There’s no telling how much more attention Mike Jones would’ve garnered following the CFL combine had his 40-yard dash time accurately depicted the true speed of the Southern University wide receiver.
Jones is a speedster, and his 4.62-second 40-yard dash at the combine, as a result of the laser timer undoubtedly being inaccurate, was a disappointment. He did, however, clock a 4.43 later at his pro day, and although that time is much better, a 40-yard dash time doesn’t justify just how exceptionally fast the diminutive, 5-foot-10 receiver really plays on the field.
In a class of receivers where no one has really stood out from the rest, the 40-yard dash was Mike Jones’ opportunity to differentiate himself from the pack of receivers and create some pre-draft hype of his own – at least to CFL fans and pundits, that is. CFL scouts know what he’s about, and whether or not he’s the first pass-catcher to hear his name called in the CFL draft, Jones could be the draft’s hidden gem at receiver this year.
If Jones isn’t the first or second receiver on team’s draft boards – excluding Tevaun Smith, who’s NFL bound – then he’s being underrated.
Simply put, Jones is a threat on every play, and that’s not just attributed to his lightning-fast speed. He’s constantly a threat because of his ability to take full advantage of his speed on every play to set defensive backs up in his route, something no other receiver can do as well as Jones, and something many really struggle with. The Bryan, Texas native drives off the line of scrimmage with his pads over his knees all the way into the top of his route, making himself completely unpredictable and constantly a threat to run a deep route.
Jones is able to do this better than any receiver due to his ability to stop on a dime. He’s extremely light on his feet and can break down from top-speed and into his cut in very, very minimal steps. Therefore, he doesn’t need to cheat into his route, and can press deep each and every time.
Jones threatens the deep route by keeping his shoulders square and legs in full stride all the way into the top of the route before breaking down faster than any receiver in this draft class. These abilities, combined with the craftiness of fellow draft-eligible receiver Llevi Noel in his route-running to step outside his halo and punch, makes him the best route-runner in the class. He’s not quite a complete route-runner – I’d like to see him show more burst out of his break among a few other nuances – but the closest there is in the 2016 draft class.
Despite missing most of his senior season with lingering injuries, Jones has ascended as potentially the first receiver off the board when the time comes at the CFL draft. His combine performance was excellent, as the track-star displayed all of his strengths as a route-runner, as well smooth running, good burst and a particular wiggle in his step.
It’s hard to find a knock on Jones before the ball is thrown, but he does lack an element of physicality and after-the-catch ability. Jones is easily brought down in the open field and doesn’t have the strength to fight for the ball in the air. But like a certain Chris Williams, he’s found a way to compensate for a lack of size at 5-foot-11, 178-pounds.
Jones puts on a clinic with his releases at the line of scrimmage, covering up for a lack of strength. He’s unpredictable and displays exceptionally quick footwork from a narrow stance. He influences defenders with his shoulders and shows a great burst out of his stutter-step, leaving poor defensive backs in the wind. He’s so fundamentally sound in his footwork, and in translates clearly into his routes and releases, which can seriously be clinics at times.
Jones has found a way to compensate for a lack of size when catching the ball, too. He has really solid ball-tracking skills in the air, and in short and intermediate patterns, he attacks the ball away from his body to prevent defensive backs from making plays. His hands aren’t the best in the class, but they’re good enough.
In a class of receivers with no bona-fide, blue-chip prospect with no NFL interest that’s a lock for the first round, the ability to play special-teams will have extra emphasis when evaluating receivers this year. While Jones lacks strength and physicality, he could still project as a situational punt returner, though his vision needs some coaching assistance.
That’s not to say he’s not a smart football player, though, as Jones has demonstrated the ability to read zone coverage in his routes and find soft spots. He understands route spacing, and was depended on to be in the right spot at the right time in Southern’s Air Coryell scheme. He’s more than a one-dimensional player, and despite his effectiveness on go-routes, runs a full route tree.
Although the hype isn’t there, Jones could be the drafts best-kept secret at receiver in a class of pass-catchers that’s far from being differentiated. And although he might not be the first, second or third receiver taken off the board, he has the potential to make the most impact on offense in his CFL career.
No receiver in this class is as good of a prospect as Nic Demski or Lemar Durant, but Mike Jones, who’s versatile in his sharp, clean route running, combines the skills of several of this year’s draft-eligible receivers to form perhaps the best, straight-up receiver in the 2016 CFL draft class.
If there’s one sleeper to keep an eye on, it’s Southern University’s Mike Jones.