The Cleveland Browns didn’t select a WR in the 2014 draft, despite a need at the position and an astounding 33 names being called at the position. But, they may have still managed to find a gem in this year’s class in undrafted free agent WR Chandler Jones. Not to be confused with the Patriots pass rusher of the same name, Chandler Jones was a standout receiver at San Jose State University where, in four years of playing, he never recorded fewer than 50 catches in a season and left as the school record holder for career receptions (248) and receiving TDs, both in a career (29) and in a single season (15 in 2013) He fell just short of the school record for career receiving yards with 3,087.
Despite his impressive numbers Jones wasn’t high on scouts lists for a number of reasons. The biggest knock against Jones has been his size. San Jose State listed him at 5’11, 174lbs, but his profile on ESPN reads 5’9, 185lbs. his hand size and arm length are also criticized, and the size concerns always give rise to durability concerns, but the next biggest knock against Jones was that his numbers were inflated by playing on a high powered offense against weak defenses. Both are legitimate concerns, but both feel overblown. Jones would not be the first nor the last receiver to excel despite his stature. He would also not be the first to make it out of a smaller school, and I think it’s worth noting that Jones wasn’t just good against this weaker competition, he was next level good. Watch his 2013 TD highlight tape, there’s maybe 1 TD catches caught within 20 yards of the end zone, and it’s a pretty route where he has to keep his balance along the sideline at the front of the endzone. How durable he may be at the next level is anyone’s case, but he certainly doesn’t seem to fear going across the middle to make a catch in traffic and contributed on special teams, as a defender, recording 23 tackles in his career, so he’s not shy about contact either. He’s also only the second player in NCAA history to have TD’s receiving, rushing and in a fumble recovery in the same game.
With little love from scouts and a deep class Jones was snubbed from the scouting combine, but was able to turn heads at the East West Shrine game where he lead all receivers with 7 catches for 73 yards and again at San Jose State’s Pro Day where ran a 4.34 in the 40, which, if official would have put him behind only Brandin Cooks as the fastest WR at the combine. Oddly enough, before posting this time there were scouting reports that questioned his speed and makes me wonder if he was holding back in games. Once Jones had the ball in his hands he seemed to shift into another gear and that was when he really started blowing people away.
However, Jones’ true potential as a breakout candidate doesn’t come from his speed. What makes Jones so intriguing to me is that he checks boxes you wouldn’t expect from a 5’9 speedster. Yes, he’s fast, but he’s not just a straight line runner. He played both outside and in the slot at San Jose State and showed great field awareness; he always seemed to know where the open space was on the field and found it. Whenever he caught a pass down field he immediately looked to take it to the house. You may never confuse Jones for Megatron, but he pops on tape, and it’s not hard to imagine him developing into a Santana Moss like player, making an impact with his speed early on and developing into a more complete weapon in a few years. It’s also worth noting that Jones has an NFL pedigree. His father, Mike Jones, was a WR for 6 years in league, so he should know better than most just how hard it is to make it into and then stay in the NFL.
The road to become a starter, let alone a breakout star is never an easy one, but the Browns may have the clearest path of any team for an undersized, undrafted WR to step up and make an impact. Josh Gordon is still awaiting word on his suspension, but it’s hard to imagine it will be any less than 8 games (at the most lenient,) Miles Austin has become better known for his balky hamstrings than his reliable hands, Andrew Hawkins got a nice contract in the offseason, but he’s one of the few players Jones actually has a size advantage over, Nate Burleson is a solid veteran pass catcher, but the 32 year old possession receiver should never be in direct competition with the rookie speedster given the different skill sets. Anthony Armstrong may be Jones’ biggest threat to early playing time. Armstrong was out of the NFL in 2013 and went through 3 different teams in 2012, but he has experience in new OC Kyle Shanahan’s system and will also be looking to take advantage of a weak WR group.
While it’s not outrageous to think Jones could play his way into the the week 1 starting lineup it’s easier to imagine Jones making an immediate impact as a kick returner who gets worked into the offense in mostly spread formations, perhaps a few end arounds designed to get the offense chasing Johnny Manziel while he streaks down the sideline, similar to how the Vikings used Cordarrelle Patterson last year. Bottom line: Chandler Jones has all the trappings of a playmaker and the Browns should give him every opportunity to succeed as the next great undersized receiver.