MOBILE, Ala. — Carson Wentz didn’t get out of bounds soon enough.
Deion Jones was just too fast.
Wentz, the highest-rated quarterback at Saturday’s Senior Bowl, raced toward the sideline on a busted play. He was a stride away from the touch-free zone when Jones barreled into him at full speed, his shoulder smashing against Wentz’s left ribs.
Wentz tumbled out of bounds. The announced 35,271 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium let out a collective gasp. NFL Network’s cameras zoomed in on Jones, the ex-LSU linebacker and New Orleans native.
They said nice things.
Like, “one year as a full-time starter and he made the most of it.” He “flies around the field.” Another even projected Jones as a second-round selection in the NFL draft.
Ah, but there’s a catch.
Jones is 6-foot-1. He’s also 219 pounds.
That made him the smallest linebacker at the Senior Bowl. Just four of the 17 linebackers in Mobile were shorter than Jones, and none of them weighed less than he does.
What’s that mean? Not a dang thing, says former Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman, a chiseled, 6-foot-7, 269-pound freak of a man.
“The tiny guy’s anthem is just for those people who don’t play the game,” Oakman grumbled. “It’s about the heart you bring to the game.”
Deion Jones is hearing the “tiny guy’s anthem” now more than ever, he says. It’s natural, of course. This is the time NFL scouts, coaches and staff members pick apart a player’s game as they evaluate prospects ahead of the draft April 28-30.
The hangup about Jones is clear, and, yes, he’s well aware of it.
“I don’t think that should be held against me,” Jones said after the South beat the North 27-16. “Yeah, it’s a fact that I’m not the average-sized linebacker.”
He’s not the average Senior Bowl participant, either. This kid from Algiers — they call him “Debo” — isn’t your normal NFL draft prospect. After all, it took Debo three years to be a starter at LSU.
He was unknown to many as late as September — some reserve who spent most of his first three seasons at LSU watching from the sideline and laying hits on special teams. He got his chance to shine last season, rolling up a team-leading 100 tackles — only because his good friend and former teammate, Kwon Alexander, left for the NFL as a junior.
Debo stayed, and he flourished — just like he did Saturday among a host of fellow pro prospects and in front of NFL scouts. He rolled up six tackles, second-most on the team, on just 26 snap counts. And he flew around on special teams, making an ankle tackle on a kick return that again had the crowd buzzing.
Debo put an exclamation mark on a week in which he impressed so many — despite, of course, his height and weight. Phil Savage, the Senior Bowl’s executive director, noticed.
“I told Deion, ‘You kind of remind me of Bart Scott,’ ” Savage said of the former Ravens and Jets linebacker who stands 6-2 and weighs 240 pounds.
“He’s got some explosiveness to him,” Savage said. “He’s rugged enough to play inside the box but fast enough to run outside. He’s got a big personality. I thought he’d be one of the big winners of the week, and I thought that proved to be true.”
Savage says Debo has “four-down value.” He’s big enough to stop the run on first and second down and athletic enough to be a part of sub-packages on third down. What’s the fourth down? Special teams, of course.
Debo has discussed his special-teams role with NFL scouts and coaches this week. It’s where he made his mark at LSU, after all.
“I have a little knack for it,” he said. “They say it’s a good asset to have.”
Debo knows, though, that he needs to pack on weight. It’s not easy. He’s eating five to six meals a day, but he’s also training in Miami, where it’s 80-plus degrees. High metabolism runs in the family, too. Debo arrived at the Senior Bowl on Sunday at 225 pounds, he said.
“I didn’t really eat too much the first two days before the weigh-in,” he said. “My metabolism is so fast.”
Debo has a few similar-sized heroes he looks up to. Alexander, for one. The two are nearly the same size. Alexander is listed at 6-1, 227. The Buccaneers picked him in the fourth round last year, and he grabbed a starting role last season.
Deone Bucannon, a hybrid linebacker for the Cardinals, is another. He stands 6-1, 208. Throw in Jacksonville’s Telvin Smith, too. He’s 6-3, 220.
“A lot of guys, man,” Debo said. “I know what I can do. I pretty much think the tape speaks for itself. I can compete with any other linebackers, no matter my size.”