Jacoby Jones might not be a household name from a major Division I football program, but the wide receiver from Lane College, a tiny Division II school in Jackson, Tenn., could be one of a handful of small-college players picked in the NFL draft next month.
Jones has drawn comparisons to New Orleans Saints rookie wide receiver Marques Colston, a seventh-round pick out of Division I-AA Hofstra. Colston started 12 games for the Saints, catching 70 passes for 1,038 yards and eight touchdowns. He was one of the league's best rookies, along with teammate Reggie Bush and Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young.
"I've heard a lot of people compare me to Marques Colston," Jones said. "It makes me feel good because he didn't come from a big school, but he proved that he could play in the NFL. I think he helps players like me and others from small schools. And that's what I'm trying to do. I want to make it. This way I can help somebody else."
Jones made quite a name for himself in the historically black Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, competing against colleges such as Morehouse, Tuskegee and Fort Valley State.
As a senior, Jones was selected as the conference offensive player of the year and most valuable player. He led the SIAC in receiving yards per game (74.7), receptions per game (6.18), receiving touchdowns (6), all-purpose yards (189.9) and punt return average (13.8). He returned two kickoffs and a punt for touchdowns, and finished second in the conference in scoring with 10 TDs. He also had 68 receptions for 822 yards, helping the Dragons finish with an 8-3 record.
As a result, Jones was one of four players not from a Division I-A school invited to the combine in Indianapolis, and the only player from the SIAC. He turned some heads when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds. After the combine, Jones played in the East-West Shrine Game, where he caught four passes for 57 yards. He also played in the North-South All-Star Game.
"I don't see where there's much difference between Division I and II," Jones said. "I think the biggest thing is the speed of the game. The guys move a little quicker and they're a little bigger. Other than that, I don't see a big difference in the level of play."
Jones grew up in New Orleans, La., where he attended Marion Abramson High School. A track star in high school, he didn't play a lot of football during his scholastic years. He originally accepted a track scholarship to Southeastern Louisiana, then transferred to Lane College and walked on the Dragons' football team.
"I did well in track. I got a scholarship. But I always wanted to play football. So, I had a cousin Everett Jones who was playing basketball for Lane College," Jones said. "I never heard of Lane. I asked my cousin if they had a football team. He told me they did. That's when I decided to come and try out for the team."
Jones was only 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds coming out of high school, but had a tremendous growth spurt during his college career. He is now 6-2 and weighs 195 pounds.
"I'm glad I got bigger," Jones said. "I remember catching a pass my freshman year and the defensive back just reached out, grabbed me and just threw me down. I knew then it was time to get in the weight room."
Lane College head coach Johnnie Cole believes Jones has all the skills to play in the NFL, and he knows something about coaching pro football players. Prior to coming to Lane College, Cole coached at Tennessee State. The Division I-AA school from the Ohio Valley Conference has sent several players to the NFL, including his nephew, Trent, who plays defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles, as well as Michael Thompson, Avion Black and Robert Tate.
"I've seen some good ones over the years. Jacoby is certainly one of them. He has a lot of talent. He has great speed. He has great hands. He can get open and make plays in the open field," Cole said
"His best football is in front of him. He's gotten bigger and stronger each year. I think that's been a big factor in his development. He's going to work out for a lot of teams between now and the draft. I believe more people are going to find out more about him. He's a special person."
Donald Hunt is a sports writer at the Philadelphia Tribune.