The Kansas City Chiefs made their final selection on Day 3 of the 2023 NFL Draft, taking cornerback Nic Jones from Ball State University. By the time the Chiefs called him to give him the good news, Jones was considering what life would be like as an undrafted free agent.
“As it gets later in the draft, teams reach out, and they get to talking about, you know, what will happen if you slip all the way out,” he said on a Zoom call with the Kansas City media.
But all along the way, Jones remained in contact with the Chiefs — and specifically, Kansas City’s co-director of college scouting, Pat Sperduto.
“I remember the last text I sent to Pat was, ‘Bring me home.’ And as soon as the call came through, he sent me a text and said, ‘Welcome home.’ And it was just... surreal. It was like a dream.”
Our last pick of the NFL Draft… welcome Nic Jones! pic.twitter.com/0g0r5faCCU— Kingdom Crew (@KingdomCrew) April 29, 2023
Getting to this point wasn’t easy for Jones. Early in his college career, he didn’t see much playing time due to a positional logjam of upperclassmen ahead of him, but that all changed in 2021.
The 2021 offseason saw the graduation of cornerback Antonio Phillips, an established ballhawk who picked off eight passes in a three-year span as a two-time all-conference honoree. That sudden vacancy created room in the starting lineup for an eager Jones, ready to manufacture that professional career he dreamed of as a young reserve cornerback in 2019 and 2020.
“I was less ready than I thought I was, and I probably wasn’t aware of that until my junior year,” Jones said. “Really, it was a coaching change. We brought in corner coach Vic Hall going into my junior year and he just helped me round out my game and fill in the holes that I had left. That’s when it started to become more realistic that I could play at the next level.”
And things were going great until the injury bug reached up from the turf and got him.
...all that progress came to a sudden halt when Jones tore his LCL in early October and missed the remainder of the season.
The opportunity he patiently waited two years for suddenly diminished.
Although he received an extra year of eligibility from the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, Jones felt time was running out to prove NFL worthiness. After all, his career was limited to nine starts — two in 2019, one in 2020, and six in 2021. On top of that, he was faced with overcoming an injury and learning how to run and cut at a high level again.
“The hardest part wasn’t the physical development,” Jones said regarding the recovery process. “It was the mental maturation. I had to slow down. I put a clock on my college career for so long — I wanted to be in and out in three years. After I got hurt and just rehabbing it back come January and February, I’m not even thinking declaring for the draft this coming November or December. I’m just thinking about how healthy can I get for spring ball in March. I approached every day like it was the Super Bowl.”
This mindset sets Nic Jones apart from other late-round selections. It’s how he prepares and attacks each opportunity.
The best example of this was Ball State’s 2022 season opener against the Tennessee Volunteers. Jones knew his primary assignment would be future second-round draft pick Cedric Tillman. Jones spent the entire summer watching Tennessee game film and studying Tillman’s tendencies. The Cardinals ended up getting blown out in the game, 59-10, but Jones held Tillman to a mere 68 yards receiving yards, which was his lowest output through his first eight games.
Ball State’s Nic Jones with patient feet in press against Cedric Tillman and does a good job staying in phase and disrupting the catch point.— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) February 24, 2023
Jones is one of my fav sleepers in the 2023 NFL Draft. Opened a lot of eyes at the @ShrineBowl with his footwork. pic.twitter.com/1F9pAFiy9g
Playing primarily on the outside, Jones is a long, aggressive cornerback who isn’t afraid to jump a route if he has a good read on the ball. He finished the season with two interceptions and twelve passes defended, holding opposing quarterbacks to a 67.6 passer rating (Jones’ full prospect profile can be found at our sister site Hustle Belt).
He was forthcoming about what type of player Kansas City is getting.
“I’m a dog. I’m hungry. You know I’m a risk taker,” he said. “I feel like the regular people that just sit and watch games can relate to guys like me because everything I’ve done has just been the hard way — if today wasn’t just an example and even more indicative that I just get it the hard way. I’m from wherever they from, you know? I feel like I’m kind of like a bridge between the people and the team.”
Jones said he is excited to be a Chief because they proved last season that they aren’t afraid of playing young defensive backs right away.
“They’ve got a thing for playing DBs,” he said, “especially the DBs they take late. I just felt like that was a room I could really help put my stamp on.”
For many late-round draft picks, the difference between making the team and being cut is their ability to contribute on special teams — this is one area where Jones stands out. He recorded both a blocked punt and a blocked field goal during his college career.
When you ask about special teams, he says it’s all just football.
“It doesn’t really make a difference what you playing out there. For me, it’s just another chance to make plays. I feel like if I’m out there it’s because they trust me to make plays so no matter how big or how small I want to make them.”