MIAMI — So where do you start?
That’s the question with Miami Dolphins rookie third-round pick Brandon Jones, who comports himself in impressive ways that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a 22-year-old.
Do you start with Jones taking the initiative of asking every NFL team for defensive film, in the months before the draft, so he could write up notes on each team’s defense?
Do you start with him not only visiting a young man battling cancer in the hospital, but making sure to text him and regularly keep in contact, while juggling classes, practices and games and dealing with a late-season shoulder injury?
Do you start with him helping mentor his four siblings after his father, Bert, died of cancer when he was 12?
“He’s what I call a marry-your-daughter-type kid,” Texas coach Tom Herman said in a phone conversation with the Miami Herald. “He already has a girlfriend and my daughter is 16, so we’re 0 for 1 on that.
“Brandon was second on the team in votes for captain. He’s just a remarkable young man. He lost his dad to cancer early in life and that matured him tremendously. I can’t say enough about his character.”
Bert Jones played running back at Stephen F. Austin and “I really wanted to follow in his footsteps,” the former Texas star said in an “NFL 360” post-draft special on NFL Network.
“He was my biggest inspiration. His support, always being there at every game, you could hear him screaming.”
Brandon’s mother, Sarah, said Bert and Brandon “had an unspoken kinship between them.”
But Sarah said Bert “always thought he was going to die young” — even when he was healthy — and later succumbed to liver cancer just before Brandon became a teenager.
“The window of opportunity for a transplant had been like a year and a half before (Bert’s cancer diagnosis) and we just missed it,” Sarah Jones said.
In the aftermath of Bert’s death, “the main change I saw in Brandon was he took on a more active role to be that older brother that their dad would have been proud of,” his mother said.
Brandon told NFL Network: “We know my mom definitely needed help. So we took it upon ourselves to kind of teach lessons. Ever since he passed, I always wore 33 on all my towels (because that was his father’s college number).
“I remember when I was 7, my dad told me: ‘I can see you playing on Sundays.’ That’s something that stuck with me since he said that. I’ve always been a firm believer in everything happens for a reason.”
But regarding his father’s death, “I still don’t know why,” Brandon said. “Why him? Why us?”
Bert Jones’ passing was only part of the story of how cancer has touched Brandon’s life. While at Texas, Brandon met Jayden Moore, an Austin-area grade school student who was scheduled to have his leg amputated the following day to help combat the spread of cancer.
“His doctor said if we didn’t amputate his leg, he had a 5% chance of surviving,” his mother, Diedre Moore, told NFL Network.
On the day before the surgery, “one of the nurses came in and said, ‘Could some football players come in and see him?'”
Brandon Jones was among those Texas players.
“As soon as I walked in there, I got this different feeling; it was like seeing my little brother,” Jones said in that NFL Network piece. “His doctor or nurse told me, ‘I really appreciate you talking to Jayden, but he’s actually getting his leg amputated tomorrow.'”
Their relationship blossomed during the ensuing months, with Brandon texting Jayden for updates on his health and inviting him to Texas’ New Year’s Eve win against Utah in the Valero Bowl in San Antonio, a game that Jones missed because of a shoulder injury.
“He was so genuine and real; I knew it was a connection from whenever it started,'” Jayden told NFL Network. Brandon felt empathy and fondness for Jayden, but also a bond because of his experience watching his own father succumb to cancer.
“At that age, I couldn’t imagine everything he has been able to go through,” Jones said. “I want him to still see life is good and there are parts you can enjoy.”
Jayden was so moved that he wrote Brandon a letter and sent him a small metal name plate with Bert Jones’ name, number (33) and the word “blessed.”
The letter, displayed on that NFL Network piece, read like this: “Dear Brandon, I know you always wear your dad’s number on your towel. But I know you don’t always have your towel on you. But I got you something (so) you will always have your dad with you.”
Jones was touched.
“I’ve always thought of my dad being with me in spirit, but now I can hold this with me throughout the draft process and all my dreams are hopefully going to be able to come true,” Jones said.
Jones couldn’t participate in the NFL Combine because of that shoulder injury, a torn labrum. So he instead asked all 32 NFL teams for defensive film, watched four games of every team and wrote up notes in a binder.
“I knew I wanted to grow my game mentally,” Jones said in a Dolphins’ postdraft video conference with local media.
“That’s something that’s going to keep you in the league for the longest time. I really wanted to dissect the defense of each NFL team and get a different sense of how teams scheme up different teams and what teams’ main coverages are and why they run this versus that. It was a really fun experience and it took a lot of time — probably about eight weeks to finish the whole thing. It was definitely worth it.”
That preparation, along with the skill set, endeared him to a Dolphins regime that prioritizes intelligence, versatility and work ethic.
“Their big thing obviously is they liked how versatile I was and how I’m able to move around and not have one specific position,” Jones said. “I had a very good vibe when I sat down and met with them (before the draft). It was kind of like a connection at first sight.”
Texas used Jones more often in the slot last season; he played 371 snaps there compared with 285 at free safety and 154 in the box.
And Jones, who’s 6-0 and 205 pounds, filled the boxscore last year with 86 tackles, including 4.5 for loss, a sack, two interceptions, four passes defended, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
But Herman believes he’s best suited to be a deep safety long-term.
“His natural spot is deep because he’s got such a knack for the football,” Herman said. “Depending on the coverage he has no problem tackling 240-pound running backs. Trying to play slot receivers in the NFL, if they ask him to play man-to-man all game long, that’s probably not his forte. He certainly can do it from time to time.
He’s a natural high safety that can track the football and come down the middle with run support.”
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said Jones was great value with the 70th overall pick because “I watched a lot of games this year and he looked like a mid second-rounder.”
He’s also a skilled special teams player, having blocked punts in two consecutive games in 2016.
Herman believes Jones has a chance to be a very good NFL player not only because of his versatility but also because “he’s the best open-field tackler I’ve ever coached, takes a lot of pride in his tackling ability.
“He’s extremely fast. Couple years ago, he made a fourth-down stop on the goal line on a toss sweep against USC where he tracked a kid down from (a long distance) and knocked him out of bounds. We had him on our GPS monitor at 23 mph.”
Herman cracked that Jones “would have gotten a citation in a school zone” at that speed.
Jones, who said his shoulder is healing well, envisions himself as a “Swiss Army Knife” in Miami’s defense.
“If a coach needs me to play in the box, I’ll do it. If he needs me to play high safety, I’ll do it. If he needs me to play some reps at corner, I’ll do it.”