IRVING, Texas – Having patiently waited throughout the opening night of the 2015 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys selected one of the best athletes in this draft class, snagging Byron Jones with the 27th overall pick.
With uncertainty surrounding the Cowboys’ cornerback position, Jones was one of a handful of highly-coveted defensive backs, along with Kevin Johnson and Marcus Peters, to be considered at No. 27. After a tense wait for the teams in front of them to pick, the Cowboys grabbed the Connecticut product without having to trade up the draft board.
“There’s an urge as you watch 26 other players roll out there – there is an urge,” said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones about potentially drafting up to select Jones. “That’s the anxiety involved.”
It was a mere 10 picks, but it felt like several hours passed between pick No. 20 and No. 27, when several teams with cornerback needs passed on Jones. The Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens were all seen as possible destinations for the versatile defensive back, but that trio opted for wide receiver Nelson Agholar, pass-rusher Bud Dupree and wide receiver Breshad Perriman.
The wait might have been agonizing, but once Jones fell to No. 27, the pick was anything but.
“We don’t get into our grades (publically), but he was certainly in our top 15, 16 players on the board,” Jerry Jones said.
In Byron Jones, the Dallas Cowboys selected one of the most-discussed members of this 2015 draft class – and for good reason. At the NFL Combine in February, Jones set a world record with a broad jump of 12-feet, 3-inches. The UConn defensive back built on that with an outstanding vertical jump of 44.5 inches – second-best at the entire event.
“That’s one of the reasons you go to the Combine – you want to see these guys move around,” said Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. “You want to see them run, you want to see them jump, you want to see them move around. Certainly that was very impressive.”
Jones started two years at safety for UConn before moving to cornerback in 2013. As a junior, he tallied 60 tackles with three interceptions and 11 passes defended. He started the first seven games of his senior season in 2014 before a shoulder injury ended his year.
In his seven games, though, he finished with 24 tackles, six passes defended and two picks. He earned an invitation to the 2015 Senior Bowl this past January, but his injury held him out of the proceedings.
In the four months since, however, Jones said he is completely healthy and ready to participate fully in the Cowboys’ offseason activities – which begin in earnest with rookie minicamp roughly a week away.
“I think I’m 100 percent. I didn’t have to go back to Indy for a re-check,” he said. “I did the bench at Pro Day, and I did 18 reps at full-strength, ready to go.”
Cornerback was easily one of the largest problem spots on the Dallas Cowboys current roster, along with defensive end and running back. There are question marks around all of the team’s primary corners – and for a variety of reasons.Morris Claiborne is recovering from a torn patellar tendon last September, while Brandon Carr has long been considered a candidate for a June 1 pay cut due to his hefty 2015 salary.
The team’s best cornerback, Orlando Scandrick, has also yet to report to the teams’ facility for voluntary player workouts – reportedly over desire for a larger contract.
Jones should immediately address that issue, as he can step in and contribute from Day 1. With two years of experience at safety, the 6-1, 199-pound prospect also has the potential to help on the back end of the defense.
Perhaps most importantly, the Cowboys secured their player without needing to trade away valuable draft picks – which leaves their draft board intact for Day 2 of the draft tomorrow (Friday). In that regard, team executive vice president Stephen Jones said the draft board will hopefully clear the way for a less-tense wait.
“We thought coming in here that this would be the toughest part of it – when everybody has a lot of these guys sorted pretty similar,” he said. “I think from here on out we could see some guys that we’ll feel really good about and maybe not have to sweat as much.”
Dallas holds the No. 60 and No. 91 overall picks when the draft’s second day commences on Friday night.
Versatile DB Byron Jones offers a safety option for Dallas Cowboys defense
First-round pick Byron Jones will begin his Dallas Cowboys career as a cornerback, but that doesn’t mean he’ll stay there.
The Cowboys could eventually move Jones to safety – where he started his first two years at Connecticut – because they still plan for veterans Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne to be major contributors next season, team owner/GM Jerry Jones said Thursday night.
“They’re certainly on our team,” Jones said. “As it sits right now, we plan on them being part of the team.”
Scandrick’s position seems to be the most stable of the three veterans. He’s under contract through 2018.
It’s Carr’s contract that has been the source of conversation all offseason. He’ll count $12.7 million against the salary cap in 2015 and there’s been speculation the Dallas Cowboys might ask him to take a pay cut or restructure.
Claiborne, the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft, is recovering from season-ending knee surgery and might not be ready for the start of training camp, even though his progress has been “really good,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said.
The club has until May 3 to officially determine whether to pick up the fifth-year option for 2016 on Claiborne’s rookie deal.
All those factors made corner a clear need on opening draft night. But Byron Jones’ versatility actually gives the Cowboys the best of both worlds: He can start out at corner while Claiborne recovers and potentially move to free safety when the corner position gets to full strength. The Patriots have made a similar move with their 2010 first-round pick Devin McCourty.
With NFL offenses using multi-receiver sets more and more, the Cowboys want as many effective cover guys as possible.
“We were so fortunate last year to have Carr and Scandrick, without Mo, not to have an injury there with our (other) corners,” Jerry Jones said. “The closest thing to a position that we thought we could get in trouble with was our corner (position). The next thing that we thought we could improve the defense as much as any place and do some things we haven’t done is to have a free safety type roaming.”
Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox were full-time starters at strong and free safety, respectively, last season. Both are under contract for next season.
Stephen Jones declined to address the status of the veteran corners’ contracts, saying the team was focused solely on the draft this week. But Byron Jones’ arrival does give the Cowboys more flexibility at two positions.
“He’s a big tall corner, and you don’t get taller at corner unless you pick them tall,” Stephen said. “He certainly can do it. We feel good about him if he’s playing corner and we feel good about him probably if he’s playing safety.”
Confident Cowboy CB Byron Jones much more than a “Workout Warrior”
Without a doubt, Byron Jones helped his cause at the scouting combine last February in Indianapolis when he recorded the best broad jump ever.
Sure, it raised his stock. But shortly after the Dallas Cowboys picked the UConn cornerback with the 27th overall pick in the NFL Draft, the club made sure to reiterate his ability to play football was the biggest factor in the decision.
“We didn’t just draft a workout warrior here,” head coach Jason Garrett said of Jones. “He’s a heck of a football player and we think he’s going to be able to help us as both a cornerback, and potentially a safety. His versatility is something we really liked about him from the start.”
Jones broke the world record in the board jump with a 12-3 jump at the combine, where he also had the second highest vertical leap (44.5 inches) of any player. Jones also had a 6.78 second time in the three-cone drill. He followed all of that up at his Pro Day at UConn with a 4.4 time in the 40, solidifying him as one of the best, if not the best, athlete in the entire draft.
But Jones also made it clear he’s not interested in the attention he gained from the workouts.
“Obviously they saw more than a broad jump,” Jones said. “A broad jump doesn’t do anything for you in football. I hope they saw an intelligent, athletic player. I guess they’re happy with what they saw.
“But I haven’t done anything yet,” Jones said. “I’m so focused on coming in here and getting to work and proving myself. I’m a Dallas Cowboy now but I haven’t really proved myself yet. I can’t wait to get going and gaining the respect of the team and the coaches so they’re reassured that they made the right choice.”
With both Kevin Johnson (Wake Forest) and Marcus Peters (Washington) off the board, the Dallas Cowboys stood pat at No. 27 and patiently waited for Jones to fall in their lap.
Jones will get the chance to be on the field at Valley Ranch for the first time next weekend when the Dallas Cowboys host all of the draft picks, the undrafted rookies and some invited-workout players in a three-day rookie mini-camp which begins Friday.
Scouting Report on your newest Dallas Cowboy – CB/S Byron Jones
Byron Jones | Cornerback | College: Connecticut | 6-1/199 | Age: 22
Honors: Jones’ season was cut in half by a shoulder injury that required surgery. He appeared in UConn’s first seven games, recording 24 tackles and two interceptions.
Key Stat: He was already a highly-regarded draft pick, but Jones jumped into the national consciousness at the NFL Combine when he set a world record with a broad jump of 12-feet, 3-inches. His 44.5-inch vertical wasn’t exactly shabby, either.
Scouting Report: Can be physical in the press but just as comfortable playing in off coverage. Rangy build with rare athletic traits. Moves well to get in position. Nice power to hold up receiver. Can mirror the receiver. Can high point the ball. Can pedal, turn and go — smoothness. Not much wasted motion. Plays with his knees bent. There are snaps where he slips, which makes me question his balance. He’s quick to read the route out of his pedal. Quick to get his head around. Will run across the field in position. Good tackler. Is aware in zone. Plays his assignment. Plays square. Will drop in zone and keep eyes on ball. Knows where he needs to fit. Times where he will play sideways in zone. Nice lateral quickness and agility. Very good range. Can cover some ground. Very reactionary athlete. Is a hard player to get away from. Doesn’t allow the quarterback windows to throw the ball into. Could be the second corner on many draft broads because of his ability. Would be an outstanding option for the Dallas Cowboys to select in the first round. – Bryan Broaddus
BONUS AUDIO: Secret Call, Post-Pick-Presser, Interview and more
There’s tons of coverage on the Byron Jones selection over on the Dallas Cowboys Audio Archives page … check it out!