The journey of an under the radar prospect to the NFL is rarely ever a red carpet ride---and for those who continually dismiss unknown undrafted free agents as JAG (“just a guy”) or a “camp body”---you might want to look twice before you send out your version of The Turk.
Well, it just so happens that the Cardinals’ 2nd year safety Jonathan Owens of Western Missouri, is not your average “JO.”
”J.O.”, as his friends and teammates call him, grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, just five minutes from Ferguson, where Michael Brown was shot and killed and the ensuing riots looked like what Owens described as “a war zone.”
J.O.’s mother, Arthurine Cannon, sacrificed all that she could to send her son to private high school, Christian Brothers College High School, where Owens excelled in the classroom, on the football field and on the basketball court.
As a young kid, Owens conceded that he was shy and did all he could in sports to avoid contact. That was until his stepfather put up a basketball hoop in the backyard with the primary intention of toughening Owens up. Owens says that his stepdad kept telling him, “Hey, of you don’t like it, then go and cry to your mom.”
Owens might have had some Division 1A football scholarship offers had he not suffered a torn ACL as a senior.
However, Owens made the very best of his years at Division II Missouri Western.
As a senior Owens was named to the All-MIAA 2nd team, following his 95 tackle, 2 interception, 2 forced fumble, 7 pass breakup, 1 sack campaign. Plus, Owens finished 2nd in the MIAA (7th in Div. II) in punt returns averaging 11.6 yards a return. Moreover, Owens made the Dean’s List 6 times and he flourished for 4 straight years on the MIAA Honor Roll.
Here is a good look at J.O.’s senior year highlights with the Golden Griffs:
Owens’ head coach, Matt Williamson, said that Jonathan only had one bad day at Missouri Western---it was the day the coaches had to bring their star defensive back in to tell him that his stepdad was shot and killed during a crazed person’s robbery attempt.
Owens said he cried in the coaches’ arms for what felt like hours and then he made the vow that no matter what he was going to “get my mom and sister out of there.”
At his Pro Day, Owens was a man on a mission, where at 5-11, 210, he ran a 4.43 40, benched 18 reps at 225 and posted an eye-popping 43” vertical jump to go with as impressive 11 foot broad jump and 7.0 in the 3 cone.
The Cardinals were one of the teams most keenly interested in Owens:
“I knew before the draft they were very interested in me. They only get 30 official visits, so when they brought me in on a visit that pretty much let me know they were interested,” Owens said. “I talked to them before the draft, and their DB coach called me during the first round and said, ‘I’m thinking you’re the No. 1 DB on my board right now. We’re probably gonna draft you.’”
That call came before the Cardinals traded their 1st, 3rd and 5th round picks for QB Josh Rosen.
As it turned out, Owens went undrafted and he said that afterward the two teams who made the strongest pitches to him were the Cardinals and the Browns. He chose the Cardinals because he loved his visit to Arizona and felt like “I belong in the desert.”
During his first two months with the team last year, Owens made a very positive impression on the coaches and his teammates. Sadly, he suffered a knee injury in early June and was placed on waivers. After he cleared waivers, the Cardinals retained his rights by placing him on the IR.
So---what are J.O.’s chances of making the 53 man roster this year?
What works in his favor is that he is fully rehabbed, is in excellent shape and there is depth needed behind D.J. Swearinger at strong safety, especially in light of the fact that Zeke Turner has put on weight to contend at the WILB spot.
Lance Zierlein, the draft guru of NFL.com and the NFL Network wrote of Owens last year that “he has the physical ability to handle coverage and run support as a strong safety”, particularly if he gets more adept at shedding blockers and wrapping up on his tackles.
The Cardinals struck gold with UCFA SS Tony Jefferson and hope to do the same with Jonathan Owens, who is the same size as Jefferson, but in the pre-draft process graded faster (4.43 40 to 4.75), quicker (7.0 3C to 7.27) and a tad stronger (18 reps at 225 to 16).
If J.O.’s 2019 53 man roster aspirations come true, then his hope of giving his mom and sister a new home and exciting new lease on life will be a dream and a vow come true.