Ohio State QB Cardale Jones went from unknown to sensation in a matter of a month. The former third string quarterback for the Buckeyes was thrust into the starting role after J.T. Barrett suffered a broken ankle in the second half of the Buckeyes’ regular season finale against Michigan.
Since taking over, Jones has been dynamic, throwing for 618 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception with a 58% completion percentage and rushing for 258 yards on 51 carries. The issue for Jones, a redshirt sophomore, is that next season Barrett will likely return to the starting role and Jones would be relegated to backup duty and play in specific package plays to take advantage of his tremendous size and strength. Barrett put together one of the best single seasons by any Buckeye QB ever, and it’s hard to imagine Ohio State not returning him to the starting role next fall.
With Jones being a year ahead of Barrett – who will be a sophomore in 2015 – and him having served the necessary three years of college needed to be draft eligible, it would make sense for Cardale to declare for the NFL after the National Championship game, barring a disastrous performance. This quarterback class is exceptionally thin, with a massive drop-off from Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston to the next tier of quarterbacks – led by UCLA’s Brett Hundley who scouts are not particularly fond of.
Returning to school likely puts Jones in a situation where he won’t be the starter and won’t have the in-game reps to wow scouts, so he won’t be able to improve the perception of him much more than he already has in the two-and-a-half games he’s played this season. Another quality performance – win or lose – in the National Championship game from Jones and he should immediately declare for the draft in the post-game press conference.
Jones is a freakish athlete who will crush the combine and pro-day tests he’s put through, and the limited film on him is probably a benefit to him. The tape available will show-off Jones’ arm strength, and the offensive staff with Ohio State has done a very good job giving him route packages that are comfortable for him to look at – a lot of half-field reads and vertical routes to take advantage of his arm strength.
Jones has an absolute cannon for an arm and his accuracy on deep balls will wow the scouts. His physical attributes are just incredible at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds and very good speed. Scouts that throw on the Alabama game tape will see the question marks – accuracy on short and intermediate routes, never has to go more than two reads in his progression – but they will also see the raw talent and be intrigued. Jones was running past and over some of the best individual defensive players in the country and then put a few deep balls on a dime over the top – I’m still not over his flick of the wrist on the money for a 50-yard touchdown to the corner in the first half.
If he were to declare, folks would question his NFL readiness, but they would also talk about how he can make all of the throws you need to in the NFL. If he puts together some good workouts in a t-shirt and shorts at the combine, pro-day, and individual workouts – which with his skillset he should be able to do — his draft stock will climb into the early rounds.
Can Jones be a starting-caliber NFL quarterback? Possibly. Is he ready right now? Not at all. However, despite not being NFL ready now, his draft stock will never be higher. His game film is tremendous and it’s against top competition, and he’s the type of physical freak that will make some team fall in love with him in workouts — *cough* Raiders *cough*. Most teams will look at him as a project for a few years down the road, but someone that already has a QB will be tempted to grab him in the second or third rounds – see: Osweiler, Brock.
Jones could return to school and compete with J.T. Barrett for the starting job this spring and fall, but Barrett was so good that it’s hard to imagine Meyer and the Ohio State staff sitting him behind Jones even with the way Jones has played. Meyer will probably try to sell both on a dual-QB system that features Jones as a running threat and the deep-ball on play-action off of the option and Barrett as the regular quarterback. Jones could choose to return and play another season for the Buckeyes, and returning to school may help him continue to polish his skills. That said, he might not get the opportunity to showcase them, or runs the risk of putting more of his weaknesses on film. It just makes sense for Jones to take advantage of a great run of late and a horrible quarterback class behind the top-two guys in the draft.
For the guy that once tweeted that he didn’t come to Ohio State to “play school,” this is the perfect opportunity to capitalize and make a living off of football.