Rewind back in time to November 29th, 2014, as the 6th ranked Ohio State Buckeyes are preparing to participate in the first ever FBS College Football Playoff led by their redshirt freshman and Heisman hopeful quarterback, J.T. Barrett. As fate would have it, Barrett would break his ankle in the fourth quarter against Michigan and rid Ohio State of all their chances at a playoff birth, let alone a championship. Except, that wasn't how the story would end.
Before the end of the 2014 season, Cardale Jones was known more for his infamous tweet and his curious nickname, "12 gauge," than any of his on field exploits. After all, Jones entered the season behind both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, and had thrown for only three yards in his first season. When his time came though, he capitilized in glorious fashion. Following the Michigan game, Jones threw for 742 yards and seven touchdowns. His performances weren't just impressive, they were magnified on the big stage. Jones threw for a combined 485 yards against both Alabama and later Oregon in the national championship.
One would think Jones would bolt for the NFL after earning a national championship. When the decision eventually came that Jones would "play school" for one more season, few could have anticipated the topsy turvy season ahead. With Barrett returning from injury, Jones was a part of a jigsawed committee in which he saw increasinly less reps to his eventual successor. As Jones enters the 2016 NFL draft, the biggest question teams will have to ask themselves is whether the 2015 season was fact or fiction.
Fairy tale or not, the nickname "12 guage" is well earned. Perhaps the first thing that pops off the screen when observing Jones is his ability to throw the football with power and velocity. When it comes to pure arm strength, he and Carson Wentz create their own tier in this draft class. Power isn't potent unless there's accuracy to match and, in most instances, Jones' passes don't get away from him. He's particularly impressive when he is throwing in rythm right from the snap. Jones is most comfortable throwing the football when he can see his receiver seperate and get the ball there before the defensive back has time to react.
Early in the year against Virginia Tech, Jones sees Michael Thomas create space against his defender and strikes with a fast ball up the seam.
Jones isn't all arm strength, though. There are plenty instances where Jones shows the ability to take some velocity off the ball to not only get it in between defenders, but also make it a catchable pass for his receiver.
Perhaps one of the most notable aspects of Jones' game is his size. Like arm strength, size can help him hide some deficiencies other less genetically gifted players can't. Whether on the move in space or in the pocket, Jones shows the ability to strug off or drag smaller defenders. Considering his 6'5" 250 lbs. frame, there aren't going to be many tacklers that will match up with his imposing stature.
Virginia Tech's Dadi Nicolas looks downright diminutive at 6'3" and 235 lbs. compared to Jones. While pass rushers in the NFL are considerably larger, Jones should have some success dismissing the advances of smaller linebackers. Additionally, Jones is able to stand in longer in the pocket because of the combination of his arm strength and size. Even without a solid base, Jones can make throws to virtually any part of the field in the face of pressure.
When a player has started only 11 total games in his collegiate career, there are going to be some faults in his game. Compounded with the reality that Urban Meyer's offense does very little to prepare a quarterback for the NFL, Jones is looking squarly at a steep learning curve as he enters the big leagues. When asked to make additional reads, Jones struggles to desipher the field ahead of him. This is partly due to the nature of the offense, but he also left plenty opportunities on the field by not seeing the play develop in time.
Against Maryland, Jones fails to hit the open receiver (slot receiver top of the screen) because he gets hung up on his first read. To effectively run an NFL offense, the corner route must routinly be converted given the situation.
As mentioned in his strengths, Jones is primarily a sight thrower. This means he has not developed an anticipatory way of seeing routes develop. Although he has tremendous arm strength, Jones doesn't trust what he sees on the field until it is in plain sight. In the NFL, even the strongest armed quarterbacks must anticipate breaks in routes to keep defensive backs out of the endzone. Another strength sometimes working against Jones is his size in the pocket. Jones is often able to make plays with defenders in his face, but he isn't adept at managing the pocket and keeping himself upright. The NFL is a much less forgiving place than college football and many of the hits he took in college will be much more significant in the pros.
Fast forward from November 2014 and Braxton Miller will be drafted as a reciever, J.T. Barrett will lead the Ohio State Buckeyes into 2016, and Cardale Jones will realize his NFL dream. When considering the entire package, there's a lot to like in Jones. He's built like an NFL quarterback and showed the ability to succeed on the big stage. In many respects, playing an additional year at Ohio State was a disservice to his pro prospects. Jones was a circle peg being forced to fit in a square hole and the results were predictably dissapointing. Like many non sure-fire first round picks at quarterback, development is key. Unlike a lot of developmental prospects, Jones' upside is astronomical. When factoring in his arm strength, size, athleticism, and even accuracy in most cases, Jones projects as a franchise signal caller.
Easily the best landing spot for Cardale Jones this Arpil would be the Arizona Cardinals to play behind Carson Palmer and under the tutelage of Bruce Arians. Arians took a chance on another tools-ey prospect in Logan Thomas, but Jones is more of a natural passer than he was and is more similar to former Tampa Bay Buccaneer and former Indianapolis Colts back-up, Josh Freeman. In a vertical offense, Arians can take advantage of Jones' affinity for giving receivers opportunities to make plays under the ball. Even with Larry Fitzgerald nearing the end of his career, Jones could become the nucleus of an exciting new era in Arizona playing beside John Brown, Michael Floyd, and David Johnson.