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Tide wideout latest to star as combine conundrum

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Julio Jones ran a 4.39 40-yard dash on his second attempt. Any faster and he'd need to borrow a heat shield from the Space Shuttle.

Impressive. Then he bounced a ridiculous 11 feet, 3 inches on the broad jump (two inches shy of the all-time record) and 38½ inches on the vertical jump. Pogo Sticks for legs.

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Impressive, impressive, impressive. We have the winner for best overall actor at a combine for 2011. Julio Jones. They love you, they really love you.

"I'm a playmaker," Jones said when asked what he brings to the NFL. "A guy who can step in right away."

Jones' combine performance was one of the best in recent memory but it begs a question, an eternal combine question: Does it mean anything?

Will Jones' Herculean numbers and subway train speed translate into greatness on the NFL level? The answer is unknown because so many players who performed poorly at the combine became NFL greats and players who were Combine All-Stars became NFL busts.

It's interesting what's happening with the combine phenomenon. A great performance can lead to a higher draft slot and more money but it can also lead to greater scrutiny. A sterling combine performance can be both a curse and a blessing. Or a cautionary tale.

One of the ultimate of the latter is Tom Brady who ran a tortoise-like 5.23 40-yard dash (as compared to Cam Newton who ran a 4.59). Brady has three rings and over the years a girlfriend for every millisecond over five seconds in the 40. Linebacker Mike Mamula became a combine legend in 1995 after benching 225 pounds 26 times and running a 4.56 40. He was a combine meteor who ended up as a nugget-sized bust.

So teams have to be at least a little wary of Jones' time. At Alabama, he played more like Michael Irvin than the Flash. In fact, Jones was known as much for his blocking ability as his pure speed.

Jones ran a 4.39 40-yard dash and was just two inches short of the combine's all-time record in the broad jump. (Getty Images)  
Jones ran a 4.39 40-yard dash and was just two inches short of the combine's all-time record in the broad jump. (Getty Images)  
So if, say, the St. Louis Rams picked Jones, enamored by his combine 40-yard dash orgasm, and the coupling with Sam Bradford, they may not get the combine Jones. In fact, it's almost a lock they won't. That's why the combine results can be so tricky.

Jones was asked a bevy of questions by the media beginning with the reputation that his hands can at times be shaky. "My hands were never an issue," he said. "I sometimes try to play too fast. Taught myself to play fast, but don't hurry."

On how playing at Alabama prepared him for NFL: "Helped me tremendously. Just going against Nick Saban's defense every day (in practice) was very beneficial. Seeing different coverages."

On whom he patterns his game after: "I like to play the game with ... passion. Ray Lewis, I like the way he plays. Hines Ward as well. I like the way he blocks and is committed on every play ... I have a defensive mentality. I'm not scared to hit. I'm a physical guy. I look for that. I like to hit defensive players because they're not used to getting hit. They're used to hitting offensive players and getting them out of their comfort zone. So when I hit them, I try to get them out of their comfort zone."

On who is best receiver in the draft: "Couldn't say that. To me, I am. But (A.J. Green) is a great receiver and there are whole bunch of other guys who are very good as well. But I do stuff great. I'm a great blocker. I'm a physical receiver. A lot of guys are finesse type guys. You really can't compare their game to mine because they're different (type of receiver). I can't say I'm better than A.J. and I can't say he's better than me. We work together. He's a great guy. He's a great athlete as well."

Jones is this year's combine star and my guess is he ends up in New England. The Patriots need some speed at wide receiver even if that speed isn't quite as blistering as the combine tries to tell us.

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