Published April 17, 2013
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – Most of us love a good value, and if the NFL was considering a Google Offers promotion for the draft, Alabama center Barrett Jones might be the player it features.
Get a first round-round talent for second-round money, the popular app might read.
Jones, who is regarded as the third-best lineman from the mighty Crimson Tide in this draft behind all-everything guard Chance Warmack and possible first- round tackle D.J. Fluker, will likely settle in as a second-round choice because of the position he currently plays.
Centers are just not valued all that much around the NFL because you don't need a ton of athleticism or movement skills to excel at the position. It's a far more cerebral job and the things that help you succeed in the pivot, like technique, leverage and savvy, can be developed with sound and patient coaching as long as you have the mental aptitude for the gig.
Of course, Jones is far more than your run-of-the-mill center. He earned first- team All-SEC honors in 2010 while playing right guard before being asked to move to the all-important left tackle position in 2011, where he won the Outland Trophy as the nation's top lineman and was a consensus All- American as the Tide won their first of back-to-back national championships.
"They were all tough," Jones said when asked what was the most difficult position to play. "But I'd say probably left tackle. That's just a tough position. I played that in 2011. Especially in the SEC, you're going against elite pass rushers. It's a tough position to pick up in a few months, but I did all right."
Alabama coach Nick Saban moved Jones again in 2012, this time to center, where he started all 14 games as the Tide captured their third national crown in four years. He was again a consensus All-American and first-team All-SEC performer, closing out his career with a strong performance against Notre Dame star and Heisman Trophy runner-up Mantei Te'o despite playing with torn ligaments in his left foot.
"You've got to realize you can't control that," Jones said of his injury. "I can't control that I was hurt. I just have to focus on the things I can control."
Whether at guard, tackle or center, Jones has proven to be dependable against the very top tier of competition at the college level and his versatility shouldn't be underestimated as he prepares to take the next step.
"When you play a lot of positions, it allows you to learn the offense from different perspectives," he said. "You stop memorizing the offense and start understanding it. That's the biggest reason playing center mentally wasn't that big a challenge. I understood the offense and what we were trying to accomplish."
Jones has gotten comfortable with the idea of playing inside at the next level, which is important because tackles and guards tend to earn more money than centers, something which could generate some resentment in a player who thinks he can toil at a more high-profile spot.
"Right now, I'm definitely most comfortable at center," Jones remarked. "I really like center because I enjoy the mental part of it. It's the most mentally challenging offensive line position. Just to be honest, I'm kind of a control freak. I like that aspect, to be in control. And kind of point out to other people their assignments."
An offensive line prospect with intelligence, toughness and technique?
Sure sounds like a first-round pick and one lucky NFL team is about to get a bargain by selecting Jones, a player who ranks as one of the soundest prospects in the entire process.
"I had a really great career (at Alabama)," Jones said. "Obviously, that means nothing (moving forward). I'm just trying to go to the next chapter."
THE 2013 NFL DRAFT: TSN'S TOP CENTERS
1. - Barrett Jones, Alabama
2. - Travis Frederick, Wisconsin
3. - Brian Schwenke, California
4. - Braxston Cave, Notre Dame
5. - Khaled Holmes, Southern California
6. - Matt Stankiewitch, Penn State
7. - P.J. Lonergan, LSU
8. - Eric Kush, California (Pa.)
9. - Lamar Mady, Youngstown State
10. - T.J. Johnson, South Carolina
SKILL REPORT: THE CENTERS
Best Pass Blocker: Barrett Jones, Alabama
Best Run Blocker: Travis Frederick, Wisconsin
Best Athlete: Brian Schwenke, California
Smartest: Barrett Jones, Alabama
Strongest: T.J. Johnson, South Carolina
Underrated: Eric Kush, California (Pa.)
THE 2013 NFL DRAFT: TSN'S TOP GUARDS:
1. - Chance Warmack, Alabama
2. - Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
3. - Larry Warford, Kentucky
4. - Justin Pugh, Syracuse
5. - Brian Winters, Kent State
6. - Alvin Bailey, Arkansas
7. - Hugh Thornton, Illinois
8. - Earl Watford, James Madison
9. - J.C. Tretter, Cornell
10. - Jeff Baca, UCLA
SKILL REPORT: THE GUARDS
Best Pass Blocker: Chance Warmack, Alabama
Best Run Blocker: Chance Warmack, Alabama
Best Athlete: Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
Strongest: Eric Herman, Ohio
Underrated: J.C. Tretter, Cornell