Currently projected as a third-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Cyrus Jones feels a little underappreciated. We can't say we blame him.
The Alabama cornerback was an All-SEC performer in 2014, despite playing the entire year with a torn hip labrum. Last season, he was the leader of an elite secondary that held opposing quarterbacks to a measly 49.1 completion percentage. Scrappy, tough and instinctive, Jones was an asset defending against both the run and the pass. He was also an explosive special teams performer, tallying four punt returns for touchdowns in 2015 (including this ankle-breaking, Spartan-soul-crushing gallop in the Cotton Bowl).
With all that going for him, why isn't Jones projected higher?
One word: size. At 5-foot-10, 197 pounds, Jones doesn't fit the mold of the tall, long-armed cornerbacks NFL teams now covet. Read any of the countless scouting reports on Jones available online, and you'll see some variation of "too short" or "lacks ideal height" listed as his biggest weakness. But doubt is nothing new to Jones. Despite entering last season as a two-year starter with an All-SEC selection under his belt, he was not among the 42 defensive backs named to the 2015 Jim Thorpe watch list. Call it little man syndrome if you'd like, but Jones's ferocious competitiveness and burning desire to prove himself are big reasons why he's been so successful. "[I've] always had a 'me against the world' mentality. That will never change," Jones said in a recent tweet.
STACK caught up with Jones at TEST Football Academy in Martinsville, New Jersey to talk about his college career and why he believes he'll be an elite cornerback at the next level.
STACK: While at Alabama, you trained under legendary strength coach Scott Cochran. How did Cochran help you progress?
Cyrus Jones: Coach Cochran is one of the best people I've been around. He's a great motivator, a great teacher. He really gets the best out of everyone that comes into that program. You come in as a freshman, and a lot of guys don't really lift heavy when they're in high school or don't have an advanced weight program. But he definitely helps you get acclimated and helps you perform to the best of your abilities by getting you stronger and faster.
Alabama has a long history of great defensive players. How does it feel to be part of it?
It feels good. That was one of the reasons I chose to go there, just knowing how serious football is down there and the passion everyone has for it. I wanted to be a part of that. Once I got down there, it met my expectations, if not exceeded them. Just being a part of something that's bigger than yourself and that a lot of people care about is a great feeling. And to be able to win a National Championship made it even better.
Is playing in the NFL something you've envisioned for a long time?
Definitely. I'm the type of guy who's always had high expectations for myself, and that's one of the reasons I chose to go to Alabama. Just the way I carry myself, I always set expectations high and demand excellence from myself. So I'm not surprised I'm in this position. It's definitely a humbling experience though, knowing that my hard work is going to pay off soon. Just gotta keep my head down and keep working and let the chips fall where they may when the Draft comes.
Some prospects change their diet when they transition from college life into training for the NFL. Have you changed your eating at all this off-season?
It hasn't changed too drastically. I've always been a guy who's tried to watch what I eat, especially at school. I think just more protein, lean protein and trying to cut out all the bad carbs and stuff like that. Just got to be real disciplined with my diet; that's really important. It's about maintaining your weight but also having enough energy to do what you've got to do in terms of training.
What is the toughest thing you've had to overcome to get to this point?
I think making a position change. That's definitely the toughest thing I've had to overcome. I came to Alabama as a receiver. I played corner in high school as well, but my first year of college I played receiver and then my second year I made the switch to corner. So just being able to make that transition and still have a great career, I definitely think that is a testament to how hard I work and what I've been able to accomplish.
How would you pitch yourself to an NFL team thinking about drafting you?
I'd just say I'm a person that lives and breathes football. I can't imagine myself doing anything different. My film speaks for itself. I just feel like I have those intangible things that you can't teach people. I'm very competitive, I'm self-driven, I know how to be around a team. I play with a chip on my shoulder when I step on the field. I try to prove everyone wrong that has something negative to say. I try to go out there and show that size doesn't matter.
What NFL players do you admire, and why?
I'm big on corners, obviously. I love Brent Grimes [listed at 5-foot-10] and Joe Haden [listed as 5-foot-11]. Guys like that who are closer to my size, because we get overlooked a lot nowadays. Teams want the big, long corners with the length, but seeing guys my size and even smaller going out there and getting the job done is motivation.
If you could offer one piece of advice to high school athletes, what would it be?
Listen to your parents and coaches and the people around you who are successful. They've been in your shoes, so listen to what they have to say. Choose your friends wisely, stay around the right people. In high school, you know right from wrong. So try to stay on the straight and narrow as much as you can and make the right decisions.
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