Arkansas QB-turned-WR is destined to succeed in NFL
Posted: Tuesday March 1, 2005 4:27PM; Updated: Tuesday March 1, 2005 5:24PM
Matt Jones is hoping his superb athleticism can make him an NFL wideout.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
To any NFL scout who is still not completely sold on Matt Jones, the Arkansas quarterback-turned-wide receiver, I direct these two words: Drew Bennett.
Last Sunday Jones, a four-year starter at quarterback for the Razorbacks, ran the fastest unofficial 40-yard dash for a QB in NFL Combine history. Jones ran a 4.41. To give you an idea of the relative speed, the next fastest QB, Louisville's Stefan LeFors, ran a 4.62.
The problem is, no one is really evaluating Jones as a quarterback. Rather, the 6-foot-6 Jones, who started 10 games for the Hogs' hoops team last season, is being prodded and poked as a talent at wideout. Jones switched positions for the Senior Bowl in Mobile last month and caught a touchdown pass.
It may seem odd that a three-year starter at QB in the SEC, a player with remarkable size (6-6, 248 pounds), obvious foot-speed (he is the SEC's career rushing leader among QBs with 2,535 yards) and all-around athletic ability, is not being evaluated at the position he played.
"I never thought I'd be throwing passes to Matt Jones," said All-SEC quarterback David Greene of Georgia during Senior Bowl week, "but it's pretty amazing what he can do as a wide receiver. Matt's just a natural athlete. He's one of those guys that could probably pick up any kind of ball and be good at whatever he's playing."
That is why Jones reminds me so much of Bennett, the 6-5 Tennessee Titans WR. Bennett walked on as a quarterback at UCLA and sat for a few seasons behind Cade McNown. When he finally got a chance to start, he floundered in three games. He was yanked in favor of Cory Paus, and switched positions. In his senior year of 2000, Bennett caught six passes for 96 yards and went undrafted. His teammate at the other end of the line of scrimmage, Freddie Mitchell, caught a team-high 77 passes and was selected 25th overall in the draft.
But Bennett was always both a natural athlete and a gamer. He lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Miramonte High School near Berkeley, Calif. His Bruin teammates would joke about how he had the best hops on the squad. Bennett once watched that Tiger Woods commercial in which Tiger bounces the ball with an iron and then whacks it; he went outside and practiced for a short while and had soon mastered the trick. Bennett even appeared with his roomies on a short-lived ABC game show, The Big Show (NCAA cops, relax: he wasn't on scholarship at the time), in which they were given a week to memorize trivia about the movie Ghost and then take an exam on it (they passed and won a big-screen TV).
In short, while Bennett didn't find his niche on the gridiron in Westwood, it was evident that he was both an athlete and a gamer. You find a spot for people like that. Four seasons later, by the way, McNown is out of the NFL. Mitchell has caught 90 passes in four seasons in Philly; Bennett had 80 receptions just this year (and 169 for his career).
Some NFL general manager may pass on Jones because he doesn't see him as a starting QB and is scared off by his inexperience as a receiver. Another GM will select Jones realizing he's getting two players for the price of one. Unlike Maurice Clarett, Jones is a guy who's already shown that he's willing to do anything to get on the field. As April approaches, Jones will be a name worth keeping up with.