Eight weeks ago a tall football player with floppy, blond hair who looked like he could use some sleep stepped to the starting line of the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. This wasn't one of those guys who stretched and fidgeted and took a bunch of deep breaths before he ran. He got down in his stance, and boom! He was gone. The scouts at the finish line barely had time to set their watches before he took off. � "It was funny," recalls Matt Jones, the most intriguing player in an NFL draft that is full of uncertainty. "I'm 6'6" and 242, and the scouts all asked me what time did I think I was going to run. I told them I ran a 4.41 three weeks ago, and they chuckled. I'm sure most of them thought I'd run a 4.6, maybe a 4.5. But I knew I'd have the adrenaline, and when I was running, I felt like it was the best 40 I ever ran. What better stage to do it on?"
The combine's hand timer clocked Jones at 4.37. The electronic timer showed 4.40. One scout at the finish line also got 4.40, but he figured it had to be wrong, so he turned to a counterpart from another team and asked what he had. "Four-three-eight," came the reply.
Jones, a quarterback at Arkansas, doesn't throw the ball well enough to be a top prospect at that position. He'll probably enter the league as a wide receiver, though if you talk to 10 NFL coaches and general managers, you'll get five or six different answers about where he should play. This much is clear: We haven't seen this type of player come around in a long time. "I've been preparing for drafts since the late '50s," says Gil Brandt, the former Dallas Cowboys player personnel director and now an analyst for NFL.com and Sirius NFL radio, "and there hasn't been a player this big this fast." Of the 129 players at the combine who play the speed positions--wide receiver, running back, defensive back--only seven were electronically timed at under 4.40.
So when the two-day draft begins this Saturday in New York City, one of the biggest questions will be this: Who's bold enough to use a high pick-- Jones is likely to be selected sometime between the middle of the first and second rounds--on a guy who, during a four-year college career, had far more dunks playing part time for the basketball team (22) than he had catches for the football team (four)? Change-of-position projections are always difficult; ask the St. Louis Rams, who picked Heisman-winning quarterback Eric Crouch in the third round in 2002 and watched him flounder at receiver.
And what is the best position for a guy who has never blocked and rarely made a reception?
"Wide receiver," says Houston Texans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer. "You see size, great speed, the fact he played basketball in the SEC. You wonder, Is this guy another Terrell Owens?"
"I think he's a safety," says Rams coach Mike Martz says. "The range, the speed, the competitiveness.... I think he'd be a very good defensive player."
"He's a Slash guy, a quarterback/receiver like Kordell Stewart was," says Carolina Panthers coach John Fox. "If someone had big brass ones, they'd suit him up as the second quarterback, give him his own package as a receiver and make him a core special teams player. Let's say you used him as the personal protector on the punt team, the up man. The defense would have no idea how to defend him. I think he'd make so many plays, but not at a single position."
"I thought at the Senior Bowl he looked like an H-back, or maybe a red-zone wide receiver because of his height," says Texans general manager Charley Casserly.
"I could see him as a situational running back, a quarterback and a receiver," says Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. "With Matt you'll only be limited by how creative you can be."