PFW's NFL Draft 'late risers': Northwestern LB Joe Jones

Jones showed off rare athleticism at his Pro Day and should get looks for special teams

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Pittsburgh quarterback Nathan Peterman (4) throws under pressure from Northwestern linebacker Joseph Jones (42) during the first quarter of the Pinstripe Bowl NCAA college football game, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson) — Julie Jacobson

In 2016, 38 players were selected in the NFL Draft even though they weren't invited to the Scouting Combine. In the last week before the draft, PFW is introducing fans to "late risers," prospects who didn't go to the Combine but impressed at a Pro Day and are getting attention from NFL teams at the right time.

EVANSTON, Ill. — Former Northwestern linebacker Joe Jones has a few jobs to juggle while he trains for the NFL Draft. He is a part-time employee at the TC Boost sports performance facility and a part-time instructor at Illinois Baseball Academy.

His full-time job, though, is being a dad to his six-month old daughter Scarlette.

“I woke up three times in the middle of the night with my daughter,” Jones said recently at a Starbucks in Evanston in between taking his daughter to a doctor’s appointment and doing strength training, as he explained how his day-to-day is quite different than the top NFL Draft prospects.

After training and work, Jones just hopes to get home in time to spend time with Scarlette before she goes to bed.

Jones may have more on his plate at home than the prospects being paraded on ESPN and NFL Network this month, but Scarlette and his wife Amber help inspire his NFL ambitions.

“It’s so much motivation,” Jones said. “I can’t have a bad day knowing that I have my faith, my daughter and my wife backing me up this entire time.”

The Plano, Ill. native has one year of starting experience and two of significant special-teams contributions. He wasn’t invited to the Combine, but had a sensational Pro Day. His 40-time, between 4.45 and 4.50, would have been tops for linebackers at the Combine (excluding S/LB Jabrill Peppers), along with his 6.72 three-cone time. Jones would have been top five in the 20-yard shuttle (4.21 seconds) and vertical jump (35.5 inches).

“I’ve been here for five years and I haven’t just sat back and watched,” said Jones, who graduated Northwestern last summer with a degree in communications studies and economics. “For me, it’s all about an opportunity. Same for these guys, really for everybody, we’re just looking for that chance to pursue our dream we’ve been chasing since we were little kids, well, for me, since eighth grade.”

Yes, eighth grade, which is when Jones’ mom, Shawn Dowd, forced him to play football. He said his parents would host Super Bowl parties and he would go to the basement and play video games.

“I actually grew up thinking football was a dumb sport,” Jones said.

That changed once he stepped on the field and he fell in love with the game. He played running back in high school before coming to Northwestern, where he eventually excelled on special teams and had 43 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in 2016 as a starting linebacker.

Jones’ ticket to an NFL roster will be his special teams, and he knows it.

“I love special teams. I’m all about it,” he said. “If I had to choose, special teams or linebacker, I think at the end of the day I’d choose special teams. In the sense it’s the same play over and over, but it’s that 1-on-1 battle each time. You know what he’s doing, he knows what you’re doing, it’s let’s grind it up and be physical and see who wins at the end of the day. It gives me a lot of energy.”

That’s music to an NFL coach’s ears, and that special teams drive will only help Jones in what will be an uphill climb compared to other draft prospects.

“Those guys have better chances than I do, which is understandable, but I just want someone to say, ‘Hey Joe, we want you to play for us.’ I’ll say, ‘Yeah, I’ll show you what I’ve got and give all I have,’” he said. “If at the end of the day, they don’t think it’s good enough, that’s fine, as long as I got my shot. I don’t want to miss that opportunity. I’ll regret it at the end of the day if I don’t down the road.”