Scouting Profile: Cardale Jones

#1 best-selling author Mark Schofield reveals his list of the top quarterback prospects for the 2016 NFL Draft. Schofield, who wrote 17 Drives – a chronicle of the 2015 college football season – has ranked Cardale Jones as his 6th ranked prospect. Click here to look at all of his work on the 2016 QB class.

In the summer of 2014, Cardale Jones was a rather unknown commodity on the Ohio State depth chart, listed behind Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. When Miller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the pre-season, head coach Urban Meyer turned to Barrett to take control of the offense. With OSU racking up wins behind Barrett, Jones saw only limited action in mop-up situations during the bulk of the year. But when Barrett suffered a broken ankle in the regular-season finale against Michigan, Meyer turned to his third-string QB to close out that game, and to take the reins for the Big Ten Championship Game the following week – with a potential playoff berth on the line. Jones responded with an incredible three-game run, leading Ohio State to the national championship. He threw five touchdowns and only two interceptions during that stretch, prompting some to believe he should leave school and enter the NFL draft.

With both Miller and Barrett expected to return healthy for the 2015 campaign, such a move might have made sense. But even without the guarantee of a starting job, Jones returned to campus. When Miller moved to wide receiver, the job became a two-man race, and Jones edged out Barrett for the nod. But his junior season failed to match the magic of his three-game run in 2014-15, and he eventually lost the starting role to Barrett down the stretch of the season.

Strengths

Arm talent might be a concern for some of the other quarterbacks in this class, but it is not a concern for Jones. Whether it is throwing the vertical route with touch deep down the field, or driving the football on intermediate routes into smaller throwing lanes or from one hash mark to the opposite sideline, Jones has the ability to make every throw a QB can be asked to execute. Now, his arm strength and velocity comes with a bit of a catch, which we will address momentarily.

When watching Jones play, there are situations where it is clear he is processing information very quickly and making a fast decision on where to throw the football. His play speed – with respect to determining where to throw – is impressive for a player with his limited number of starts. This was something highlighted on Inside the Pylon earlier in the season, and it was present not only during his first year as a starter, but also during that three-game stretch at the end of the 2014-15 season. He can read and react to a defense very quickly, and when you combine that with his arm strength and velocity, it can be a dangerous combination for a defense to handle.

I would posit that Jones does not get enough credit for his knowledge of the game, whether it relates to protection schemes or route design. From viewing his tape, I have noticed many occasions where he displayed great awareness in the pre-snap phase, whether identifying a potential blitz and adjusting the protection and / or formation, or identifying a potential man coverage situation or mismatch, and attempting to exploit the secondary. When you consider Jones’ limited number of starts – spread over two different offensive systems – this trait is that much more impressive. It would not surprise me in the least if reports of him shining during meetings with teams, such as this report below, are 100% accurate:

His mechanics are solid, generating more than enough torque with his upper body on each throw, while involving his lower body appropriately. He has a very quick release, similar to Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter Jameis Winston. Again, when this is put together and added to Jones’ (usually) quick decisions and his arm talent, this poses problems for a defense and a secondary.

Jones is generally accurate on his throws, but as with some of his other traits, there is another side of this coin. He is perhaps most accurate in the vertical passing game, where general accuracy is the desire, and not absolute precision. He has the ability to use touch and drop the throw over a cornerback and toward the appropriate shoulder of the receiver.

He can make progressions reads, and even full-field progressions reads, when the situation asks him to display this trait. In these situations he also has the ability to manipulate defenders, whether using his eyes or a pump fake, to open up a receiver on a different level or on the other side of the field.

Finally, any discussion of Jones has to include his incredible athletic ability and play strength. Not only can he extend plays with his feet, or shrug off a potential sack in the pocket while standing still and then find a receiver downfield, but he has the body type – and the aggressiveness – to take on defenders when acting as a ball carrier. Defensive backs would be wise to aim for his ankles when trying to take him on in the open field, because Jones is not afraid to lower a shoulder when someone tries to take him on up high.

Weaknesses

While his play speed – with respect to making decisions – is impressive at times, there is an almost frenetic nature to his game. Everything with Jones happens at 100 miles per hour, particularly when it comes to throwing the football. He needs to learn nuance and touch when it comes to passes in the short- and intermediate-areas of the field. Not every situation calls for the fastball, and as he moves forward he’ll need to learn how to effectively use the changeup. Adding this element to his game would likely improve not only his general accuracy, but his ability to function on different route concepts with increased success.

As mentioned earlier, Jones has the ability to work through progression reads, sometimes on a full-field scale where he works to his fourth or fifth read. But in these occasions, particularly in the face of pressure, Jones tends to lock up on that final read and force a throw into coverage, rather than resetting the situation as some other quarterback in this class (see, Vernon Adams) and looking to one of the earlier reads to find an open target. He also needs to improve on seeing or feeling the underneath defenders, particularly regarding zone blitz schemes when a defensive lineman drops. The first play of his 2015 game against Penn State is one such example.

Scheme Fit

Honestly, this marriage is the stuff of offensive legends. Get Jones into a deep, vertical passing game built around his ability as a dropback passer, and just get out of the way.

One Play

Want to see what happens when he is patient in the pocket?

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/CardaleVideo1.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/CardaleStill1.jpg”]

That is from his first collegiate start. After meeting the running back at the mesh point he executes a very solid three-step drop while looking downfield. As he waits, showing solid patience to let this route concept come together, he drifts a bit with his feet, but this is just a QB waiting to strike, and nothing that concerns me. He then delivers a rocket deep on the over route, placed perfectly.

Did I mention this was in the first quarter of his first collegiate start, in the Big Ten Championship Game nonetheless?

Round Projection

2nd Round

One- to Three-Year Projection

Jones has the raw tools and ability to be a future star in the NFL. The only reason I am not higher on him is a dual fear that A: He won’t get the opportunity from a coaching staff to refine the raw elements of his game and B: His future coaches will force him into an offensive structure that does not fit what he does best. Jones is a classic dropback, vertical passer. Let him flourish in that role. (Again, please, please read this article Mr. Arians, as well as Matt Waldman’s write up of him in the 2016 Rookie Scouting Portfolio). In such a system I have no doubt that by the end of year one he is entrenched as the backup QB, and by year three he has made the starting role his – and is winning games to boot.

ITP Resources

Perils of Box Score Scouting

On Two: Play Speed

Follow @MarkSchofield on Twitter.  Buy his book, 17 Drives.  Check out his other work here, or Vad Lee overcoming fear, and the no-throw decision with Jake Rudock.

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