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2023 NFL Combine Notes: Nic Jones, cornerback, Ball State

Jones struggled initially, but cleaned up near the end of drills on Friday afternoon.

NFL: Combine Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Nic Jones was a surprise pro prospect in 2022, securing an anchor spot at the outside corner for Ball State after rehabbing an injury from the prior season which cut his year short. He finished with second-team all-MAC honors after proving to be one of the better shut-down corners in the conference, earning an invitation to the East-West Shrine Bowl.

Jones’ stock rose dramatically in Las Vegas, clamping receivers in one-on-one reps during practice and even hauling in an interception during the game. His cover ability especially jumps out on film, as he proved to be a relentless ballhawk who excelled in close-quarters.

A good Combine performance would go a long way to making Jones a potential rotational prospect. Friday afternoon proved to be a bit of a trial for Jones, but he managed to show some promise at the end.

Official Combine measurements (Difference from East-West Shrine Bowl in parenthesis):

  • Height: six feet (up one inch)
  • Weight: 189 lbs. (down two lbs,)
  • Hands: 10 inches (up one-eighth inch)
  • Arms: 32 and three-eighth inches (up one-eighth inch)
  • Wingspan: Recorded at 77 and five-eighth inches as of Shrine Bowl

Official Combine workout numbers:

  • 40-yard dash: 4.51 seconds
  • 10-yard dash: 1.57 seconds
  • Vertical jump: 34.5 inches
  • Broad jump: 10 feet, two inches
  • Three-cone drill: Did not participate
  • Shuttle drill: Did not participate
  • Bench press: Did not participate

What did we see?

Jones noticeably slipped several times on the outside read-and-react drill, also dropping the ball on the catch attempt. Jones made up for it on the second go-around, but he did slip in his attempt to keep possessino of the ball inbounds and struggled to get back up. The “W” drill, which typically tests inside acumen, also did not treat Jones kindly, as he slipped on his first attempt and then looked stiff before dropping the ball on the second try.

The gauntlet was also a challenge, as Jones couldn’t high point one ball, which took him off the line and resulted in him wobbling towards the balls in anticipation. The last ball he particularly jumped in front off to try and get a solid return.

He made up for his initial poor performance in later drills, which were more natural to his play style. In the Teryl Austin short route drills, Jones changed direction efficiently and finished strong while holding on to the ball. A later iteration on a wheel look also got nice marks for Jones.

To put it succinctly, the moment might have been too big for Jones.

This is not to suggest that Jones will be a bust or that he wasn’t worth the hype; this class of cornerbacks is extremely deep and have posted numbers which make it amongst the best the NFL has seen in a decade. But it was clear that he was really pushing to prove himself and it resulted in some unnatural performances.

Jones is an interesting prospect; he’s a smart, aggressive defensive back who excels in jam press looks and likes to disrupt routes. Jones made his bread-and-butter anticipating the ball and cutting lanes to force turnovers or stops. It’s a skill which ported over to special teams, as he was responsible for several kick blocks in his career.

Jones will need to improve on his Combine performance during the Pro Day and private workouts to reclaim some of his draft stock, but the team which drafts him is probably getting someone who can be a special teams ace straightaway while being brought up to NFL speed on how to be a press-heavy corner in the pros.