Destination Jacksonville

FAYETTEVILLE -- Former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones criss-crossed the country after February's NFL scouting combine, showcasing his talents in private workouts for teams like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Chicago, Houston and Tennessee in preparation for the 2005 NFL Draft.

In the end, Jones joked that all the traveling was unnecessary. The first place he visited, Jacksonville, became his new NFL home.

"If I had known they were going to pick me, I would've stopped working out for other people," Jones said.

The quarterback-turned-receiver, who intrigued the NFL with his size, speed and athleticism the past five months, completed an unbelievable ride to the first round when the Jaguars selected him with the 21st pick Saturday. Surrounded by friends, family and ESPN and NFL Films camera crews in his parents' Van Buren home, Jones shattered the fifth-round grade he received at the end of his senior season and became the 20th first-round draft pick in Arkansas history.

He also became the Razorbacks' third, first-round draft pick in two years, joining 2004 selections Shawn Andrews (Philadelphia Eagles, No. 16) and Ahmad Carroll (Green Bay Packers, No. 25).

"There's risks with anybody you take," Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio said. "If you look at the rare physical attributes he brings, the ultra-competitive nature, this is a playmaker. This guy has been productive at every level that he's been a player.

"He's been an athlete, whether it be basketball, whether it be football. He's been a winner all his life and we just felt great about it."

Jones began to climb the draft boards when he made a solid debut at receiver during the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., in January. His draft stock took a leap at the NFL scouting combine when he ran a 4.37, 40-yard dash in February. Then he proved his abilities as a receiver during numerous workouts the past two months.

As a result, Jones entered Saturday projected as a late first- or early second-round pick. The heaviest pre-draft buzz surrounded the Pittsburgh Steelers (30th pick) and Philadelphia Eagles (No. 31).

But his agent, Dave Butz II, said Jacksonville, the team that showed the earliest interest in Jones, had him at the top of its draft wish list at No. 21.

"They had a need at receiver," Butz said from Jones' draft party. "Everybody needs big, strong, fast receiver and they showed a lot of interest in Matt. We knew he had the potential to go anywhere from (pick) 15 to 42.

"(Jacksonville) wasn't a big surprise. We knew it could happen."

Jones' father, Steve, said he began to believe it when the St. Louis Rams selected Florida State offensive tackle Alex Barron 19th. Jacksonville, which needed offensive linemen, had reportedly shown plenty of interest in selecting Barron 21st.

The Jaguars turned their sites on Jones after Barron was cleared off the board despite his inexperience at receiver.

"Every time I had a meeting with Jacksonville, I enjoyed it," said Jones, who rated the Jaguars among the top 5 teams he hoped to play for. "They've got (quarterback) Byron Leftwich, (running back) Fred Taylor and a good defense. They just needed some more offense and I'm excited to go to Jacksonville."

Del Rio called Jones a "wide receiver, slash, quarterback, slash, tight end, slash, whatever else" and said he'll help the Jaguars, who were 9-7 last season, improve an offense that finished last in the AFC and 29th in the NFL in 2004.

He compared Jones' hands to former all-pro receiver Chris Carter and said he'll slide into a receiving corps that includes Jimmy Smith, Troy Edwards, Reggie Williams and Ernest Williams. He'll also be coached by recently hired receivers coach Steve Walters, who worked at Tennessee last season and turned UCLA quarterback-turned-receiver Drew Bennett into one of the NFL's top pass catchers.

"I think Jacksonville will be a good place for him," Steve Jones said. "This offensive coordinator wants to give him a chance to do a lot of things. I think (playing) receiver is probably pretty big and important."

Jones was listed as a wide receiver/tight end during ESPN's draft coverage and has been considered at both positions the past five months. Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. listed Jones as the draft's second-best tight end behind Virginia's Heath Miller. Others, like ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli rated Jones among the top 10 receivers.

Jones was the fourth receiver selected Saturday behind Michigan's Braylon Edwards (Cleveland, No. 3), South Carolina's Troy Williamson (Minnesota, No. 7) and Southern Cal's Mike Williams (Detroit, No. 10). He also was the first tight end.

"He'll come in as a wide receiver first," Del Rio said. "He's big enough that some day he may grow into a tight end, but we're not going to force him down into a tight end position to start with.

"Whether he's playing in the slot or out wide, he's going to be tough to deal with."

Not everyone on the ESPN crew that covered the draft agreed.

New England Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, who has played some tight end in his career, doesn't think the transition will "necessarily work out" and questioned Jones' toughness. St. Louis Rams receiver Torry Holt believes Jones must slim down to use his hips better and get in and out of breaks precisely in the NFL.

Former NFL quarterback Sean Salisbury, who called Jones one his favorite players in the draft, had a different opinion.

"Matt   Jones is a great pick," Salisbury said. "This kid is going to be a star in this league. This is a steal at 21."

Del Rio said there still are questions about how long it will take Jones to adapt to his new position and learn what he described as "the route tree." The Jaguars plan to focus on the parts Jones handles well and slowly bring him along in other areas.

But Del Rio said there's no question Jones is capable of making plays right away.

"This guy had 77 touchdowns in his career," Del Rio said. "He has played his best in the biggest moments of games, when games have been on the line.

"He ran through the SEC and he made it look like the other guys were standing still. He's got incredible speed, acceleration and a knack for making plays."

Jones said he didn't like to be around a lot of people so wasn't very comfortable during Saturday's crush, which included numerous interviews and congratulatory phone calls. Jones, who received one call from former Arkansas assistant and Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks coach David Lee, was scheduled to leave for Jacksonville at 7 this morning and will be formally introduced as the newest member of the Jaguars.

Before Jones left, he was asked about his first, post-draft purchase. It didn't take long for him to answer: "a Jaguar."

There's no doubt he can afford it after the Jaguars made Jones the 21st pick.

"I don't want to even speculate (about his contract)," Butz said. "But suffice it to say Matt Jones has become a millionaire."

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