to Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com. Although they couldn’t workout Jones at their facility, it allowed them to interact with him in a more personal setting. They can really get to know exactly who Jones is as a person, as well as a player by watching film and asking him any questions they may have. Usually pre-draft visits aren’t exactly the most telling things in the world. With most teams, they could bring players in to just ask a couple of questions they may have or as a smokescreen to make other teams believe they’re interested in a player.
That isn’t the case with the Eagles since Kelly has been the head coach. In the 2014 NFL Draft, six out of seven players the Eagles selected visited the team’s facility prior to the draft. That’s pretty telling considering the only player that didn’t visit the facility was wide receiver Josh Huff, who Kelly had a few years of experience with from his days at Oregon. Here’s a list of all reported prospects the Eagles have brought in for pre-draft visits leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft.
To cap it all off, the Eagles sent multiple positional coaches to UConn to get a final workout in with Jones and some of his teammates yesterday, according to Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net. Newly hired defensive backs coach Cory Undlin was also in attendance for the workout, which just shows how intrigued the Eagles are by Jones. That means the team’s head coach, defensive coordinator and defensive back coach have all spent time watching and working out Jones.
Could it be any more obvious that the team really likes Jones? If it wasn’t already, former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski confirmed Kelly “loves” Jones with this tweet:
People were skeptical of drafting Jones in the first round following the combine, including myself. It’s always scary to draft a “workout warrior” but Jones is much more than that. He’s an incredibly talented cornerback that also has experience playing safety as well. Jones is at his best when he’s pressing wide receivers at the line of scrimmage would be a perfect compliment to newly signed cornerback Byron Maxwell in the Eagles’ system.
Although he played in just seven games his final season at Connecticut, Jones was downright dominant in those games. Jones allowed just 12 catches for 123 yards and no touchdowns in those games, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Here’s another insane stat from the staff over at Pro Football Focus:
"Signature Stat: Quarterbacks throwing into his coverage this season had an NFL passer rating of just 26.3, the best mark in the FBS for all corners."
To put that into perspective, the lowest NFL passer rating a cornerback in the NFL allowed in 2014 was 38.8 by Vontae Davis of the Indianapolis Colts. Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, widely regarded as the two best cornerbacks in the entire league, allowed NFL passer ratings of 48.4 and 72.6, respectively.
That proves just how dominant Jones was in college, albeit it was against a mediocre level of talent. But given his athleticism and technique in press man coverage, he’ll likely be able to carry that dominance on to the NFL. There’s a whole lot to like about Jones’ game and it’s easy to see why the Eagles have been all over him during the pre-draft process leading up to April 30th.
Outside of an unlikely trade up for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Jones may be the Eagles best realistic option with their first round pick. He would come in and immediately compete for a starting spot opposite of Maxwell. It’s obvious that the Eagles want Jones in midnight green and the fans are starting to fall in love with him as well, now it’s up to Kelly to get it done.
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