Nebraska had just one player hear his name called during the 2017 NFL Draft in safety Nathan Gerry, and even he had to wait until day three as the Philadelphia Eagles took him in the fifth round.
That result had to be disappointing for a program that had seen multiple players selected in every draft since 1962. However, 2018 looks to be more promising for Huskers making it to the next level.
In 2015, running back Ameer Abdullah and defensive end Randy Gregory both went in the second round while defensive tackles Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine both went off the board in the third round of the 2016 draft.
Which Husker has the best chance of seeing his name called early? One NFL Draft writer thinks it is senior cornerback Chris Jones.
Jonah Tuls, an NFL Draft analyst for Draft Breakdown, dived into the film and highlighted 17 of the top cornerbacks heading into the 2017 season with an eye on next year’s NFL Draft. Tuls highlighted three players as top-tier talent, then included Jones with three others in his “Promising Senior Prospects” category.
Jones has solid size for a cornerback at 6-foot and 185 pounds and is certainly a plus athlete. He finished 2016 with 37 tackles, including 33 solo and three for loss, three interceptions and 10 pass break-ups.
Tuls is very complimentary of Jones’ patience, technique, eye discipline and scheme versatility. Jones is very good at making plays when the ball is in front of him and Tuls called him one of the best open-field tacklers in the 2018 draft class thanks to his speed and control.
Huskers fans saw first hand how good Jones was this past season after he earned his way onto the field midway through his redshirt sophomore season. In Mike Riley’s first season at Nebraska, defensive coordinator Mark Banker and secondary coach Brian Stewart gave the benefit of the doubt to upperclassmen Jonathan Rose and Daniel Davie to start the season, but as the team struggled Jones worked his way into a starting role and has progressed rapidly since.
Jones looked every bit of a lock-down corner to start the 2016 season as teams rarely targeted him and when they did, the ball rarely got through to the receiver. Jones fell off a bit in the second half and ultimately decided to return for his senior season rather than testing the NFL waters last year.
For as good as Jones has been, he is not yet a complete player. According to Tuls, he struggles to make plays on the ball over his shoulder, and that is something that has seemed to plague Nebraska’s secondary as a unit over the last couple of years. The problem was at its worst two years ago when defensive backs were in position more often than not but failed to make a play on the ball, giving up big completions at the wrong times.
Jones has this offseason to work on that area of his game and perhaps new cornerbacks coach Donte Williams can help in that area. No prospect is ever perfect, and there is more than enough to like about Jones even with that weakness.
“Nonetheless, Jones is still one of the most technically advanced and NFL-ready cornerbacks in this class who does not get enough attention from the national media,” writes Tuls.
You won’t find Jones’ name on any early cornerbacks rankings for the 2018 Draft (I’ve looked), which is probably what Tuls was referring to with that last line. However, despite the lack of attention by the media in general at this early stage, Jones has the tools and the pedigree to make a run at being an early draft pick.
Thanks Jacob. Yes, it is definitely early, but I think he could make his way into Day 2. https://t.co/V05cde7fSW
— Jonah Tuls (@JonahTulsNFL) July 12, 2017
With good health and a bit more development, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see Jones hear his name called in the second or third round.
Jones isn’t the only defensive back with NFL aspirations. Joshua Kalu has his eye on the league and the physical tools to attract attention. The move to safety could be a brilliant one for his future. More opportunities to kick field goals this year could get Drew Brown onto NFL teams’ radars considering his family pedigree and the accuracy he displayed last year. Marcus Newby is a workout warrior and could get a look based on his tools. And of course someone like Tanner Lee or Nick Gates could be an early entree with a great season.
But if you’re looking for one guy to put your money on as Nebraska’s top NFL Draft prospect, look no further than Chris Jones.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.