Published January 13, 2015
You might call it swagger versus speed when discussing Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones and his NFL draft prospects.
Jones, however, is facing a few more hurdles than just a bad 40-time.
The confident two-time All-American is certain he belongs at the very top of anyone's draft board, and wasn't shy in voicing that opinion after Georgia's pro day on Thursday.
"At the end of the day I think I'm the number one player (in the draft)," the 6-foot-2, 242-pound hybrid told D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal- Constitution.
A bold statement considering he just finished a very disappointing workout, one in which he ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.9-second range, a painfully slow time for a player projected as an edge pass rusher.
Jones, of course, didn't run at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis so his pro day was an opportunity to solidify his somewhat shaky draft position. Some experts have tabbed Jones as a top-five player and others have him slipping closer to the end of the first round.
The film he put together with the Bulldogs is certainly impressive, so much so that a number of teams selecting in the top five like Kansas City, Philadelphia and Detroit have all scheduled visits with the Richland, Ga., native.
When the dust settled on Thursday, however, Jones was given an official time of 4.85 in the 40, something which will set off alarm bells for certain scouts.
"I think a 4.9 is a red flag," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "I talked to a lot of coaches and scouts and they all said the same thing: 'Wow. A lot slower than we expected.'"
Remember the-sky-is-falling mentality when Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o ran his 40-yard dash at the Combine and was clocked at 4.82 seconds. And Te'o is an inside linebacker, not a guy expected to chase down quarterbacks like Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick in space.
Jones apologists quickly brought up the name of Terrell Suggs, a premier pass rusher in college at Arizona State who had comparable speed to Jones when coming out in the 2003 draft.
The Baltimore Ravens ignored the whispers downplaying Suggs' athleticism, drafted him with the 10th overall pick and the rest is history. Baltimore has watched Suggs develop into one of the NFL's best defenders, culminating with Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2011 and a Super Bowl championship this past season.
Former NFL general manager and current NFL Network talking head Charley Casserly was one of those citing Suggs when discussing Jones' ceiling as a player. Casserly offered one cautionary note, though, pointing out that the Ravens star is bulkier and stronger than Jones with a playing weight of around 260 pounds.
When pressed, Casserly, who was a part of four Super Bowl teams during his 23- year career in the Washington Redskins front office, said he couldn't remember any linebackers succeeding in the NFL with Jones' size-speed ratio.
Complicating things further is Jones' position on the field. He played in a 4-3 at Georgia, but could be a better fit in a 3-4 rush scheme with fewer responsibilities.
Detractors label him a tweener, unable to handle the pass coverage responsibilities of a traditional 4-3 linebacker, and a guy who lacks the bulk and perhaps the closing speed to take on a Suggs-like role.
Jones, on the other hand, plays up his versatility.
"I feel like I'm an impact player. I make plays," he said. "I think I bring versatility to the team. I can play Sam linebacker. I can play Will linebacker. I can play 4-3. I can play a 3-4. I'm just gonna get after you. I'm gonna get after the QB every play."
The final question surrounding Jones might be the most delicate -- his medical condition.
Jones has been diagnosed with spinal stenois, an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal.
"I have a slight narrowing in my spine between the C4 and C5 (vertebrae)," Jones said when interviewed at the combine. "Like pretty much everybody -- probably some of y'all have spinal stenosis and don't know it -- I have it."
Here's the difference: People like me can write a column on Jarvis Jones with spinal stenois and it's not going to result in pain, numbness and loss of motor control -- things that could happen on the football field in a worse-case scenario.
Hall of Fame Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin was forced to retire in 1999 after being diagnosed with spinal stenosis and suffering a scary injury in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"Anybody who steps on that field has a chance of getting hurt," Jones said. "If you think about it like that, nobody would ever play football. For me, I'm just taking advantage of the opportunity. I love this game. I'm passionate about it. I know that I've got to be careful about my technique and how I play this game."
In the end, Jones' poor showing in Athens on Thursday probably knocked him down a bit on most draft boards. But, it only takes one team to believe.
"There a lot of things I just can't control," Jones said. "I'm just gonna stay prayed up about it. I think I have a great supporting cast from my family and my friends.
"I just gotta sit and wait now."