Of all the players entering the NFL this year either from the draft or as undrafted free agents, you’d be hard pressed to find any with a more impressive job resumé than offensive lineman
Jones comes to the Rams as the 113th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft out of Alabama but he boasts a list of accomplishments that were the process based solely on achievement would almost certainly have made him the No. 1 overall choice.
“What Barrett has been able to accomplish down there is pretty impressive,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “Considering the fact that he’s played numerous positions and won numerous awards, and held that offensive line together and won the national championship…Those kinds of guys find ways to play in this league a long time. That’s what our hope is for Barrett.”
The total haul of awards and accolades for Jones in his five-year career with the Crimson Tide (he took a medical redshirt as a freshman in 2008) would be enough to put just about any trophy shop out of business.
As a four-year starter in Tuscaloosa, Jones was a three-time All American, leading the Tide’s offensive line every step of the way to three national championships along the way. He earned the 2011 Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman while playing left tackle before winning the Rimington Award as the nation’s best center in 2012.
In the classroom, Jones was every bit as successful, graduating summa cum laude (a perfect 4.0 GPA) with a degree in accounting in August 2011 and repeating that milestone in December 2012 with a masters in accounting. He was a four-time Academic All American and also earned the 2012 William V. Campbell Trophy as college football’s “best and brightest,” among many other awards for his work off the field and in the community.
With those kinds of feats under his belt, one would think Jones has a large room dedicated to his success either in his home or at his family home. True to his apparently unassuming personality, the opposite is true.
“We have a closet,” Jones said. “I do have, to be honest, a lot of trophies. But, I don’t really celebrate trophies because that’s not why I play football, to get trophies. I play because I love the game and I play to win. I’ve been fortunate to win a lot and I feel like I’m a winner. That’s the kind of attitude I’m going to bring to St. Louis.”
Jones brings far more than just a list of triumphs and a positive attitude to St. Louis, though. Make no mistake; he wouldn’t have those awards were it not for his ability to actually play the game at a high level.
Playing for demanding Alabama coach Nick Saban, Jones quickly earned a starting spot as a true freshman before a shoulder injury relegated him to medical redshirt status.
Upon Jones’ return in 2009, he quickly became a Saban favorite and a mainstay on the Alabama line for the next four seasons. Although Jones was never as athletic or big and strong as many of the highly-touted recruits he played next to, he simply used technique and intelligence to overwhelm foes on a regular basis.
Making Jones’ work on the line all the more impressive was an aptitude for versatility unmatched by any lineman in the country. By the time his career was finished he’d started 50 games: 25 at right guard, 11 at left tackle and 14 at center while also stepping in at left guard and right tackle when called upon.
In many ways, Jones’ versatility and knowledge of so many positions makes him one of the most NFL-ready players in this year’s draft class.
“(He’s) just very athletic, never makes an assignment mistake,” Fisher said. “He’s got great feet and hands. It’s a pro-style offense that Alabama runs. He’s not lining up in a two-point stance and pass protecting or run blocking from a two-point stance. They do a good job, so him stepping up to this level is going to be a lot easier for him than some other players.”
All of that added up to an early interest from the Rams, especially offensive line coach Paul Boudreau.
Boudreau has a reputation for taking less polished players, coaching them up and getting the most out of them but he got a little extra gleam in his eye when the potential to work with such a polished player came up.
During the pre-draft process, the Rams didn’t have a ton of contact with Jones save for Boudreau. Boudreau visited Jones at Alabama’s pro day and though Jones couldn’t participate as he rehabs a Lisfranc injury in his left foot, Boudreau and Jones hit it off right away.
“I’ve heard great things about Coach Boudreau and I’m really excited to work with him,” Jones said. “I’ve been able to play with some coaches who are kind of hard-nosed like that, so that’s definitely who I am and I’m looking forward to doing that.”
As though the Rams needed any more evidence to seal the deal that Jones would be a target of theirs in this draft, there’s the added intangible that Jones proved one of the toughest players out there by his performance in the BCS National Championship game.
“It did help the fact, hey, he lines up and plays in the national championship game with a Lisfranc (injury),” general manager Les Snead said. “I know our trainers and doctors said that won’t happen often from a pain tolerance standpoint. Then he wins the Outland Trophy at left tackle.”
Jones will report to St. Louis with the rest of his rookie teammates next week as the Rams host their rookie mini-camp but it’s unlikely he’ll be participating on a full time basis just yet as he continues to recover from the foot injury.
“We’ll probably hold him back,” Fisher said. “We’ll continue with his rehab, but he’s a smart guy and he’s been doing fine. He may be 80 percent at OTA’s and things like that, but mentally and everything else considered, he’ll be fine by the time camp starts.”
When Jones does get the opportunity to get back on the field at full capacity, it’s likely the Rams will take advantage of his versatility. In terms of the NFL, he projects more as an interior swingman type capable of playing either guard position or center.
For the Rams, that could mean he gets a chance to compete for the open left guard job with an eye toward a long term future at center or just filling the role vacated by Robert Turner as the primary backup along the interior of the line until he’s ready to step into a job.
While Jones has all of that experience playing many spots on the line, he said right now center is the place he feels most at home if only because it’s the most recent position in his mind. Only time will tell Jones’ immediate use but the possibilities are many.
“He’ll come in and compete inside,” Fisher said. “What he does almost immediately is he gives you the comfort level knowing you’ve got a guy, if not a starter, that can back up multiple positions and go in when something happens.”
Given Jones’ esteemed and lengthy body of work, it’s a wonder that he wasn’t drafted long before the Rams had a chance to get their hands on him. Whether it was concern over his foot injury or something else, many draft pundits believe the Rams got a bargain in picking up such a finished product in the fourth round.
For his part, Jones said he thought he would probably go a bit earlier but he’s not letting that become some sort of crutch to use as motivation. Evidently self aware of his own accomplishments and focused on what he can do, Jones’ sole focus is on getting to St. Louis and doing the things that have made him so successful as an amateur now as a professional.
“I did expect to go yesterday at some point in the third round, but I didn’t and that’s all right,” Jones said. “I think a lot of people get hung up on where they get they get drafted. I’m just glad I have an opportunity to play in the NFL. I’m looking to make the most of that opportunity.”