How do you measure heart?
The NFL Combine and workouts with individual teams can ascertain a slew of measurables about a player, like how many times he can lift 225 pounds, his speed in the 40-yard dash, how many inches he can elevate on a standing vertical jump, along with how quickly he can complete a numbing series of cone drills and shuttle runs.
But what does that really tell you? Those elements factor into the equation, but don’t paint the entire picture.
Alabama cornerback and kick returner Cyrus Jones performed pretty well at his workouts in front of NFL scouts, but you’ll constantly hear, leading up to the Draft, that he doesn’t possess the ideal size and length for an NFL corner. Or perhaps it’s that he doesn’t have the recovery quickness or man-cover speed to excel at the elite level, that big receivers will go up and over him in NFL end zones.
Bet against him if you want to, but do so with caution.
Some executive will look at the previous analysis and shrug, focusing instead on a highlight reel that exudes the heart and determination, along with the cover skills and a blistering awareness and execution as a kick and punt returner that NFL coaches covet.
Projected as an early-to-mid round selection, Jones possesses the confidence and toughness to mix it up within the one-on-one combat zone of the secondary, and the intelligence and personality that makes him well-liked inside the locker room. It’s an ideal combination.
If you’ve watched Cyrus Jones over the years, before the national championships and notoriety that accompanied him at the country’s premier program at the University of Alabama, before playing in the nation’s best football conference, the SEC, you knew you were watching the beginning stages of something truly special athletically.
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Jones played five positions and earned the Baltimore Sun’s All-Metro Offensive Player of the Year honors by gaining 2,365 all-purpose yards and scoring 24 touchdowns during his senior season at the prestigious Gilman School in Baltimore, Maryland.
He also won individual track and field titles in the 100 and 200-meter dashes in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association championships. Jones was also the basketball program’s career leading scorer.
Basketball seemed like his destiny early on, as his father, Cyrus Jones, Sr., is one of Baltimore’s most well-known names within the city’s accomplished hoops community. The father not only learned his lessons well, he imparted that knowledge to his son with sincerity and a level of commitment that should be a case study in father-son relationships.
“Every negative I had in my life, I used as motivation,” Cyrus, Sr., told ESPN in 2011. “From my father not being around, I always made sure I’d be around my kids and guide them so they could develop and grow.”
Cyrus, Sr. won a scholastic national championship as the point guard at Baltimore’s legendary Dunbar High School during his own decorated prep career, but he still simmers with self-disappointment at not taking his academics seriously and failing to qualify to play D-I basketball with the school that he signed with, Clemson University. He had to spend two years in junior college before qualifying to play college ball for two seasons at West Virginia University.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Now the head basketball coach at Dunbar, Cyrus, Sr. was determined that Cyrus, Jr. would understand the importance of academic self-motivation from day one. The son went on to become an accomplished student, along with his wondrous athletic gifts, and chose Alabama over other scholarship offers from Auburn, Florida, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Miami, Maryland, West Virginia and Penn State, among many others.
He played sparingly on offense as a true freshman with the Crimson Tide, but shined on special teams during their 2012 National Championship season. He switched from receiver to cornerback as a sophomore and had 25 tackles, seven passes defended and two interceptions in 2013.
Jones, despite a torn labrum in his hip that hampered him throughout the 2014 season, started all 14 games and was a second-team All-SEC pick as a junior with three interceptions, 13 pass deflections and 46 tackles.
This past season, he again started every game, returned an NCAA-leading 42 punts and finished with 37 tackles, nine passes defended and two interceptions. Four of those punt returns were taken back for touchdowns: a 57-yarder against Michigan State, a 69-yard score at Mississippi State and 43 and 72-yard returns against Charleston Southern .
He was easily among the country’s best punt returners and corners, anchoring a secondary that ranked eighth nationally and that was second in the SEC in pass efficiency defense.
Against Michigan State in the Playoff Semifinal Cotton Bowl game, Cyrus was named the Crimson Tide’s Defensive Most Valuable Player. He also returned 5 punts for 80 yards in the 38-0 victory, including the aforementioned 57-yard TD. With the Spartans driving toward the end zone at the end of the first half, his goal-line interception snuffed out a scoring opportunity that could have changed the complexion of the game.
Against Clemson in the National Championship, he made five tackles and broke up a pass in the Crimson Tides exciting 45-40 win over the Tigers, securing the programs 16th national title.
If you want a player that’s excelled on the biggest possible stage, who’s taken on the biggest possible challenge and succeeded, who’s absorbed the lessons from his father to open up a pathway that could make his dreams come true, you want a player like Cyrus Jones, Jr.