The breakout star of the NFL combine is Byron Jones, a cornerback prospect from UConn who delivered an eye-popping performance in front of scouts on Monday.
He broke the combine broad jump record, and jumped higher than all but one prospect in the vertical leap.
After his performance, draft guru Mike Mayock called him a “verified freak” on NFL Network.
But less than two years ago, Dan Kadar of SB Nation reports, Jones was a normal college kid positioning himself for life after graduation. During spring break of his sophomore year, he went to work for Connecticut state representative Joe Aresimowicz in Hartford. He parlayed that into a summer internship with congresswoman Elizabeth Esty in Washington, UConn Today reported at the time.
He was an economics major, and wasn’t holding out much hope that he would have a career in football.
“I didn’t really see the picture,” Jones told Kevin Duffy of MassLive before his breakout combine performance. “A lot of people would tell me ‘Byron, you have the potential to be a great player,’ but at the time I didn’t really have a lot of confidence. I didn’t see it. I just wanted to focus on school, so I took care of my school things but as I got older, I saw that I did have some NFL potential.”
Jones did everything from working the front desk at Esty’s office and giving tours of the Capitol, the Associated Press reported in 2013.
Aresimowicz told the AP about Jones in 2013:
“He has this incredible work ethic. He also has this grasp of how to get people to work together, that was on display almost immediately. He was giving some pretty sound advice to some of us who have been doing this for quite a while.”
The season after those internships, Jones switched from safety to cornerback, and his football career began to take off. He started all 12 games as a junior. He was picked as team captain as a senior, and started the first seven games of the 2014 season before going down with a shoulder injury.
In an interview with MassLive, he credited long days working out with the George Washington University women’s basketball team while interning in Washington D.C. for his success:
“I had to wake up at 5 (a.m.), worked out at 7, had my job from 8 to 6. It took an hour and a half to get back because D.C. traffic is so ridiculous. And then I’d run from like 8 to 9. By 9 o’clock I’m done. Eat first, of course, but then go right to sleep. So a lot of it was built up internal motivation just to be a better player and I found myself out there every day doing it, grinding.”
Coming into the combine, projections on him were all over the place. NFL.com had him as the 25th-best cornerback in the class of 2015, while others thought he was one of the 50 best players in the draft.
On Monday, he blew everyone away. He jumped 12 feet, 3 inches in the broad jump, a combine record:
He jumped 44.5 inches in the vertical leap, only a half-inch below the highest jump of the combine:
He didn’t run the 40-yard dash because he’s still recovering from that shoulder injury. ESPN’s Todd McShay told the Union Tribune on a conference call that he can run a 4.3-second 40 — which would have been the fastest of the combine.
“He’s a really good 40 time away from having one of the better corner workouts we’ve ever seen,” said McShay.
A week before the combine he posted a slow-mo video of himself with the caption, “After three months of no running, I’m slowly getting my legs back.”
There’s much more to making it in the NFL than putting up crazy numbers in the combine. But on Monday he showed that he could be the pound-for-pound most physically gifted player in the entire draft. There’s no way he’s falling through the cracks now.