Jones Hoping For First-Round Call

FAYETTEVILLE -- Former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones has made countless appearances on ESPN programs like "Cold Pizza" the past few weeks.

He also is featured in the current issue of Sports Illustrated. His athletic exploits have graced the pages of the New York Times, New York Post, USA Today and countless other newspapers. Then there's the nicknames, "The Freak" and "The Matthlete," created because of his rare combination of size, speed and athleticism.

There's no doubt Jones has generated plenty of buzz around NFL circles since making the difficult move from quarterback to receiver look simple this spring.

Now he's hoping it will help him become a first-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

"There's 32 teams and you've just got to impress one," Jones said. "I hope I can impress the right one and go as high as I can."

The 6-foot-6, 242-pound Jones, who is regarded as one of this year's most intriguing pro prospects, will realize his pro football dreams sometime today. His destination is unknown, but, by many indications, the Fort Smith native, who turned 22 on Friday, is primed to become Arkansas' third, first-round selection in two years.

Agent Dave Butz II said that would be an impressive achievement for his client, who will have his day documented by ESPN and NFL Films cameras. Especially, Butz said, since Jones' pro prospects barely registered a blip on the radar last summer.

"They gave him a borderline, seventh round, free agent grade," Butz said about a national scouting service that evaluated Jones last July. "But (his rise) wasn't a surprise to us. We knew, obviously, he was a lot better than that the whole time.

"It has just been a matter of Matt doing what he needs to do, us doing what we need to do and then sitting back and enjoying the ride as everybody else woke up."

Jones began to make an impression after a senior season in which he led Arkansas in rushing and passing. He set the school record for touchdown responsibility and snapped the Southeastern Conference rushing record for quarterbacks (2,545 yards).

He turned heads at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., where he first made the move from quarterback to receiver, making impressive plays in practice in front of NFL personnel. But Jones took his biggest step by running the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in a blazing, unofficial hand-held time of 4.37 seconds.

That's when the NFL began to believe Jones had plenty of intriguing potential.

"I think he can play receiver," Dallas Cowboys owner and Arkansas alum Jerry Jones said at the combine. "I think he can play the H-back. It's very possible with his athletic ability, and what we ask tight ends to do, he can play tight end.

"It's not impossible (to play quarterback). When you look up at some of the things that we're doing and clubs are doing, you don't have to be the proto-type, drop-back passer to move the ball in the NFL today."

Said Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reece: "I tell you what, he's so talented. He's got a lot to learn. He's raw. But if you have time, you can play him in a lot of positions."

His exact role in the NFL isn't set in stone and will likely depend on which team drafts him, but Jones believes his first chance will be at receiver. He has soft hands, a 39 1/2-inch vertical leap and is a big target that can fight off smaller defensive backs.

After an entire career at quarterback, Jones' move to receiver or H-back could scare off some teams today. Others that don't have immediate needs might see the potential, grab Jones as early as possible and work with him.

"You're talking about a guy that's 242 pounds and runs a 4.3, 4.4 (40-yard dash)," said Tennessee receivers coach Ray Sherman, who attended Arkansas' on-campus pro date March 30. "That's impressive in itself. It's just a matter of time before he gets a feel of where he's going to fit in.

"Once he has a chance to get in that position, I think he's going to excel."

Jones believes his stock has been helped because of players like Tennessee's Drew Bennett and Pittsburgh's Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El. All three were college quarterbacks, but have made successful transitions to receiver.

Jones said he'd be a good fit for a creative offensive coordinator who wouldn't mind experimenting with him. But he's not even going to guess which team that might be in the unpredictable draft.

"I do have that top 10 list, top 5 list of teams that you like," Jones said. "But from what I've heard from people, a team that I didn't even talk to will end up drafting me and stuff. You don't even know what's going to happen.

"It's not like college where you can narrow it down, take your visits and choose."

Philadelphia sent a contingent, which included assistant head coach Marty Mornhinweg and quarterback Mike McMahon, to Fayetteville last Friday to work with Jones. The Eagles, who own the 31st pick and Pittsburgh, which owns the 30th, have often been mentioned as two teams that could select him in the first round.

Jones also has had private sessions or visits with Carolina, Washington, Cleveland, Chicago, San Diego, Houston and Tennessee over the past month.

"I think most guys will think outside the box and find something for him to do because he's so talented and is such a great player," said Houston offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, who has referred to Jones as an athlete that comes around once every 15 years. "I think he's going to be used all over the field. I think he's that talented. He can do so many things.

"He's a rare player and will have a great future."

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