Byron Jones' senior season at UConn ended prematurely due to a shoulder injury suffered in the East Carolina game. In 7 games, he finished with 24 tackles, four pass deflections, and two interceptions- including a 70-yard pick-six against USF. Jones finished his UConn career with a total of 37 starts, making 131 solo tackles, 18 passes broken up, and 8 interceptions.
Also a model student, Jones looks to move on to the next stage of his football career going into the NFL Combine, which is currently underway although players won't begin on-field workouts until Friday. NFLDraftScout.com is reporting that Byron Jones is expecting to be healthy enough to participate in position drills next Monday. They have him ranked as the 31st cornerback with a 7th round grade.
NFL.com has Jones ranked 25th among cornerbacks in this year's class, and also suggests that a move to safety may benefit him at the next level. He played safety early in his time at UConn, but moved to corner after the team's secondary was depleted by graduation and the NFL Draft. He should be well-prepared to play safety in the NFL if necessary. There are players who have successfully made this transition from college to the pros, such as Saints safety Jairus Byrd-- who played cornerback at Oregon.
Going into the 2014 season, Jones was on the edge of the draft discussion and unfortunately his incomplete senior season prevented him from significantly improving his stock. Scouts seem to agree that he has the size and instincts to compete at the next level but is lacking in overall burst and athleticism.
Luckily, Jones has a golden opportunity to improve his status with strong performances in measured drills such as the 40-yard dash and shuttle-runs. While franchise decision-makers are trending away from putting too much stock in these numbers, defensive back is a position where it still holds a lot of sway.
An NFC North scout gave a strong endorsement for his skills and character:
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.
Jones stepped into the corner position after Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz left to play on Sundays. In fact, UConn has a strong contingent of defensive backs in the NFL with Wilson, Gratz, Tyvon Branch, Darius Butler and Robert McClain. Hopefully Jones can live up to his Husky lineage and find a spot in the league. I wouldn't be surprised to see him end up on a team like the Patriots or Steelers-- teams with a tendency to take hard-working, intelligent players.
Given Byron Jones' size, maturity, experience and instincts, I believe he can immediately contribute on special teams and as secondary depth as a rookie. I'd love to confidently project that he will move to free safety and improve his draft stock but there just isn't enough info to work with. That should change across the next few months of detailed coverage (organized lunacy?) leading up to the NFL Draft.
UPDATE: SB Nation's NFL Draft expert Dan Kadar has this early report out of the combine:
@TheUConnBlog Some real strong rumblings starting on Jones. I know some in the league love him.— Dan Kadar (@MockingTheDraft) February 18, 2015