Welcome to Part 4 of our look at Ohio State's 2016 NFL Draft prospects.
Over the course of the weeks ahead, we will take a look at each of Ohio State's potential draft selections, and find out not only what they achieved at Ohio State (spoiler: a lot), but also what we can expect them to achieve at the next level (spoiler: a lot more). Now, the quarterback who is just as likely to throw a 70-yard bomb as he is to lay out his own father/son during the spring game, Cardale Jones.
While Urban Meyer may be the best recruiter Ohio State has ever known, the man who helped orchestrate Meyer's first of hopefully many national championships at Ohio State became a member of the Buckeyes with no thanks to Meyer.
A three-star recruit out of Glenville High School in Cleveland, OH, it was Coach Jim Tressel who added Cardale Jones to a growing list of Buckeye super stars to first make their mark in high school under Coach Tedd Ginn Sr. Unlike some of these other stars (which include Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr.) Jones' time in Columbus was almost over before it had even begun.
Upon arriving in Columbus, it quickly became apparent that there needed to be a change from Jones. Yes, there was the now infamous tweet about not coming to Ohio State to "play SCHOOL", but it went even deeper than that for Jones. According to Meyer himself, if Jones didn't get himself together he had a "one-way bus ticket back to Cleveland". The 6'5", 250 pound bear-made-quarterback was able to get himself situated enough to serve as the Buckeyes' third string quarterback behind Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton for his 2013 freshman season after redshirting in 2012.
After being beaten out by J.T. Barrett in the 2014 preseason, it was Jones who still found himself on the bench following Miller's shoulder injury. While this may have postponed Jones' rise to stardom, he still found time to create some pretty cool moments. There was that time Jones' hurdled a Maryland defender, as well as the time he murdered an Illinois defender following an interception. At one point in time it looked like these could be Jones' defining moments as a Buckeye. Then, Nov. 29, 2014 happened.
Following a disastrous J.T. Barrett injury against Michigan, it was Jones who came in and calmed the storm with a 10 play, 80-yard drive that was capped off by an explosive 44-yard touchdown run by Ezekiel Elliott on 4th and 1. While Ohio State escaped from the Wolverines with a 42-28 victory, the fate of Ohio State's Big Ten Championship rested on the massive shoulders of No. 12.
Facing off against Heisman contender Melvin Gordon and the four point favorite, 13th ranked Wisconsin Badgers, Jones earned MVP honors on his way to leading the Buckeyes to a resounding 59-0 victory. Despite attempting only 17 passes, Jones completed 12 of them for 257 yards and three touchdowns, adding a new vertical element to the Buckeyes' passing game to complement their already strong power run game. After a gut wrenching selection show, it was time for Jones to prove if he was for real against Nick Saban and the boys down South.
Against Alabama, Jones used his 12-Gauge of an arm as often as he used his "haunted downhill shopping cart" running style to lead Ohio State to a 42-35 win in the Sugar Bowl over the nation's No. 1 ranked team. While Elliott and his 230 yards and two touchdowns deservedly won MVP, it was Jones who made the Bama defense pay every time they thought about bringing an extra man into the box to slow down Elliott. It was also Jones who made Elliott's 85-yard game clinching touchdown possible, thanks to a tough one-yard run that saw Jones spin past future second round draft pick Landon Collins for the first down. Finally, Jones made every Buckeye fan across the country squeal with pride when he stated Ohio State had just taken down "the big bad SEC".
The next step for Jones was a date with the Oregon Ducks and Heisman winning quarterback Marcus Mariota. The result was 280 total yards and two touchdowns for Jones, and a National Championship for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Despite a few bonehead fumbles, Jones' big arm and will to run over anyone and everyone in his way, was more than enough to complement Elliott's 246 yards and four touchdowns. The 42-20 national championship victory was the top of the mountain for Jones, and led us into the wildly entertaining "offseason of Cardale".
First, it was Jones clarifying a report that claimed he had beaten a kid in the hospital, 91-35:
Man I wish everyone stop saying I beat a kid in the hospital 91-35.... It was 98-35, had 91 with 1:26 left in the 4th pic.twitter.com/TAJxefv5A4— Cardale Jones (@CJ12_) February 10, 2015
Next, Joakim Noah, in the middle of a series against the Cavaliers (in which Noah averaged a mesmerizing five points per game), mouthed "you ain't in the SEC" to Jones. Cardale wasted no time in calling out the Chicago Bulls' starting center:
@JoakimNoah watch yo mouth before I give you these hands chump— Cardale Jones (@CJ12_) May 7, 2015
Never one to shy away from attention, Jones had the great idea to use his newfound celebrity status at the ESPY's in an attempt to get with the most dangerous woman on the planet (at that time):
Soooooooo @RondaRousey what you doing after the show?— Cardale Jones (@CJ12_) July 16, 2015
What followed should be no secret to anyone. Jones won a highly talked about preseason quarterback battle with J.T. Barrett and promptly led the Buckeyes' to a 7-0 start, but close calls against Northern Illinois and Indiana, coupled with the reemergence of Barrett's efficient ways, sent Jones back to the bench for the remainder of his final season in Columbus (except for one last victory over Minnesota).
While Jones may have not had the perfect ending to his Ohio State career, 10-0 as a starter is nothing to be ashamed of, and neither are the numbers Jones compiled during his time in Columbus:
While Jones almost undoubtedly hurt his draft stock by returning to Columbus following his magical ending in 2014 (some speculated he could've been a top 15 pick), Cardale remains an intriguing prospect for a team looking to take their time in developing their quarterback of the future. Let's see why.
Strengths: Arm strength, big game experience
It will be very easy for a team to fall in love with Jones based purely on his physical tools. Yes, other parts of Jones' game will be questioned, but at the end of the day, two key quarterback attributes that cannot be taught are size and elite arm strength. Jones has them both.
Ohio State was barely into Wisconsin territory when Tom Herman dialed up another deep shot to Devin Smith (No. 9). One of Ohio State's key strategies this game was to move Smith into the slot to match him up against one of Wisconsin's safeties. For a corner to try to keep up with Devin was typically hard enough, let alone a safety, and Jones identifies this particular matchup immediately.
Following a fake run up the middle, Jones is free to see over his massive offensive line and spot the one-on-one matchup he was hoping for. When Ohio State plays defense you'll often see their corners pressed up at the line to be physical with the opposing receivers and not allow a free release. When fast receivers like Smith are not touched off the line, they are able to pick up speed and run their designed route, which can often spell trouble for a defense. This trouble will be amplified times about a million if there is no help over the top for the defender, and as the giant circle in the screenshot above indicates, Jones has plenty of open space to take a shot downfield.
The only problem with taking this shot downfield is that Wisconsin decided to blitz their linebackers, and one was able to get a head of steam and deliver this shot to Jones. Instead of panicking or scrambling, Jones stands firmly in the pocket, and makes a throw that shows the ceiling of how good he can be when things are going his way. It's easy to look good throwing in a seven-on-seven, but making throws of this difficulty while facing off against a linebacker ready to hit with bad intentions is a whole different game.
Not only does Jones give Smith a chance to make a play on the ball, but Jones puts this 50-yard rainbow in just about the most perfect spot imaginable. Despite Wisconsin's safety actually having Smith relatively closely guarded, Smith hauled in the perfectly placed pass for his second touchdown of the day. It wouldn't be the last connection from 12-Gauge to Smith, but it may have been the prettiest.
Weaknesses: Decision making, moving on to 2nd and 3rd reads
Basically, everything that you saw from Jones during some of the unfortunate slow starts in the Buckeyes past 2015 season. When Jones is at his best he is able to deliver strong, confident throws to his receivers in stride, but upon having his first read taken away, Jones tends to panic and hold onto the ball too long.
This wasn't a big problem for Jones during his 2014 campaign, mostly because his coaches didn't ask him to make multiple reads. Against Alabama the game plan was for Jones to make the throw if his first option was there, but otherwise get out of the pocket and scramble. With an athlete and player of Jones' caliber often the biggest obstacle is just putting them in a position to not think and let their true ability take over. Luckily for Jones, his true ability is akin to a starting NFL quarterback, and the parts of his game that need serious work are mostly related to experience.
Remember: Jones has literally started 10 games in his last four years. It makes sense that his decision making is prone to mistakes or slow reads, because he hasn't even played the equivalent to one entire college football season yet! Whether or not Jones can solve these mental hurdles and become a complete quarterback is yet to be determined, but luckily everything Jones struggles with can be taught. The same cannot be said for his size and arm strength.
Best Case NFL Comparison: Ben Roethlisberger
A comparison that at the very least Kirk Herbstreit has brought up, Jones' stature and arm strength is very reminiscent of the Steelers' two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback. Perhaps even more similar is the ability in which both Roethlisberger and Jones have shown in avoiding sacks. Defenders that try to take down Jones or Roethlisberger too high are regularly shrugged off before the quarterback fires another missile downfield. While Roethlisberger's decision making and accuracy are what clearly separates him from Jones at this point in their careers, Roethlisberger should be seen as Jones' ceiling as a pro.
Worst Case NFL Comparison: JaMarcus Russell
If Jones had declared for the draft last year and risen up to a first round draft grade, this comparison would look scary possible. However, barring the single best combine performance of all time, Jones will not be a first round draft pick come April, meaning he won't be forced to handle the same type of pressure and early playing time that Russell had to deal with.
With that said, if Jones is unable to become more mentally aware in the pocket and improve his ability to quickly get to his second and third reads on a play, we could be looking at another short career similar to Russell's. Known for swaying owner Al Davis due to his arm strength (Russell reportedly once threw a football 70 yards on both knees), Russell finished a strong junior year at LSU and became the number one overall pick. Unfortunately, Russell's already large 6'5, 265 pound frame ballooned at one point to 300 pounds, and his 18 touchdown to 23 interception career ratio wasn't quite what the Raiders had in mind when they made Russell the face of their franchise. If Jones doesn't take his development as a quarterback seriously, he could be joining Russell out of the NFL.
NFL Draft Projection: 3rd - 4th round
It's tough to pinpoint exactly where Cardale could land, as how he performs at the Combine, in interviews and at his pro day could all drastically alter his projection. As NFL draft gurus love to say, it just takes one team to fall in love with a player and draft them a round too high. While Jones' physical tools will likely give him a mid-round ceiling, the before mentioned mental issues are what will hold Jones out of the first two rounds. Jones doesn't necessarily have to go to a team in immediate need of a quarterback, as his best landing spot would center around a team where Jones can learn the nuances of the position for a few years before taking over.
Most "Cardale" Play
Jones' historic three game rise to Columbus-immortality saw him earn MVP honors in the Big Ten Championship game, but thanks to Elliott and Evan Spencer, Jones was left without much of a signature moment against Alabama (although I do still enjoy watching Jones truck the living piss out of Landon Collins).
Against Oregon I was certain Jones' moment arrived early on in the second half. However, as cool as Jones' quarterback sneak turned scramble turned diving first down was, the result of that drive led to an interception off the chest of Jalin Marshall. Not exactly the most memorable outcome from that game.
Then I saw it. On a crucial third and short in a one point game, what will go into the books as a three-yard run was in reality so much more. The determination, the pure physical strength, the insane notion that a quarterback would willingly attempt to run over a nose guard: Cardale Jones.