Breaking Down the Dolphin Draft Wall

There has never been a Jacksonville Dolphin drafted into the NFL. In the 19-year history of the program, former basketball-player-turned-wide receiver Micah Ross is the only player to see significant time in the league, playing four years with three teams. The last two years, however, have seen the greatest fanfare surrounding draft prospects the school has ever seen. LB Justin Horton is a projected late-round pick this weekend, just as WR Andy Jones was last year. While Jones ultimately did not hear his named called, he latched on with the Dallas Cowboys and paved the way for others, like Horton, to break the draft barrier in the future.

This time about a year ago, Andy Jones was sitting at commencement on the Science Green at Jacksonville University. It was also the final day of the NFL Draft, and he was hoping to hear his named called later that afternoon. Feeling his phone buzz during the ceremony, Jones did the what anyone bored at graduation might do: he stepped out to take the call. It was a good thing he did, as the voice on the other line was none other than Cowboys wide receivers coach Derek Dooley.

Jones never saw his name flash across the bottom of the television that night, but he was not overly disappointed, as he knew he would get the chance to pick where he ended up. The right fit was going to be crucial for him to earn a spot. After entertaining offers from the likes of the Cardinals, 49ers, Colts and local Jaguars, Jones felt that Dallas gave him the best chance (and coincidently the most money for an undrafted free agent signed by the ‘Boys).

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WR Andy Jones warms up before preseason action in August of 2016. (photo: personal)

Jones worked hard in camp, and survived what he described as “not making the most of my opportunities in the preseason” to earn a practice squad spot for the entirety of the season. This meant the non-scholarship football player from Clermont, Florida, spent the 2016 fall rubbing shoulders with Ezekial Elliott (who is unsurprisingly the biggest ‘clown’), Dez Bryant (whose car, a Bentley SUV, is as sharp as his routes), Dak Prescott (Jones’ haircut partner), all while waving towels on the bench during an NFC East title run.

It was not all fun and games, as life on the practice squad is a “grind”, according to Jones. But he embraced the opportunity at increased reps and used the story of teammate (and now Bronco, after signing a 4-year, $36 million deal in March) Ronald Leary as inspiration, seeing first hand that you can go from undrafted to starter with the right work ethic and opportunity.

Jones reiterates that the chance to learn was the most valuable part of his first season, whether from veterans like Jason Witten, who preached the importance of the weight room, or fellow rookies like Prescott, whose composure on- and off-the-field inspired Jones, and the NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year often got the better of him in tennis ball hoops games in the locker room.

All throughout the fall, Jones kept an eye on the program he had starred at the previous four years, watching games on ESPN3 when he got the chance, and kept in touch with a few of his former teammates as well, most notably, Horton. After standing out at Junior Day, Horton stepped into a starting role his senior year with big expectations for that season and beyond. Questions about what to do to prepare physically, what mindset to have and more were peppered at Jones, who looked at the ability to pass down the knowledge as “a blessing”.

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DE Justin Horton reacts after recording a sack vs. Dayton on October 15, 2016. (photo: Jacksonville University Athletics)

This spring, Horton was able to headline pro day at JU, the year after Jones was forced to head down to Gainesville to participate in the University of Florida’s draft showcase. This is not the only way that Jones has paved the way for his longtime friend. “He does what a brother is supposed to do, he looks out for me,” said Horton after his pro day March 31.

“He does what a brother is supposed to do, he looks out for me,” Justin Horton on his relationship with Andy Jones.

The likelihood of Horton hearing his name called this weekend is roughly as good as Jones’ was last year, as the 6-foot-2, 245-pound defensive end-turned linebacker showed good footwork and ball skills at various college all star games, prior to the pro day at which he wowed scouts with a 4.65 40-yard dash and a 37″ vertical. Horton, like Jones before him, would love the distinction of being the first Jacksonville Dolphin drafted. And if he is able to accomplish that, Andy Jones will have played a huge role in opening the door for the likes of Horton and those to follow.