Every year the NFL Rookie Draft has stories upon stories, but Cardale Jones’ is one for the ages. The former third string quarterback became the starter in the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game and continued that momentum into a three game winning streak that won Ohio State a National Championship. He got handed the starting nod in 2015 only to lose the job in a blowout against Penn State. Today, Jones enters the 2016 season for the Buffalo Bills chalk full of questions: I reviewed his 2014 games against Michigan and Wisconsin, then his 2015 contests versus Virginia Tech, Penn State and Maryland to get a better idea of the skills and abilities the young man will bring to the next level. These are my thoughts:
QB – Cardale Jones, Buffalo formerly Ohio State 6′ 5″ 253 lbs.
The issues that stick out, at first glance, are his inexperience with less than 270 career attempts in his three years at Ohio State and he will be 24 years old this September. Playing behind better players is understandable, but Braxton Miller, who converted to wide receiver in 2015, and J.T. Barrett ran almost as much as he threw the pigskin (Jones is the purest passer of the bunch). Jones has issues processing the different defenses that he faced against in the Big Ten; in the NFL, especially in the AFC East, defenses will be more difficult to unlock than anything he has seen before. When the signal caller dropped back, his footwork was a mess and he threw to a spot on the field regardless if the receiver could get there or not. The former Buckeye did not anticipate well, locked his eyes to one player and could not figure out how to use his two top-tier wide receivers: Braxton Miller and Michael Thomas.
Additionally, I rarely saw him hit his play makers in stride; instead the young quarterback would make them unnecessarily contort to the ball when they were already wide open. His decision-making is not at an NFL starters level (so he should benefit from not being expected to start right away), which is further complicated by his limited pocket presence. Jones will also need to increase the arch of his throws, as more than a few of his passes got knocked down at the line of scrimmage.
Some might consider this a con, but Jones is a raw piece of clay, which could play into Greg Roman’s offensive guidance. He has no fear and seems unaffected by earlier bad judgement. The signal caller has a big, athletic frame (6′ 5″ 253 lbs.) and above average arm-strength, even without setting his feet correctly. The now backup Bills quarterback throws the ball very hard and can force it into very small windows. Jones does possess good mobility, which helps him step up in the pocket, bootleg to either side, or decide to take off and run. He is also effective running with the ball (has a mean stiff-arm) and can work over smaller defenders making him a short yardage/goal line option. The quarterback sells his phantom hand-offs and pump fakes well, buying his receivers time to get open. Finally, Jones can rip it downfield with ease and in time, this trait should allow him to make NFL defenses pay for blitzing him.
Jones has a lot of work ahead of him and should not be drafted by a dynasty team that needs immediate starting help. He will need to get “coached up”, in regards to his footwork, processing defenses and accuracy. I expect the quarterback will need to receive at least two years of grooming to become an effective NFL starter. With that said, the former Buckeye could be a great stash in two quarterback and super-flex leagues, though to a patient owner.
(Full disclaimer: I am a Michigan Wolverines fan and I hope my opinions of Jones will not offend the thousands of Buckeye fans who read this site).
Thanks for reading. You can follow me on Twitter @AndrewMiley.