2016 NFL Draft Prospect Preview: Cardale Jones
By Charlie Campbell
Summary: Of all the signal-callers in the 2016 NFL Draft, if you're looking for the best skill set of any quarterback, it would be hard to say anyone is better than Jones. North Dakota State's Carson Wentz and Memphis' Paxton Lynch would be worth debating, but Jones is probably the rarest athlete in that group. Jones has great size and athleticism, along with an absolute cannon for an arm. Immediately after being drafted, Jones will have one of the strongest arms in the NFL and his nickname of '12 gauge' is very fitting given the powerful shotgun he has for a right arm.
In 2014, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said Jones beat out J.T. Barrett in practice to be the backup to Braxton Miller. However, Barrett was chosen as the starter when Miller went out of the season because Meyer preferred Barrett's leadership. Late in the season, Barrett also went out with an injury, and that put Jones as the starter for the Big 10 Championship and college football playoff. Jones put on a display as he led the Buckeyes to wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon to win the National Championship. In his three starts, he completed 61 percent of his passes for 860 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions.
Prior to the 2015 season, sources from multiple teams said that they viewed Jones as having a first-round skill set and if he performed for an entire season the way he played in his three starts, he would be a first-rounder. The 2015 season didn't go well though as Jones was the initial starter before being benched for Barrett. Jones completed 63 percent of his passes in 2015 for 1,460 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions.
Ohio State's coaching staff did a terrible job with its offensive system and game plans. As a result, Jones wasn't put in a good position to succeed. The Buckeyes had Jones running a lot of the same spread-option plays that fit Barrett or Braxton Miller, but obviously Jones is a pocket quarterback. Sources from multiple NFL teams, and Ohio State's players were critical of the offensive system and play calling. They felt that Jones and the Buckeyes should have been playing Alabama's offense with their big offensive line, ultra-talented running back (Ezekiel Elliott), and a quarterback to throw vertically off play-action. Jones enters the pros undefeated in 11 college starts, so he is very inexperienced for the NFL.
As a quarterback, Jones has a devastating arm that can make throws other quarterbacks don't even bother attempting. He can make brilliant throws deep downfield.
Jones does need to improve his accuracy and ball placement. He also needs to work on throwing more touch passes, having his ball be more catchable, and not relying on the fastball so much. Jones needs to improve his ability to throw while under heat, and get faster at working through his progressions, moving his eyes and getting rid of the ball. He can hold onto the ball too long when plays start to break down on him. When Jones has a clean pocket, he displays the ability to make any throw the NFL asks for. While Jones is a pocket passer, he will take yards on the ground when available and has some athleticism as a runner. Jones can be tough to bring down for defenders in or out of the pocket.
There is no doubt that Jones is very physically gifted, but he's raw and needs to gain experience. Jones absolutely has the physical skill set to be an NFL starter. His best fit would come in a downfield pro-digit offense that lets him throw the ball vertically and to the sideline. It would be best if Jones was paired with a strong running game as he does well throwing off play-action. The West Coast system has a lot of high-percentage quick passes to move the chains, so it might not work well for Jones because of his inconsistent accuracy.
For the 2016 NFL Draft, Jones could go as high as the second round and as low as the third round. He could at least be a quality backup and a developmental project who has the skill set and huge upside to be a good starter.
Player Comparison: Cam Newton. Jones is a poor man's Cam Newton. He isn't as good as Newton in terms of passing ability with accuracy and pocket presence. However in terms of style of play and skill set, Jones is similar to Newton. Like Newton, Jones has a strong arm, a big body, and athleticism to run. They are tough to bring down in the pocket with the physical skills to make some extraordinary plays. Newton is a franchise quarterback and was viewed that way entering the 2011 NFL Draft. Jones isn't close to the prospect that Newton was and is likely to go on the second day of the 2016 NFL Draft. Jones has huge upside as a developmental backup.
NFL Matches: Cleveland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York Jets, Buffalo, Dallas, Kansas City, Denver and Arizona
There are a lot of teams in the NFL that are in need of a franchise quarterback. The Browns' quarterback odyssey looks poised to continue. Jones isn't in play for Cleveland's first- or second-round pick, but he could be in play in the third round if the Browns take a position player in the first two rounds. However in speaking with sources, it sounds like Cleveland is likely to take North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz.
The 49ers are in the market for a starting quarterback with Colin Kaepernick potentially on his way out of San Francisco. Also in California, the Rams continue to have a big need at quarterback.
The Bills and Jets need long-term answers at quarterback. Both teams have been scouting the position seriously.
Dallas could consider Jones as an understudy to Tony Romo on the second day. The Chiefs also could look for some competition behind Alex Smith.
Staying in the AFC West, the Broncos have a huge need at quarterback. Jones would fit Gary Kubiak's system, plus Denver has good coaching to develop Jones. However, Jones may not fit John Elway from a personality standpoint.
The Cardinals would be a perfect fit for Jones. He could be groomed by Bruce Arians behind Carson Palmer and eventually take over for Arizona when Palmer is done. That would give the Cardinals a developmental quarterback with the skill set of a franchise quarterback. However after dealing their second-round pick to New England, the Cardinals may have to trade up in the third round to land Jones.
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