FOXBOROUGH — Nobody expected Byron Jones to be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft, especially after the Connecticut cornerback suffered a season-ending shoulder injury Oct. 23.
Then the redshirt senior did something at the Combine that had never been done before — ever, anywhere, by anyone — and he was back on the league's radar, shooting up mock draft boards.
The Cowboys made all that speculation a reality on Thursday night, drafting Jones with the No. 27 pick of the first round. It's the second time in program history that a UConn player has been a first-round draft pick; running back Donald Brown was also the 27th pick, by the Colts in 2009.
The 6-foot-1-inch, 199-pound Jones joins a Dallas team that went 12-4 last season, then won a game in the playoffs.
"I think it fits a need, and I think he's an explosive kid," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said after the pick was announced. "He's clean off the field, he plays hard. Like most tall corners, he's a little bit stiff, and he's a little bit raw. However, this kid can play corner, free safety, he can be a gunner on special teams. I think the people in Dallas, who need to rebuild the talent of that defense, were excited by this kid."
The Cowboys certainly saw what everyone else saw at the combine, when Jones soared 12 feet, 3 inches in the standing broad jump, a number that by all accounts is the longest ever recorded. At an event that gives players an opportunity to stand out by running, lifting, and jumping in front of coaches, scouts, and general managers, Jones took full advantage, and helped turn his performance into a first-night announcement by Roger Goodell, the NFL's commissioner.
Jones, who was born in New Britain, Conn., and graduated from St. Paul High School in Bristol, started 37 of 43 games for the Huskies, and finished his college career with eight interceptions. He had two as a senior, returning one 70 yards for a touchdown. Jones, who redshirted as a freshman in 2010, played his first two seasons at safety before switching to cornerback.
But it was his broad jump that had everyone talking at the combine. It was the first highlight of Jones shown after the Cowboys selected him.
"He literally jumped [farther] than any human being ever has in a broad jump, 12 feet 3, then he [vertical] jumped 45 inches," Mayock said. "You can see a little bit of tightness when he opens up, but that is typical of a tall, lean corner. He's gifted, he's explosive, and he'll help the Cowboys out immediately."
Jones is regarded as an instinctive player who has enough speed to cover and close. He'll need to refine his footwork — a noted weakness — but showed enough skill and smarts to convince Dallas he was worth a first-round pick.
He might get an opportunity to make an immediate impact. According to the Cowboys' team website, there is plenty of uncertainty at cornerback. Morris Claiborne is injured, Orlando Scandrick is threatening to hold out in a contract dispute, and Brandon Carr could be a salary cap casualty.
That could pave the way for Jones, who is the first Connecticut native to be selected in the first round since Dwight Freeney in 2002.
Jones is certainly ready to jump at the chance.