The draft is now only a day away, and other than Jameis Winston being selected with the first overall pick, no one seems to really have any idea of what’s going to happen. All 32 teams almost certainly have their draft boards finalized, and anxiety amongst fans is going to reach astronomical levels before and during the first round on Thursday night. The Eagles are considered a major wild-card when it comes to projecting first round selections, and most draft experts have seemingly altered their pick for the Eagles multiple times throughout the days and weeks leading up to the draft. While trading up for a specific quarterback is certainly not out of the picture, there a handful of names being thrown around as the Eagles’ likely first-round selection if they remain at pick 20 or were to trade down. Out of those names, there’s one that sticks out to me more than any of the others; that name is Byron Jones. With my cards now on the table, and barring a trade up, here are four reasons why I believe the Eagles should take Jones with their first pick of the 2015 Draft.
Reason #1: What You Already Know
By now, you’re probably well-aware of Byron Jones’s athletic endowment. You know he’s 6’1. You know he weighs 199 pounds. You probably know he has a 44.5 inch vertical, a 4.40 forty-yard dash time, and a 147 inch broad jump, which is a WORLD record. But let’s take Jones’s athleticism one step further. According to 3sigmaathlete.com, Jones’s SPARQ rating ranks in the 99.9 percentile amongst ALL CURRENT NFL PLAYERS, not just current cornerbacks or his fellow prospects in the upcoming draft. When slated against current individual NFL players, Jones’s adjusted pSPARQ rating ranks only behind Eagles guard Evan Mathis. Here’s a look at the top five:
As you can see, the Eagles are already well-represented (Evan Mathis and Lane Johnson) when it comes to employing upper-echelon athletes in the NFL. Jones would take that notion to the next level. When he hears his named called on Thursday night, Jones will instantly become the single most athletically-gifted cornerback in the NFL. During Ed Marynowitz’s first press conference since being hired by the Eagles, the Vice President of Player Personnel said that the organization looks at three different things when evaluating players. The first? Physical measureables. “So, number one, it’s the height, weight, speed according to the position,” Marynowitz said. “That’s one factor. So either they have that or they don’t. It doesn’t necessarily eliminate them, per se, but that’s one element of that.”
Jones’s measureables go above-and-beyond the requirements needed to play the cornerback position for the Eagles.
Reason #2: 26.3
When he exploded at the NFL Combine in February, Jones was hailed by some as a “workout warrior” who was no better than average as an actual football player. But with measureables aside, Jones is still a darn good player. In fact, he allowed a mere 26.3 passer rating during his final season at Connecticut. In his aggressive 3-4 defense, head coach Bob Diaco asked Jones to do a little bit of everything. Here’s a four minute video that features some of the highlights of Jones’s 2014 season:
When discussing draft prospects, Eagles Vice President of Player Personnel Ed Marynowitz said that the second thing the organization evaluates in a player is the ability to play their position as it relates to the Eagles’ schemes. “The second part is the position specifics or the critical factors for that position, which is basically the guy’s athletic ability to play that specific spot,” Marynowitz said. “(It’s) also relative to your system and scheme, which is different than — I mean, every team is different. We’ve got certain prototypes for that.” As I discussed in the cornerback portion of my Eagles Draft Guide, the Eagles’ defense, at its core, is a press-man coverage unit. And while Jones wasn’t playing exclusively in press coverage in the highlight video above or while at Connecticut in general, the cornerback has more than enough skill and ability to play in any defensive system. He’s also considered one of the more versatile players in the draft (something we all know Chip Kelly loves) and would be a valuable asset in the event that depth wore thin at the safety position.
Reason #3: Culture, Culture, Culture
“We’ve got a good group of guys, don’t we?” Chip Kelly said while mic’d up during the Eagles’ October 12th game against the Giants last season. “You know why? Because culture wins football. Culture will beat scheme every day.” That quote practically sums up Chip Kelly’s philosophy since taking the Eagles’ head coaching job in January of 2013. In NFL.com’s Draft Profile of Byron Jones, Lance Zierlein said “(Jones is a) team captain and leader on the field and in the locker room. Scouts say he’s willing to play hurt and inspires his teammates.” In the same profile, an NFC North Scout said Jones is a “high-character player”. What was the third aspect of the Eagles’ evaluation of draft prospects? Personal traits, according to Ed Marynowitz. “The third part is the character, attitude, and intelligence piece,” Marynowitz said. “In terms of the right football make-up and how we want to build our team.” While I’m no expert, words and phrases such as “team captain”, “leader on the field and in the locker room”, and “high-character” used to describe a player seem to be the exact football make-up you want to build a team around. Here’s Jones speaking with CBS Sports’ Jim Rome about the NFL Combine and his world record broad jump:
Reason #4: There’s More Depth at Receiver in This Draft Than at Cornerback
While the Eagles could target an offensive linemen in the first round, I think there’s a good chance Chip Kelly decides to address that need during the second or third day of the draft. Barring a trade up, and with offensive linemen hypothetically eliminated, the Eagles could really go two ways with their first round pick: cornerback or wide receiver. While there will certainly be some intriguing options when Philadelphia is on the clock Thursday night, the Eagles are better off waiting until the second, third, or fourth round to draft a receiver. Not only is cornerback a bigger current need for the Eagles, but better value can be found later in the draft at wide receiver than at corner. We’ve already established that Byron Jones is far-and-away the best athlete at cornerback in this draft. Who’s the best athlete at wide receiver? Chris Conley, a player who has visited with Chip Kelly and the Eagles prior to the draft. An example of mid-round value, Conley is currently projected to be drafted in the third or fourth round, and the Eagles can certainly wait until at least the second day of the draft before targeting the athletic receiver from Georgia that they’ve shown obvious interest in. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I thoroughly believe that Byron Jones can make more of a positional impact for the Eagles than any wide receiver that could be drafted by the team in the first round.
If you gave Chip Kelly a pen and a pad of paper and asked him to define his perception of the perfect NFL cornerback, the player he would most likely describe would be a near spitting image of Byron Jones. Whether evaluating his athleticism, his overall skillset, or the way he carries himself on or away from the field, Jones has “top-tier NFL cornerback” written all over him. And when viewing the draft holistically, the Eagles can fill other needs at other positions by taking advantage of the depth at wide receiver and offensive line in this draft. Chip Kelly and the Eagles’ offense are capable of scoring points against any team regardless of personnel, but Byron Jones has the ability and potential to impact the Eagles’ defense more from the cornerback position than any other player in this draft. While naysayers will bring up the fact that he missed time during the 2014 season due to injury, Jones only missed games in one season due to one injury during his four year career at Connecticut. Furthermore, Chip Kelly has shown a recent willingness to somewhat disregard injuries when it comes to adding players that fit his vision of what the Eagles can be. Jones will be a high-level player in the NFL for years to come, and the Eagles should have no hesitation in making him their first round pick on Thursday night.
Follow Sidelines and Headlines creator Ray Butler on Twitter: @RayButlerII