Jones expects to contribute right away
Jaws dropped around the country when NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced on Saturday afternoon that the Jacksonville Jaguars had exercised the 21st overall pick in the first round to grab Matt Jones.
And, it seems, about taking it with a young and ascendant team.
"Really, I didn't have much of a clue about (Jacksonville's interest)," said Jones, clearly one of the draft pool's most compelling prospects. "I don't know that they paid any more attention to me than most teams did. I read all the same stuff everyone else did, that some team down around the bottom (of the first round) might take me. Until the Jaguars called to say they were taking me, I was kind of in the dark. But the surprise was a pleasant one when they called, because they are definitely a team on the rise."
And fittingly, Jones, who seems undeterred by the specter of learning a new position, certainly is a player whose stock skyrocketed dramatically the past couple months. As reported by ESPN.com earlier in the week, one team simply had the citation "A-T-H" next to Jones' name on its draft board, scout-ese for "athlete."
With the Jaguars, who had been rumored to be fixated on a cornerback as their first-round choice, the roster notation next to Jones' name will read "WR." That's a lot of faith to put in a player whose college career included just four catches for 58 yards. Then again, it's hard to ignore the 8,392 total yards for which Jones accounted in four standout seasons as Arkansas' best offensive player.
Harder still, allowed Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, to ignore the incredible "measurables" of which Jones is possessed.
At 6-feet-6¼ and 242 pounds, Jones ran a 4.37 time in the 40-yard dash at the combine workouts in Indianapolis two months ago. His vertical jump has been measured at an NBA-level 42 inches. Those drill performances held up in subsequent auditions for NFL scouts. And, apparently, every time Jones worked out for teams at the wideout position, he looked increasingly comfortable.
"He's got some 'wow' to him," Del Rio said. "You don't see guys that big running that fast and making the kind of natural, athletic plays that he does."
Jones' résumé is certainly filled with big plays and huge numbers. He accounted for 77 touchdowns in his career, with 53 scoring passes and 24 touchdown runs. He is the SEC career leading rusher for a quarterback and averaged 182.43 all-purpose yards, including a 245.0 yards in 2004.
Scouts began to suspect that Jones might be able to play wide receiver when he moved to the position for the Senior Bowl all-star game in January. And then, of course, when he had such a blistering 40 time at the scouting combine, the notion mushroomed. Last Friday, when the Philadelphia Eagles sneaked into town with a large scouting contingent, and having dragged backup quarterback Mike McMahon along to throw to Jones, word is that he was all but flawless in catching the ball.
But even the confident Jones is aware that he has a long way to go before he is nearly as polished, especially in the nuances of the position, as prospects who have played it all of their careers.
Jacksonville's selection of Matt Jones is the worst pick of the first round. He is a huge reach at No. 21. Since former Arkansas QB is making the transition to a receiver position, Jones is a developmental player and a second-round choice at best. His height, size, and speed make Jones an attractive prospect with good upside, but his negatives outweigh his positives for this high of a selection.
Although he proved he could catch at the Senior Bowl, Jones has no experience blocking, questionable practice habits and a flaky personality. He could develop into a Joe Jurevicius-type slot or No. 3 receiver.
The Jaguars, who statistically ranked No. 19 in passing offense in 2004, will attempt to accelerate the learning curve. Outside of the venerable Jimmy Smith, who still notched 74 catches for 1,224 yards in 2004 at the age of 35, the Jaguars wide receiver contingent is suspect. Jacksonville chose a wide receiver, Reggie Williams, in the first round in 2004 and the ninth overall pick in the draft had only 27 catches as a rookie.
Even with his lack of experience and exposure at wide receiver, there is a feeling more will be expected from Jones, who is regarded as freakishly athletic. With his size and speed, Jones will be a difficult matchup for any secondary. And he will provide three-year veteran quarterback Byron Leftwich with a huge and intriguing dimension in a passing game that needs to get better if the Jaguars are to reach the playoffs.
Certainly, Jones expects a lot of himself. Whatever the pace of evolution from passer to pass-catcher, he wants to hasten the process.
"Nobody wants to hear about how I'm going to have to learn a new position and stuff like that," Jones said on Saturday evening. "People don't draft you so you can make excuses. They expect you to make plays and that's what I plan to do."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.