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Keeping up with the Jones'

Arizona grabs Virginia RB, pair of Volunteers

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Posted: Sunday April 16, 2000 12:39 AM

  Thomas Jones The Cardinals believe Thomas Jones (above) compares favorably to Marshall Faulk and Fred Taylor. AP

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - Hoping to rev up one of the worst ground games in the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals made quick, elusive Thomas Jones of Virginia the seventh pick overall in Saturday's draft.

Jones, who earned his degree in psychology in three years and set an Atlantic Coast Conference record with six 200-yard rushing games, is the first running back selected by the Cardinals in the first round since they 1993, when they drafted Garrison Hearst only to cut him three years later.

"I wasn't surprised at all," Jones said. "I talked to the Cardinals at the combine and I think we were real excited about each other."

Arizona went to the University of Tennessee for defensive help in the second and third rounds. They chose Raynoch Thompson, a 6-foot-2, 217-pound outside linebacker, in the second round (1st overall). Thompson's teammate Darwin Walker, a 6-2, 293-pound defensive tackle, was Arizona's third-round choice (71st overall).

Jones gained 3,998 yards in his college career, fourth-most ever in the ACC. As a senior, he rushed for a school record 1,908 yards.

Cardinals First-Round Draft Picks
Year  Player  Pos  School 
2000  Thomas Jones  RB  Virginia 
1999  David Boston  WR  Ohio State 
1999  L.J. Shelton  OT  Eastern Michigan 
1998  Andre Wadsworth  DE  Florida State  
1997  Tom Knight  CB  Iowa 
1996  Simeon Rice  DE  Illinois 
1995  NO PICK       
1994  Jamir Miller  LB  UCLA 
1993  Garrison Hearst  RB  Georgia  
1993  Ernest Dye  South Carolina 
1992  NO PICK       
1991  Eric Swann  DL    
1990  NO PICK       
1989  Eric Hill  LB  Louisiana State 
1989  Joe Wolf  OL  Boston College 
1988  Ken Harvey  LB  California 
1987  Kelly Stouffer  QB  Colorado 
1986  Anthony Bell  LB  Michigan State 
1985  Freddie Joe Nunn  LB  Mississippi 
1984  Clyde Duncan  WR  Tennessee 
1983  Leonard Smith  CB  McNeese State 
1982  Luis Sharpe  UCLA 
1981  E.J. Junior  LB  Alabama 
1980  Curtis Greer  DE  Michigan 
1979  Ottis Anderson  RB  Miami 
1978  Steve Little  Arkansas 
1977  NO PICK       
1976  Mike Dawson  DT  Arizona 
1975  Tim Gray  CB  Texas A&M 
1974  J.V. Crain  TE  Colorado 
1973  Dave Butz  DT  Purdue 
1972  Bobby Moore  WR  Oregon 
1971  Norm Thompson  DB  Utah 
1970  Larry Stegent  RB  Texas A&M 

The Cardinals, who ranked 29th out of 31 teams in rushing last season, will list hard-running but injury-prone Michael Pittman as the first-team tailback. Coach Vince Tobin said Jones will have a chance to win the starting job.

"He brings a little different style of football to the table than Michael does, which I think is always good," Tobin said, "to have two different type of backs to give defenses a different set of problems to deal with. He has great shiftiness and quickness in the open field to make people miss."

Cardinals general manager Bob Ferguson worried that someone would trade up to get Jones ahead of Arizona. No trades materialized, then Baltimore chose running back Jamal Lewis of Tennessee at No. 5, then Philadelphia picked defensive tackle Corey Simon of Florida State.

The way was cleared for the Cardinals to get Jones, one of seven children who grew up in a large family in Big Stone Gap, Va., where his father works in his prison and his mother worked for many years in a coal mine.

"It's a great story," Ferguson said. "It really is. It's one of those great things for a family. He is that kind of guy. He fits what Vince likes in a person. He fits what we like in a player."

Ferguson had several reasons he believed Jones was a better pick than the other three top running backs -- Lewis, Ron Dayne and Shaun Alexander.

"His play-making ability on his own," Ferguson said. "His ability to be elusive in the open field. You saw the highlights. He has great feet. He's 205 pounds, but he's not a big back. If anything, that's the real concern, but he's got great durability for a guy his size.

"He's got explosive quickness. He loves the game. He's a great team player. He wants to be here."

The 5-foot-10 Jones, who patterns his game after that of Marshall Faulk, said he is not concerned about the Cardinals' reputation for being difficult to deal with over contracts. Jones' agent, Tom Condon, also represents Tom Knight, a first-round pick in 1997 and the only Arizona first-rounder in the last four years to sign a contract before the start of training camp.

"As far as I'm concerned, the first day of mini-camp, the first day of training camp, I'm there it," Jones said.

Thompson and Warren have played on the Cardinals' home field at Sun Devil Stadium twice. Tennessee beat Florida State for the national championship there in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl, and the Vols lost to Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl this year.

Thompson has a history of overcoming injuries and other medical problems. Last season, he came back from double-hernia surgery without missing a game.

"I can't stand being away from the game, so injuries don't slow me down, unless it's a major injury," Thompson said. "I just love playing the game."

Walker had expected to be chosen higher.

"Absolutely, I was very disappointed," he said. "But I'm very happy with the Arizona Cardinals. I love the city of Phoenix. Now I've got to prove to the rest of the NFL that they made a big mistake."

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