The Buffalo Bills are drafting a quarterback this year, and the latest word on the street is that the team likes Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones. Given the team's previous affection for athletic players like Cam Newton and EJ Manuel, is it any surprise the team would pursue this guy?
Don't just take the lazy route with classifying this player. Yes, he has a powerful arm, and is big, athletic, and needs seasoning. That doesn't make him JaMarcus Russell. It doesn't make him Manuel, either. Jones has traits that classify him in a different way from these two quarterbacks, and if you look further into the context of his play, you can see what the Bills might be seeing.
More than any other quarterback in this draft, Jones has a magnetic personality and is just plain fun to experience. The entertainment he's created in the last few years is well-chronicled, and he's the type of leader who would rally teammates because they genuinely like him, like Newton, Jameis Winston, and Brett Favre.
Jones grew up in Cleveland, and attended a semester of military prep academy before entering college in order to improve his academics. School has been Jones' adversary in the past; as a freshman, he angrily tweeted about the requirements for college athletes to go through menial schoolwork (a response to earning a 'B' on a sociology exam) which gained him some notoriety.
He spent two seasons on the bench behind Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, before being thrust into a starting role for the final three games of Ohio State's 2014 championship season due to injuries. After winning those games, he went through a very close training camp competition with Barrett for the starter's role in 2015. Jones won, but after a few mediocre performances, he was benched in favor of Barrett, who seemed to fit better with Urban Meyer's read-option running game.
Jones is leaving Ohio State as a 23-year-old redshirt junior who will turn 24 in September. While Ronda Rousey may be his secret crush, he's committed to a relationship with an Ohio State nursing student, and they have an 18-month old daughter named Chloe.
This is a fantastic draft for raw quarterbacks with great tools, with Jones, Paxton Lynch, and Carson Wentz just a few of the names that carry high potential. Jones may have the greatest upside of all of them. He stands 6'5" and weighs in at 253 pounds, and he can throw a football at least 75 yards. Here's a look at that arm talent on display. You can count the number of quarterbacks on one hand who could make this throw with a defender tackling him:
While he doesn't have the top speed or bulldozing running upside of Newton, he's roughly as athletic as your average tight end, and could run the zone-read or scramble through a defense. Here's one example of his limitations in the running game, a zone-read keeper that goes nowhere.
Mechanics and accuracy
Jones has a howitzer arm, but at times it feels like he doesn't know how to control his own strength. His deep ball placement is inconsistent, and I think a lot of it comes down to body control. Jones can throw well when all of his mechanics are aligned, but if he's not fully swinging his back leg, or if he hitches his left arm instead of following through, he'll miss (usually high). Here's one example from a game against Maryland, which was a touchdown if Jones threw it to the right spot.
Jones is capable of throwing the ball into very narrow windows, as well. His flaw is something I've seen with other strong-armed quarterbacks in this class, like Lynch. Jones is not ready to start in the NFL. He needs time on the bench to iron out the inconsistencies in his throwing mechanics.
Jones understands how to take what the defense gives him. That means tucking the ball and running if his reads aren't open. It also means throwing the ball into the stands if he has no options and is under pressure.
He can go through progressions, although he tends to do so slowly. He doesn't anticipate routes coming open on the field, being more of a see-it-throw-it passer, but tracks the receivers well with the motion going on around him.
In this example play against Penn State, Jones identifies that all of his receivers are covered. After hopping between reads, he rolls out of the pocket, directs traffic with his receiver, and uses his running threat to open up a passing lane for the first down.
At the same time, Jones is somewhat of a perfectionist on the football field. If he recognizes the defensive look and realizes that his big play isn't available, he'll attempt to stretch the play out or improvise in order to open that play up. Sometimes it works, like his jump pass against Virginia Tech. Often, it just results in an incompletion or a run that fails to convert a first down. If Jones can be taught to find his money plays pre-snap, quickly decide if they aren't available, and move on to safer options, he'll thrive.
When it comes to being able to stand in the pocket, unwavering, and deliver a pass in the face of an imminent pass rusher, no one else in this quarterback group can match Jones. Jared Goff comes close, but doesn't have the muscle to complete throws after the defender has made contact.
Even early on, when Jones barely had any experience in a live game, he flashed excellent pocket traits. Here's an example from Jones' third college start, in the national championship game. He keeps his eyes downfield, steps up and around edge pressure, and delivers a great deep pass.
Even when he's being taken down by a defender, Jones has the grit and arm strength to throw a dagger into a defense. You won't rattle him with a strong pass rush.
Out of all of the quarterbacks that Buffalo is targeting in this draft (barring the unrealistic options like Goff and Wentz), Jones is the one that excites me the most. He has rare traits for the position, and I'm not talking about hand size. His pocket toughness is tremendous, and he has shown a natural ability to navigate around pass rushers to keep a play alive. I also think his ability to read defenses is underrated, as I've seen enough film that shows him attacking weaknesses down the seam and easily identifying open receivers due to blown assignments. The vision is there, it just needs to become more of a reflex than a learned ability.
The main weakness with Jones is his accuracy, which is somewhat innate, but also caused by mechanical inconsistency. Jones has mentioned that he doesn't even grip the ball the same way on any given throw (in high school, he played so fast there was no time to grab the laces), so I imagine that working with a quarterback coach would do him some good.
As for the concerns about Jones regressing in 2015? I chalk that up to pressure from the coaching staff and Jones' own perfectionist nature. Following along with the Ohio State starter storyline this year, it was clear that there was no favorite for the job. Public opinion would dictate that Jones, the championship winner, would be the undisputed starter, but Barrett nearly won the Heisman during the regular season for the Buckeyes, and was a much better fit for the read-option offense Urban Meyer wanted to run. Even after Jones won the job, Barrett was being subbed in pretty much any time the offense started to spin its wheels. Imagine if Tyrod Taylor were subbed out for Manuel for five plays a game, as well as any time he threw an interception while the team was losing. The situation attacked Jones' confidence, and he started to struggle when trying to achieve too much.
Having seen Jones play in 2014, when he was the unquestioned starter and being given the reins of the offense, I believe those games are closer to his true nature. In my opinion, Jones is the best and most realistic option for the Bills to draft as a developmental backup this year, even if it costs them a second-round pick to do so.