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Cowboys 2015 Draft Targets: UConn CB Byron Jones

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Because there has been such a high correlation in recent years between the top collegians invited to Valley Ranch for pre-draft visits and who the Cowboys end up drafting, it's important to know as much as possible about these players. As a service to you, BTB offers a series of detailed scouting reports on these players, compiled from the work of top draft analysts. Today, we look at UConn CB Byron Jones

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After a redshirt year in 2010, Byron Jones started eight games at safety the following season, recording 51 tackles, six passes defended and two interceptions. As a sophomore in 2012, he started all twelve of the Huskies' games, again at safety, finishing with 88 tackles (1.5 for loss), three passes defensed and one interception. In 2013, he moved to corner after the defections of Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson to the NFL, recording 60 tackles, batting away eleven passes and collecting three picks. As a senior, Jones started the first seven games before a shoulder injury ended his season. He finished with 24 tackles, six passes defended and two interceptions.

Jones is a tall, well-built corner with rare, off-the-charts athleticism (see below). He's fast and instinctive, and flashes good ball skills and anticipation. Moreover, he is an "RKG" through and through. Jones was a team captain as a senior, is a leader at practice and in the film room and carries himself like a consummate professional. He's reported to be respectful and polite guy, and is reputed to be a quick study who can process information quickly.  Last summer, he served an internship at the U.S. Capitol (this may be why teammates refer to him as "Senator Jones"). Overall, he boasts a rare (and I mean RARE) combination of size, intelligence and raw athleticism.

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Want to scout like a boss? Let's start by looking at Jones' off-the-charts measurables:

Height Weight Arms Hands 40yd 10yd Bench Vert Broad 3Cone 20ss pSPARQ (%)
6' 1" 199 32" 10" 4.43 1.50 18 44½" 147" 6.78 3.94 150.8 (99.9)

A week and a half ago, in a post on the most athletic and productive corners in the draft, I noted that Jones not only receives the highest pSPARQ score in this cornerback class, but boasts the highest CB score ever recorded. In fact, he's so rare that he joins a select group of athletic super-elites, the 3 Sigma Club. I'll allow the compiler of SPARQ data, former SeaGulls blogger Zach Whitman, to explain:

The name of this blog is 3 Sigma Athlete, which refers to the rare NFL player who stands three standard deviations above the NFL standard pSPARQ at a given position...3 sigma athletes don’t show up very often [there are now five of them: Jones, Evan Mathis, J.J. Watt, Calvin Johnson, and Lane Johnson]. 3 standard deviations from the mean corresponds to the 99.87th percentile. It isn’t 1 in 1000, but it isn’t far off, either....Jones managed to land a whopping 3.2 standard deviations from the positional cornerback average.

Given that corners tend to be some of the fastest, most explosive athletes on the field, Jones' athletic prowess is downright astonishing. And as might be expected from these numbers, here's Jones' sick spider graph, courtesy of the folks at Mockdraftable.com:

Is Jones merely a workout warrior, or does his tape match his athletic numbers? Over at Draft Breakdown, they have two of UConn's 2014 games available for your perusal. Check out Jones's work against East Carolina and South Florida and answer this question for yourself.

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Let's see what our esteemed panel of scouts has to say about Jones and his game:

Gary Horton (ESPN.com) 4th-ranked CB; 33rd overall:

Instincts/Recognition: Above-average eyes in zone coverage. Makes a quick read of route concepts. Good field awareness and flashes the ability to locate the ball and come off of primary assignment to make a play. Adequate anticipation skills in man coverage. Needs to show more patience in coverage. Will guess and give up quality leverage on occasion.

Cover Skills:  Press CB with plus size, athleticism and range. Above-average fluidity for a bigger CB. Flips his hips quickly and shows quality agility mirroring receivers in trail-man technique. Displays some tightness in ankles with off-man technique. Quick short-area burst transitioning out of breaks. Also flashes an extra gear with long speed to recover.

Ball Skills:  Average playmaking instincts and production for career (18 pass breakups, six interceptions). Takes quality angles to the point once locating the ball. Size, strength and explosive leaping ability provide him with a lot of range in this area. Has the ability to hold up against bigger receivers in contested situations. Know when to play the ball and when to play the man. Good hand eye-coordination and body control adjusting to throws outside of frame. Flips switch quickly after securing INT and has the speed to pick up extra yards.

Run Support: Played with a brace on left shoulder this year and visibly would protect it at times. More assertive in 2013 when he was healthy. Good strength taking on and discarding blocks in a timely manner. Takes quality angles in pursuit. Entered contact high on occasion and needs to do a better job of breaking down in space at times. Strong hands to latch on and take runners to the ground with wrap.

Intangibles: Team captain as a senior. Moved from safety to corner in 2013. Respectful and polite. Good work and practice habits. Learns well. Takes coaching and applies it to the field. Puts in the work in the film room. Quiet by nature and leads by example. Teammates refer to him as "Senator Jones."

Nolan Nawrocki (NFL Draft 2015 Preview) 7th-ranked CB: 41st overall:

Strengths: Outstanding size and length with long arms and big hands - looks every bi the part. Has rare lower-body explosion. Posted the most explosive broad jump (12-feet, 3-inches) and fastest 60-yard shuttle (10.98 seconds) of any player at the Combine, along with the best vertical jump (44.5 inches) of any defensive back at the event. Rare leaping ability. Plays the ball well with his back to it. Strong, efficient tackler in run support - discards blockers and leverages the sideline. Natural ball skills. Has unique versatility - equal starting experience at corner and free safety. Very intelligent, nuanced three-and-a-half-year starter. Has been very durable throughout his career.

Weaknesses: Average short=space quickness. Rare workout numbers do not always translate to the field. Does not have elite recovery speed. Has room to improve in route recognition - appears to be over-processing at times. Tends to clutch and grab down the field. Average ball skills - late to find the ball. Was not heavily challenged in the American Athletic Conference.

Future: An exceptionally sized, explosive bump-and-run corner with the length, speed and agility to match up with the big receivers in zone or man coverage. Has the intelligence and experience to line up at free safety, and versatility is a plus.

Draft projection: Top-50 pick.

Scout's take: "Jones is a smooth athlete. You watch him in practice - he is very smooth. I would like to see him play vs. better competition, but he shows you everything you want to see. He plays off, he plays press. He is smart. Is he a playmaking machine? No. He plays the wide side of the field vs. average quarterbacks and average receivers and really doesn't get contested."

Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) 12th-ranked CB; 94th overall:

Strengths: Extremely smart and instinctive on the field. Shows above-average anticipation of routes. Is able to sniff out rub routes and works to avoid them. Flashes recovery speed downfield and gets head around to find ball and make a play on it. Uses instincts and adequate closing burst to disrupt the catch. Generally reliable tackler. Team captain and leader on the field and in the locker room. Scouts say he's willing to play hurt and inspires his teammates.

Weaknesses: Plays with high center of gravity. Has difficulty gearing down quickly and changing directions. Doesn't always play with feet under him. Will lose balance and footing too often. Not a quick-twitch athlete. Feet show noticeable stall before firing forward out of backpedal. Willing to tackle but not a physical player. Suffered season-ending shoulder injury in seventh game of 2014 season.

Sources Tell Us: "High-character player with the vision and instincts you want from an NFL cornerback. I'm not sure I like him in man coverage but there is a place for him in our league. Really nice young man who you cheer for." -- NFC North scout

NFL Comparison: Blidi Wreh-Wilson

Dane Brugler (NFL Draft Guide) 4th-ranked CB:

Strengths: Looks the part with a tall, long frame with adequate muscle build...sits low in his stance and transitions well to stay stride-for-stride with wide receivers vertically...flexible lower body movements to recover with smooth backpedal...leverages the field and uses his body to pin pass-catchers to the sideline...explosive lower body with outstanding leaping ability...physical wrap tackler and hits like a safety...smart, quick-thinking cover man, reading the receiver well with his back turned to the ball - natural football instincts...outstanding competitiveness at the catch point with playmaking ballskills - averaged 9.6 yards per interception return with one defensive touchdown...always dialed in and limits mental mistakes, locking down receivers like his life depends on it...ideal character, on and off the field, with a genuine love for football - film junkie and pushes himself...senior captain with low-key leadership traits...versatile experience with 38 career starts, playing both cornerback (18 starts) and safety (20 starts).

Weaknesses: Uses quick stab in press, but doesn't do it consistently and needs to be more efficient with his long arms...bad habit of hopping at the line of scrimmage and needs to stay patient with his feet...lacks transitional burst and doesn't flash a second gear to recover after the receiver gains a step...anticipation and read/react ability seem to come-and-go on film - needs more consistency in this area...caught flat-footed and will allow his eyes to pay rent in the backfield...can be driven downfield riding the hip of receivers and has a tough time with comeback and curl routes...overaggressive tendencies will get him in trouble...wasn't a regular on special teams coverages in college...long-term durability needs investigated due to a history of shoulder issues, missing the second half of his senior year with a separated left shoulder (Oct. 2014) that required surgery.

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Perhaps I'm too smitten by Jones's once-in-a-generation athleticism, but this is the instance where I disagree most vehemently with our assembled draftniks, who rate Jones everywhere from 33rd to 94th overall. After aligning myself with them for the duration of this project, I'm going to strike off on my own here, and place Jones squarely in the first round on my "little board," while recognizing that he'll most likely go in the latter third of the round, where the Cowboys conveniently hold the 27th pick. And the NFL would seem to agree with me. Look at the teams, other than Dallas, that have expressed interest in Jones, and where they are situated: Philadelphia (20); Detroit (23); Arizona (24); Carolina (25); New England (32); Chicago (39); San Francisco (46) and Buffalo (50). Most of these - and the ones that have a realistic shot at getting him - are between 20-32.

If he gets to the 27th pick and proves to be the Cowboys' selection, I will be quite pleased. While parts of his history (mostly the level of competition) give me pause, the upside is simply too tremendous to ignore. Think about it: at 27, the Cowboys will almost certainly use a first-round pick to select a second-rounder. Wouldn't it be better if that player's upside is high enough to warrant a first round pick (heck, even a high first round pick)? Sure, he may be Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but he could also be Darrelle Revis. From where I sit, that kind of upside is worth the risk.

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Next up: Washington CB Marcus Peters