As it turned out, March 21 was a pretty good day for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The occasion was the University of Georgia's Pro Day, and here is how Russ Lande of the National Football Post put that in perspective.
"Although Georgia has many well regarded prospects this year, there is no doubt that the primary focus on Thursday was on Jarvis Jones. After choosing not to work out at the Combine, NFL personnel were interested to see how Jones would do, and those I spoke to afterwards were shocked and disappointed in his performance."
The disappointment referenced by Lande came during Jones' attempts at the 40-yard dash. He ran a 4.9 on his first attempt, and on his second attempt Jones bettered that, but only by a couple of hundredths of a second. Somewhere in the mass of NFL humanity on hand for the afternoon, Colbert was the only guy having trouble wiping the grin off his face.
"We didn't even talk to Jarvis at the Combine, because we didn't think there was any chance that he'd get to us," said Colbert about what he saw as the chance of being able to make him the 17th overall pick. "When he ran the 4.9, the first thing I did was go over and see (Jones') agent and set up a (predraft) visit because I knew then that we had a chance."
Suddenly, Colbert saw the Steelers as having a chance to add a productive pass rusher who can be compared somewhat in style to Chad Brown, a guy who came to the team 20 years ago as the second-round choice of the 1993 NFL Draft.
"Then he continued with the workout (after the 40-yard dash), and it was off the charts impressive," said Colbert. "It just verified what we thought of him in college. This kid, when you watch him play, I don't care what he runs. He's a football player in every phase of the game, and that was what was really exciting. When the 40-time wasn't quite what others were looking for, we were excited."
Jones began his college career at USC, but he experienced a health hiccup during his freshman season there, which was in 2009. In a game against Oregon, Jones sustained a sprained neck (C5), and the subsequent diagnosis was spinal stenosis. The USC medical staff then refused to clear him to play football, and so he transferred to Georgia after passing a physical there.
"There was no problem," said Colbert about Jones' medical reports. "The kid has played two seasons without an issue at the University of Georgia. Of course, he has to go through a physical (at the Combine), and just to be sure we made another check when he came in (for his predraft visit). Certainly we're very comfortable with his medical status, or we wouldn't have made that pick.
After sitting out the 2010 season because of the transfer, Jones posted a combined 44 tackles for loss and 28 sacks over the next two seasons. He led the nation last year with 24.5 tackles for loss and with 14.5 sacks.
"When you look at the outside linebackers in 3-4 defenses, generally there is some projection and so forth involved in the evaluation," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "This was an easy evaluation from that standpoint. He plays in a very similar scheme, he's asked to do things in a manner in which he'll be asked to do it here in Pittsburgh. Very little guesswork in that regard made it a fun evaluation and made it a comfortable evaluation. He excelled in what they asked him to do, and he'll be asked to do similar things here."
That Jones will be able to do for the Steelers defense many of the things he was asked to do for the Bulldogs' defense is a result of the combination of a couple of trades, plus the New York Jets' propensity to do the unexpected in the first round, plus the outcome of an either-or decision by the New Orleans Saints.
In terms of the Steelers being able to land an outside pass-rusher for their 3-4, things weren't looking so good when Dion Jordan, Ziggy Ansah, and Barkevious Mingo all were picked within the first six overall selections.
But then on pick No. 8, Buffalo traded down in the round, with the St. Louis Rams wanting to come up to select Tavon Austin as an all-purpose playmaker for their offense. Buffalo was rumored to be in the market for a quarterback, but it was unlikely the Bills would have selected one eighth overall. Had the Rams not been interested in trading up, maybe the Bills would have added to their outside pass rush in that spot.
The other trade that impacted the Steelers was when the Raiders traded out of the No. 3 spot, and then when their turn came up at 12th overall they selected CB D.J. Hayden from Houston. On most projections, Hayden was not seen as a top-15 pick.
Then came the Jets with their second pick in the first round, and despite an obvious need for an outside pass rusher, they picked DT Sheldon Richardson instead. The final piece to the Steelers' puzzle was the Saints' either-or decision on Jones vs. FS Kenny Vaccaro. New Orleans opted for Vaccaro, Buffalo did the expected and took its quarterback – Florida State's E.J. Manuel – and for the second straight year the Steelers were able to sit tight and have the player they really wanted fall right into their lap.
"He's been through a lot," said Tomlin about Jones. "He's been to the West Coast and back. He's dealt with an injury that could've potentially put his career in question. Kevin and I remarked at his pro day that he moved around then like a veteran player. That doesn't mean that he's not a rookie, he's going to be a rookie and he'll go through the same things rookies go through. We're not going to take anything for granted in terms of his growth and development. He did have a mature demeanor about him, and it's probably because of his life experiences."
Said Jones, "I think I just made a great fit with the Pittsburgh Steelers. I'm loving it. The Combine stuff, the pro day stuff is over with now. I'm in the zone right now, and I'm enjoying it. I'm just trying to stay on the positives and enjoy it and get to work."