Perhaps the hottest name in the draft right now is Byron Jones, who is flying up boards following an electric pro-day where he bolstered his already immaculate measurables resume. Jones made a splash at the combine when he broke the all-time world record in the broad jump (watch the ridiculous leap here). His 12'3" leap was significantly better than the previous combine record of 11'7", held by current Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins.
The Patriots seem to have a clear interest in Jones as a potential fit to fill the void left by Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, both gone from New England in free agency. The team, along with the rest of the NFL, attended UConn's Pro Day yesterday and reportedly had breakfast with Jones before watching him in action on the field. His performance was of particular interest as he did not bench press or run the 40-yard-dash at the combine due to a shoulder injury that ended his senior season after seven games.
Jones did not disappoint, bench pressing 225 pounds 18 times and then running the 40 in 4.36 seconds, which would have been second-best at the position had he run at the combine. Patriots scouting coordinator Brian Smith and cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer were the primary talent evaluators on hand, and given Jones' performance, it is hard to imagine they left unimpressed.
- Height: 6'1"
- Weight: 199 lbs.
- 40-yard dash: 4.36 (Pro Day)
- Bench Press: 18 reps at 225 pounds (Pro Day)
- Broad Jump: 12'3" (Combine)
- Vertical Leap: 44.5"(Combine)
- 3-cone drill: 6.78 seconds (Combine)
In their player profile of Jones, NFL.com has Titans CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson listed as a professional comparable. Wreh-Wilson, who also played at UConn, was linked to the Patriots last offseason after they made the trip to his Pro Day. Both are big corners who specialize in press coverage, so the overlap is there. Jones better hope their rookie seasons are not comparable, however, as Wreh-Wilson struggled mightily this past year in Tennessee.
- Experienced: 4-year started at UConn
- Excellent build, athleticism
- Elite measurables
- Press coverage specialist, good jamming technique
- Good ball awareness
- Aggressive run defender
- High character: described as excellent person, natural leader
- Retains information well, receptive to coaching
- Projected as versatile, able to play multiple schemes/positions (played safety in 2013)
- Hip tightness when flipping in coverage, difficulty switching directions
- Doesn't wrap up well when tackling
- Sustained serious labrum/shoulder injury last season
- Does not have good overall balance
- Not a "quick-twitch" athlete
- Questionable in man-coverage schemes
Projections: Current consensus- Late first/early second rounder
Jones is ascending up draft boards with each new jaw-dropping combine metric he records. At the time of the combine, NFL.com media analyst Daniel Jeremiah had him listed as the 50th best draft prospect in this year's draft. Now, he has him all the way up at #38, fourth highest at the position behind Trae Waynes (MSU), Jalen Collins (LSU), Marcus Peters (Washington) and PJ Williams (FSU). James Christensen of NEPatriotsdraft.com currently has Jones ranked even higher, as his 25th best overall prospect- good for 3rd best at the position.
Will the Patriots draft him?
It definitely seems possible. Their interest in him appears to be very real- just as real as the need at the position. It doesn't take an NFL expert to reach the conclusion that New England has a glaring need at cornerback having lost their two clear-cut starters to new teams, including arguably the best cover corner in the league. To inject some youth and elite athleticism into the secondary with a player like Jones seems like a logical move at this juncture.
Always taking draft "experts" projections with a grain of salt, there is currently a lot of buzz around Jones coming to Foxborough. Analysts like ESPN's Todd McShay and MassLive beat writer Kevin Duffy have pegged Jones as a Patriot in their most recent mock drafts. Duffy had this to say of the team potentially selecting him with the 32nd overall pick:
No player at this spot offers his potential; based on combine numbers, he's the best athlete at corner in years and he has the smarts to pick up complicated schemes. He might not be a finished product yet, but Jones has the tools to be a No. 1 corner, and no cornerback available at No. 64 overall will fit that bill
It will be interesting to see if the team chooses to stay put at 32. Fans are familiar with Bill Belichick's affinity for moving up in or out of the first round, and it would be no surprise to see him do the same this year. The team has also shown interest in Michigan State's Trae Waynes, the consensus #1 corner in the draft. Waynes fits a different mold than Byron Jones. Waynes is skinnier and more wiry and excels in man coverage. He also ran a blazing 4.31 40-yard dash at the combine. Had Jones' 4.36 time been official, only Waynes would have beaten him. Currently projected as going anywhere between picks 7 and 15 in the first round, Bill would have to make an aggressive maneuver to get his hands on this player.
All that being said, if there is one thing that has been learned from the past three Patriots seasons it is that they need an elite cornerback on the field to compete consistently at a championship level. Aqib Talib and Revis/Browner had transformative effects on the defense, and in the case of the latter, catapulted the team to a championship. Whether the solution to the current problem at the position can be resolved solely through the draft is yet to be seen, but don't be surprised if a cornerback is coming to the podium at pick #32 later this month.