Cayleb Jones elevates to make a one-handed catch against Belton in 2010 (Photo by the author).
Name: Cayleb Jones
Position: Wide receiver
High School: Austin High
Rating (Rivals): Four out of five (6.0)
- Texas (committed 2/27/2011)
- East Carolina
- Iowa State
- North Carolina
- Notre Dame
- Oklahoma State
- Texas A&M
- Texas Tech
- Virginia Tech
Tabbed as a future 'Horn for some time by Recruitocosm, Jones made his pledge after taking in practice on Saturday and spending some quality time watching the installation of the new Harsinwhite offense and bonding with future teammate and potential future quarterback Connor Brewer, who was also in town visiting.
Even with his commitment going down in the spring of his junior year, Jones has been on the radar for well over a year now, making his recruitment a long one considering he committed well before many blue-chip players who will take their official visits this fall. The first scare came from Miami (his father played for the Dolphins and for Randy Shannon), but that threat faded when Randy Shannon was let go. Then it was a scare from Auburn, where his cousin Emory Blake, who never received a scholarship offer from Texas, now stars.
In the end though, Jones ended up being a Longhorn all the way, with no other schools seriously challenging Texas during the final weeks of his recruitment.
Cayleb Jones - Austin High WR Class of 2012 (via TexasPreps)
At the Austin High spring game last Friday evening, Jones had five catches for around 70 yards, with four of them coming in the second half. Jones, who played on the White team, had little opportunity in the first half, as the Maroon team controlled the clock with a grinding running game. On his only catch in the first half, Jones caught a tunnel screen and attempted to make a sharp cut but slipped on the artificial turf at House Park, a problem that arose several times during the game.
In the second half, Jones got more involved in the offense after a quarterback change. A catch-and-run of more than 20 yards helped jumpstart the first scoring drive for the White team -- Jones caught a short hitch, pivoted to the outside and stiff-armed a defender before taking off down the sideline. Had he been able to keep his balance, he could have taken it the distance. During the same drive, Jones took another short pass and turned it into a gain of more than 20 yards, making a one-handed catch on a ball thrown behind him on a crossing pattern and beating several defenders to the edge before being knocked out of bounds.
Another reception saw Jones catch yet another hitch, but turn inside towards the heart of the defense for a short gain. Then, during the final White drive of the evening, Jones caught another crossing pattern and stiff-armed a defender before heading out of bounds to preserve the expiring clock.
Jones also played safety during the game, where he showed off his fluidity throughout the game and his toughness on one particular play, when he lowered his shoulder into the Maroon team's tight end down the seam, dislodging the ball and leaving his teammate on the ground for several moments, shaken up. On another play, he showed off his speed and surprising strength for his lanky frame, using an angle to catch a receiver in the open field, then grabbing a handful of jersey and arresting his teammate's progress, while attempting to punch the ball free with his other hand. Jones will have to work hard in the weight room over the next several years because he has a much more slender frame than his beefy father, but appeared to have strong hands on that play.
Overall, Jones looked extremely fluid in his route running, although he did not have to run a wide variety of routes -- mostly hitches, crossing patterns, and several post routes. He might not run in the 4.4s (he's listed at 4.55), but he looks extremely quick and fast, coming into and out of his breaks quickly and looking like the best athlete on the field by far -- no surprise for a recruit so highly-touted.
To begin with, it may be worth talking about several things that Cayleb Jones is not. He's not a safety, taking a lot of poor angles to the football on that side of the football. He's also not a strong downfield blocker, mostly looking disinterested in that facet of the game. A burner he is not, as well, unable to make up any ground on Belton senior CB Darrius White -- who to be fair is plenty fast -- on a kickoff return for a touchdown early in the game.
On the other hand, there is one thing that Cayleb Jones is extremely good at and that is getting open and catching the football. One hand or two hands, Jones will catch nearly everything thrown in his direction. Those hands are big and soft and he's a natural pass catcher. On the night, he only dropped one catchable pass (before he atoned with a late touchdown catch on the following play) and had another two that he didn't bring in because of interference, but he can catch the ball outside of his frame and attacks the football well away from his body on those passes that are within his frame. Well-drilled as well as natural.
The two most impressive plays were made one-handed. Some receivers try to catch balls with one hand they could reach with two, but Jones made both catches at full extension and they were truly elite grabs -- only a handful of high school receivers in the country could make those plays. Wow.
As mentioned earlier, Jones isn't a burner, but he has good burst and is a fluid athlete with impressive body control. Once again, he's a natural. As a route runner, he runs a few double moves, but mostly he runs hitches, crossing routes, and posts, so it would be nice to see a little more variety.
Jones has some ability to plant his foot and change direction to make plays after the catch, but he's not a player with a ton of shake in his hips. He is good at going up and getting the ball in traffic, using his leaping ability to high point the football (often with one hand) and knows how to use his hands for the subtle little pushes and shoves to gain himself some extra separation a la Michael Irvin. The several times that Darrius White tried to jam Jones at the line of scrimmage, he was able to use his hands to beat the press coverage, all the more impressive because he is still pretty underdeveloped in his upper body.
As with his performance at the spring game, coming away from House Park, there was no question that Jones is the elite talent he is made out to be and though he could stand to add some strength and improve his speed, it's his fluidity, flypaper hands, and strong leaping ability/body control that makes him a top prospect and an absolutely elite wide receiver. The Real Deal. The Truth. All of that.
Given his various injuries (the elbow/shoulder injury that kept him out the week before, his knee, and a wrist that required some attention), this was not the game to get a full evaluation on Jones. From the start, Jones did not look like his usual self and it quickly became apparent that he lacked his normal burst, both off the line of scrimmage and coming out of his cuts.
With the game all but out of reach following the first half, Jones did not play in the second half. Based on his effort in the first half, it was clear that Jones wanted to be out on the field contributing, but physically was incapable of doing so at his normal high level. The concern moving forward is not about his toughness, but rather about the ability of his lanky frame to sustain a high number of hits every week.
So far, Jones is the star of the Texas class and if Connor Brewer can win the quarterback job when Jones gets to campus, they could be a strong combination considering Brewer's accuracy on the deep ball. More than just his big-time talent, Jones gives the Longhorns an instant deep threat when he gets to campus, regardless of who is throwing him the football.
Combine NFL-level elite hands that can pull down one-handed catches when fully extended and the ability to change speeds when running his routes to set up and the result is an elite receiver. So while Jones isn't a burner, he is fluid and knows how to get open, aided by those hands and excellent leaping ability. Just look at that picture gracing the top of the post.
While Jones isn't the physical freak that Dorial Green-Beckham is, that's hardly a criticism of Jones given the rarity of a talent like DGB. There are, however, a couple of aspects Jones' game that could use improvement, in particular his willingness to block downfield, which is often not there, and in his willingness to run his routes hard when he's not the primary target. Both are related to effort and with some coaching and effort on the part of Jones, won't be a problem in college.
As far as his impact on the class, Jones is the best get for the Longhorns so far and the type of super-star talent that puts the rest of college football on notice that Texas may have had a bad season on the football field, but can still land elite talent.
Since he projects as an outside receiver in college, most likely a split end, Jones fits extremely well in this class with the other wide receiver commit, Skyline's Thomas Johnson, who is the prototypical speedy slot receiver. And with Texas no longer recruiting Dominique Wheeler, the Longhorns can focus their recruiting efforts at receiver on Dorial Green-Beckham, the Missouri star who will be recruited by new wide receivers coach Darrell Wyatt.
The thing is, even without the mega-talented DGB, Jones and Johnson are both incredible talents and the top two receivers on the Texas board. Success.
At this point, Jones is pretty much a known quantity -- so it wasn't a surprise to see him beat double coverage on an out route and finish the play with a sliding catch near the sideline. After his one-handed catches against Belton, though, the play seemed rather routine, as did another leaping touchdown catch in the end zone shown below.
Jones is also willing to use his hands to create separation, on one play he drawing a penalty flag when he put an opposing defender flat on his back coming off the line of scrimmage. Despite the penalty, it's still a skill that will serve him well at the college level because it demonstrates that he won't simply let a defender control him at the line of scrimmage in press coverage.
All in all, though, with little left to discuss in terms of his flypaper hands and fluidity as a route-runner, all remains is parsing his body language and discussing the Austin High quarterback play. An ejection from the Lake Travis SQT tournament brought Jones's maturity and propensity for occasional outbursts to the fore. With Austin High eliminated after only two games, there wasn't much opportunity for another ejection and despite some visible signs of frustration with the poor quarterback play from his teammates, Jones avoided the type of outburst that hurt him at Lake Travis and generally exhibited positive body language on the day -- at this point, the ejection seems more like a case of Jones being a strong competitor than a systematic issue that could impact his career at Texas.
However, judging by the type of play that the Maroons received on the day from two different quarterbacks, which ranged from mediocre to absolutely abysmal, it could be a long season for Jones, with plenty of opportunity for frustration.
Cayleb Jones Red Bull Gamebreakers.dv (via ghostofbigroy)
Considering Jones' size, he is a very gifted overall prospect in terms of athleticism, change-of-direction and speed. He is similar in tools to last year's Trey Metoyer who signed with Oklahoma. Is tall, has some bulk at this stage and is very elusive. Shows very good initial quickness off the ball against press coverage and gets into routes very quickly. Displays the ability to stop and start without losing much momentum. Can get vertical quickly and is a deep threat due to his size and top end speed. Shows some flexibility through the hips despite his long legs and can get into and out of cuts sharply and with sneaky separation. Stabs and bursts out of cuts and makes for a big target on underneath and intermediate routes. From the slot he shows very good awareness working soft spots in zone coverage and knows how to get open. Will extend and attack the ball over the middle of the field and in traffic and has shown to be a very competitive player in contested match-ups. His combination of size, long arms and leaping ability create mismatches down the sideline and in the red area and he shows very good body control when elevating above a defender to haul in passes. Shows some natural strength to deal with DB's in his face or shielding them from the ball. As an intermediate route runner Jones can round off cuts a bit much usually because he is tall and tends to have an upright running style. He is much better at cutting and gathering quickly into the break when he keeps his pad level down. Once in the open field he is more than capable of showing some wiggle and making the first defender miss in order to get downfield, but may not be ultra-shifty in space. He is a playmaker and competes for the ball. Jones is likley going to struggle to avoid press coverage early in his career and as a result will struggle to separate. Must do a better job off the ball and use his hands. He is one of the more fluid receivers with size to come out of Texas in recent memory which is why he is highly coveted, but is not a sudden, explosive player.
For all of the glowing reports and evaluations about Jones early in his career, repeated viewings and a significant injury history over the last two years have resulted in some significant questions about how he will transition to the college game.
The first major issue regards his average speed, as evidenced by the 4.69 40 that he ran at The Opening, a poor result for a player who was at the time considered a five-star prospect. Without that speed, Jones will have to rely on crisp route-running, an ability to change speeds, his ball skills, and overall fluidity to create separation. Whether he can obviously remains to be seen, but it seems much harder to remain confident about that, especially with both Rivals and ESPN stripping him of his fifth star following his struggles during the Under Armour week.
Another issue surrounds his toughness and durability. Multiple leg and arm injuries slowed him during his junior and senior seasons, in addition to a turf toe injury that left him well less than 100% in Orlando preparing for the UA game. At this point, there are growing concerns about his about to both avoid injuries and to play through them when he is injured. Of course, it's impossible for anyone other than the player to know what they can and cannot play through, but it certainly doesn't seem like a stretch to at least question his durability.
Finally, there isn't much evidence of Jones showing much of an inclination for blocking for his teammates, something he will have to rectify after he enrolls at Texas, as receivers coach Darrell Wyatt doesn't seem to have much patience for receivers who don't put forth maximum effort in that area. Besides pure effort, increasing his upper body strength will be necessary to improve as a blocker, as Jones did not noticeably add much mass there between his junior and senior seasons.
On the positive side, Jones is still a highly-considered prospect and his ball skills and hands are absolutely elite. In fact, if he can receive strong quarterback play during his career at Texas, he could make up for a lack of ability to separate by beating smaller defenders in jump-ball situations by elevating (which he does well) and using his strong hands to pull in catches even if he can't get two hands on the ball.
And if there is one rather underrated aspect of his game, it's his ability after the catch. While Jones doesn't have the shake of some smaller, faster players at his position, he has shown the ability to make the first defender miss and turn short passes into longer gains. Combined with his proven ability on deep routes and Jones has remained pretty highly rated in the face of the concerns mentioned above.
Depending on whether Jones can do the small things and prove that he can create separation, he could provide the deep threat that Texas needs early in his career and some much-needed playmaking ability to Texas offense.
Can Jones answer the criticisms of his ability and prove that his drop in the rankings were only a result of his injury and his exposure fatigue, or will he fail to create separation, which is what happened at times when he went against college-level defensive backs?