It is rarely news when NFL prospects rise and fall during the five months of poking and prodding that occurs between their final college game and the draft, but every so often a player is so impressive during that period that football fans can’t help but wonder what he’ll do next.
Case in point: University of Connecticut cornerback Byron Jones, who may have pulled off the biggest turnaround (and turned the most heads) in this year’s pre-draft process.
A two-star recruit coming out of high school, Jones was able to land a scholarship with the Huskies and spent his first two seasons playing safety. Eventually, Jones was asked to move to corner – and that’s when things really started to take off. However, it wasn’t until the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine that Jones went from being a potential seventh-round pick to someone who could hear his name called on day one.
That’s because Jones not only broke the combine record in the broad jump at 12-feet, 3-inches – he also set a world record with the mark (it’s still unofficial, but, like, how many world records have you ever set?) Beyond that, Jones jumped 44.5″ in the vertical leap, which is only half-an-inch shy of tying the record, then ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at the UConn pro day.
With that one leap in February, Jones also jumped up NFL big boards ahead of this week’s draft. As he prepares for the next phase of his career, Rolling Stone caught up with the UConn corner to discuss his soaring stock, why size matters in the pros and just how he came to be known as “Mayor Jones”.
What has life been like since the combine?
It’s been great! It’s been fun talking to coaches and scouts in the NFL. I’ve been enjoying it. A lot of my friends who have already been through this process say the main idea is to enjoy it. So I’ve been enjoying the attention I’ve been getting.
Did you have any idea you were going to jump that far?
[Laughs] Uh, I knew I was going to jump far, but I had no idea I was going to jump over 12 feet. I was tying the record every time in training – I never got over 11’7″ – but I think it was just a combination of a big stage and being in front of all the coaches and big-time scouts that got the adrenaline going and I jumped as far as I could. I landed at 12’3″ and I was as surprised as everyone else!
Do you remember your thoughts when you found out it might actually be the world record, not just the combine record?
Well, coming into it I had no idea what the world record was. I didn’t even care about it; I was just going for the combine record. But it’s really cool to hold that honor. It’s still unofficial but that’s OK, I don’t care. It’s cool to hold that honor.
So after that, were you disappointed you didn’t get the combine record in the vertical?
A little bit, ’cause I didn’t realize I was that close. I saw Chris [Conley] jump 45″ and I was like, “Wow!” [laughs] I thought maybe I’d get 42, maybe 43. They don’t tell you the number until you’re done and when they said 44.5, I was like, “Awww, man.” It’s fine though; I gave it all I got, it’s not like I held up or anything. I jumped as high as I could.
So you’re a pretty competitive person?
Oh, I’m extremely competitive. Like I said, when I got my vertical and I saw that I had 44.5, I was pretty salty about it. But sometimes you just gotta let it go. It’s a big jump regardless, but I still want to beat Chris. We trained together, we knew we were both jumpin’ out the gym. I wanted to jump a little bit further, but he got me on that one.
Speaking of your competitive side, you weren’t highly recruited out of high school. At what point did you start to realize you had a shot at going to the NFL?
I think for me, it started during my junior year, after I switched to corner. I felt myself getting better and better each game – almost, you know, seeing that improvement each game. I kept building on top of that and told myself, “Hey, you know, I got a chance here. I gotta keep working. Keep doing what I’ve been doing.” I understood I had a chance to go to the next level. Really during my junior year is when I saw that. Saw this “light.”
You’re listed at 6-foot-1, you’ve got 32-inch arms – you fit the profile of bigger, faster cornerbacks like Richard Sherman. Do you see your size as an advantage?
Definitely. You see the trend shifting over to bigger and longer cornerbacks. That definitely plays in my favor, kind of like I came at the right time. But yeah, you use your length as much as you can at the line of scrimmage, use your size, obviously that length and size becomes an advantage when the ball is up in the air: you can go up and get it. I’m just excited to get an opportunity to play in a league where the trend is going over to longer cornerbacks.
You served as an intern in two political offices, both in Connecticut and Washington, D.C. Do you see a future in politics once your NFL career ends?
I enjoyed my time in Washington, D.C., definitely got some nice real-world experience, but for me, that’s a whole other beast down there. But I don’t know. I’m an open person – I’m also an economics minor, so I’d like to explore economic stuff as well. I probably wouldn’t run for office, but I’ll work behind someone, be on their staff.
What sort of traits and characteristics did you pick up during your internships that also apply to football?
You’ve got to be extremely determined. A lot of the staffers that I was interning with were just fresh out of law school. These people are smart, sharp individuals and working for very low wages, but they’re determined to climb up that ladder very fast. And that’s how I feel about the NFL. I’m determined to get on a team, start up the ladder and become a starter.
Your teammates at UConn called you “Mayor Jones”.
[Laughs] Yeah, I got it after the internship. Any time you major in political science everyone automatically assumes you want to be a politician, and that’s just not the case for me. But I’ll take it, you know, it shows that I have good leadership, that I’m a guy people look up to. I’ll fully take that title.