MIKE O'HARA

Barrett Jones knows his draft stock may drop following a lis franc injury

Posted Feb 21, 2013

Multiple question marks surround T Barrett Jones, including why he shifted positions at Alabama and his physical condition following a lis franc injury

Barrett Jones

INDIANAPOLIS – Barrett Jones is leaving Alabama with so many honors that it would be impressive if they were won collectively by all five members of the Crimson Tide's offensive line.

Name the position, and he played it – right guard, left tackle, center.

Name the award, and he won it. In 2010, he was All-Southeast Conference at right guard. When the need arose for him to play left tackle in 2011, he performed so well that he won the Outland Trophy as the nation's best lineman.

Last year, he moved to center – and won the Rimington trophy as the nation's top center.

He also played on three national championship teams – 2009, '11 and '12. And what meant the most to him was being voted captain by his teammates in 2012.

There's also a little distraction for athletes in major-college programs called going to school, and Jones did more than fill up a seat and slide through school on his reputation and trophies. He was a 4.0 student as an undergrad, and finished his master's degree in 2012 with a 4.0.

How all that translates to a career in the NFL – the championships, trophies and degrees – remains to be seen.

One thing that is certain to slow Jones down is the walking boot he wears on his left foot. He ended his career with what was diagnosed as the dreaded lis franc injury. It required surgery after Alabama's annihilation of Notre Dame in the BCS national championship game on Jan. 7.

Jones showed up at the NFL Scouting Combine wearing the boot and answering questions about the injury. It seemed fitting that he had to cut his media session short Thursday afternoon to go to the hospital to complete his physical exam.

The injury and four-month recovery period means he likely won't be able to work out for the NFL scouts at full strength before the draft, April 25-27.

Jones is smart and a realist. He knows that the injury could hurt his draft stock.

"Obviously, that's the first thing that comes to your mind," he said. "You've got to realize you can't control that. I can't control that I was hurt. I just have to focus on the things I can control. That's interview well and doing all the little things right.

"I hope I have a lot of game film, maybe not at center, but at different positions. I feel like I'm intelligent. I know how to study the game well, make very few mental errors. That's what separates me apart."

Jones is rated by many as the top center prospect in the draft, but this isn't a strong draft for centers. Jones could be drafted anywhere from the middle of the second round through the fourth or fifth, depending on how much teams value his versatility he exhibited by playing three positions.

The obvious question about any player being asked to changed positions is whether it was done because Alabama found a better player and moved him, or if he was so good he could move on his own.

One thing that cannot be denied is that Jones played on one of the best offensive lines in recent college history. Two of his teammates, guard Chance Warmack and tackle D.J. Fluker are legitimate first-round prospects in this year's draft.

Warmack is a top-10 talent, but he might not go that high because team's don't usually draft guards that high.

"That was fun playing with those guys," Jones said. "It's fun to be part of an elite unit, which I thought we were. I played on a lot of good offensive lines, but not any of them even close to as good as this past year."

Top of the line talent: There is usually a strong class of tackles, and this year is no exception. Luke Joekel of Texas A&M is a candidate to be drafted first overall. Eric Fisher of Central Michigan is a close second among tackles and a top-10 prospect.

Other tackles with first-round talent are Lane Johnson of Oklahoma and D.J. Fluker of Alabama (with injury concerns). Kyle Long of Oregon is a wild card. He's talented but raw.

Warmack leads the guard class. It's rare for guards to be drafted in the top 10, but Warmack is a rare talent. Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina is another top guard prospect. He started one game at center and also has done some snapping.

Jones is rated the top center by some in a position without a first-round prospect. Travis Frederick of Wisconsin, Khaled Holmes of Southern Cal and Brian Schwenker of Cal are mid-round prospects.

Lions on the line: A unit that has undergone little change in four years under Schwartz could have a major overhaul.

Only left guard Rob Sims is secure as a starter.

Otherwise, it could come down to opening day before there are solid starters.

Right tackle Gosder Cherilus is a free agent. Right guard Stephen Peterman was released on Feb. 4, and center Dominic Raiola was brought back for the last year of his contract after agreeing to reducing his base salary to the veteran minimum of $950,000 – which is not guaranteed.

Left tackle Jeff Backus has not decided whether to return for a 13th season.

The opinion here: Backus will be back, in some role.

Bill Nagy, claimed on waivers from Dallas last year with an injury history, could be a starter at center or guard. Rodney Austin, who spent last year on the practice squad, is athletic and will get a long look.

Riley Reiff, last year's first-round draft pick, will start somewhere, and 2010 draft pick Jason Fox will compete for playing time, as long as he stays healthy.

Draft projection: The Lions need impact on defense, and that eliminates an offensive lineman in the first round and probably the second. That could change if there is a trade down from the fifth pick of the first round that adds picks.

GM Martin Mayhew pointed to "interior pressure" as a sign of weakness in the offensive line.

That points to bolstering that part of the line in free agency or the draft. If it's the draft, the best guess is that it won't be before the third round because of needs elsewhere.