There is a lot of excitement surrounding Cardale Jones after the young quarterback stormed onto the field for the last three games to lead his Ohio State Buckeyes to the national championship. He is now facing a very interesting predicament. If Jones returns to school, he will need to compete with a crowded and talented group for the starting job. If he declares for the 2015 NFL Draft, he doesn't have more than a three-game resume for evaluation.
Returning to Ohio State?
Three talented quarterbacks could all be returning to compete for the Buckeyes next year.
Braxton Miller (6' 2" and 215 lbs.) is a fifth-year senior who could return next season. He was the much anticipated starter but suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in practice before the 2014 campaign began.
From the OSU website (prior to the 2014 season):
Braxton Miller enters his senior season as a true contender and possibly even a leading contender for all of the major national awards, be it most outstanding performer, most valuable player and/or outstanding quarterback ... he already has won more Big Ten Conference Awards - seven - than any player in Big Ten history.
Miller, whose six game-winning touchdown drives in the fourth quarter or overtime tie for the nation's lead, is on pace to become just the ninth player in Division I history to rush for 40 touchdowns and pass for 40 touchdowns ... he enters the 2014 season the holder of nine school records.
The player who took over for Miller, J.T. Barrett (6' 1" and 225 lbs), is expected to return as a redshirt sophomore in 2015 after he suffered a season-ending injury of his own late in 2014.
He was only the fifth freshman - true or red-shirt - to start a game at quarterback for Ohio State in the modern era (1950-on) and he was only the second freshman to start a season opener for the Buckeyes ... his play through the first six games of the season has been nothing short of outstanding, as he has earned conference or national "player of the week" accolades after five of his six starts and he has climbed near the top of the NCAA statistics in several key categories, including passing efficiency (3rd at 182.1), points responsible for per game (1st at 24.0), overall points responsible for (3rd with 144) and he is 10th in total offense (333.0 yards per game).
Cardale Jones certainly has the opportunity and ability to compete for the starting job next year at Ohio State. On the other hand, he could take the small sample size and thundering national excitement that came from winning a national title and roll it into the 2015 NFL Draft. It's a fairly thin class for quarterbacks, so Jones might stand out and get drafted high by teams desperate for talent, even incredibly raw-talent, at this critical role.
Why NFL Teams Might Consider Drafting Him in 2015
As a redshirt sophomore, Jones started against a very good Wisconsin team and helped OSU shut them out with 257 yards passing, 3 touchdowns, no interceptions and 9 yards rushing. He was the MVP of that game. Jones then led his team to a playoff win over top-ranked Alabama with 243 yards passing, 43 yards rushing, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Finally, he led his team to a national championship against #2 Oregon in an unexpected blowout. He posted 242 yards passing, 1 passing touchdown, 1 interception, 38 yards rushing, and 1 rushing touchdown.
There are not many young athletes who could have handled that amount of pressure with very little notice and delivered what Cardale Jones did in those three games on the biggest stages in the country. He finished those games with a 61.3% completion rate, 742 yards (16.1 AVG), 5 passing touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 90 yards rushing, 1 rushing touchdown.
Jones also responded well to the coaching and discipline in Urban Meyer's program. That translates positively toward personalities like Bill O'Brien and other NFL coaches. When asked if he would consider declaring for the NFL, Jones said:
"In my personal opinion, I’m not ready for that level yet. But that’s a conversation Coach Meyer and I will have later on."
You can't teach someone to be 6' 5" and 250 pounds.
This was a good quote from sports.yahoo.com as an example:
He is an absolute brute out on the field, easily shedding sacks and rolling through arm tackles. He showed a canny ability to sense pressure in the pocket and deal with it while still looking down field for an open man.
He's not just mobile but more than capable of barreling over smaller, and sometimes bigger, players. In a critical run Thursday, he knocked over 310-pound defensive lineman Alex Balducci for a first down. You can't teach that.
Jones also has a monster arm capable of throwing accurately over 80-yards. His fellow teammates nicknamed him "12 Gauge" for how strong his throwing arm is and as it relates to his jersey number:
There is only one nickname that truly describes how strong Cardale Jones' arm is.... 12 Gauge. VIDEO: http://t.co/iOKxaS36yT— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 12, 2015
His accuracy, pocket awareness and competitiveness all stood out on the big stage. This is the classic "diamond in the rough" scenario that several NFL teams might just be willing to roll the dice on. Cardale Jones could be the next big, physical quarterback, in the mold of Cam Newton, Daunte Culpepper or Ben Roethlisberger. On the other hand, Jones could be the next JaMarcus Russell and bust in the NFL.
Most NFL teams and scouts would logically prefer to see more of this kid next year to have enough film to properly evaluate him, though some might prefer to get him now before he becomes the next highly sought-after candidate and top pick in a future draft.
The Texans' defense was dominant against good teams in 2014, especially toward the later part of the season as the players became more effective in Romeo Crennel's system. If Houston re-signs Kareem Jackson and re-works Johnathan Joseph's contract, the Texans are looking great at corner. If they lose one of these two, there are solid players returning next year to step up as potential replacements: A.J. Bouye, Darryl Morris, Jumal Rolle and Andre Hal. That's not to say Houston doesn't need to upgrade talent and depth at linebacker and safety, but it isn't quite the priority that the offense is right now, and nothing on offense is more important than the quarterback position.
The Texans currently only have Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Savage under contract for 2015; Ryan Mallett and Case Keenum are heading into free agency unless they sign new deals.
Most Texans fans are hoping that Ryan Mallett and the Texans agree to a new deal, and that he becomes the franchise signal-caller for the foreseeable future. Even if the Texans do ink a new deal with Mallett, we still only saw one game's worth of performance when Mallett was healthy. Mallett truly looked outstanding in that game against the Browns as he took charge of the offense and was very solid in the pocket. On the other hand, he built a Cleveland squad that faded badly, so let's pump the breaks a bit.
The new salary structure for NFL rookies makes highly drafted players far less of a financial risk to a team in the event that they bust. When you look at the multiple years (even decades) that some NFL franchises suffer in search of their next quarterback, it justifies the investment risk to keep drafting a quarterback until you find a star.
It's nearly impossible to win a championship in the NFL without a highly talented quarterback under center. This year, former Super Bowl champion Aaron Rodgers is facing the defending Super Bowl champion Russell Wilson for the NFC title, while former Super Bowl Champion Tom Brady is facing the NFL's fastest rising star quarterback Andrew Luck in the AFC title game.
Under the current circumstances in Houston, I feel they should draft Cardale Jones if the Texans have the opportunity. If he and Mallett (assuming Houston re-signs Ryan Mallett) both end up as franchise-quality quarterbacks, Houston has a great trade option and/or depth at the most important spot on any NFL roster. If one of them flames out, the Texans hedged smartly and got a quality starter. If they both bust, at least the team did everything possible to address the quarterback position.
The question then becomes when you draft Cardale Jones. If he enters the 2015 NFL Draft, he is essentially a more exciting version of Logan Thomas, who was selected in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Jones is a raw and physical specimen with great potential. The big stage success of the national championship may help Jones get picked higher, possibly even in the first round.
Disclaimer: I am emotionally indifferent to Ohio State, so I don't care that they won the national championship. What I do care about is the Houston Texans finding their next star quarterback. I don't care if he comes from another planet, just as long as he puts on deep steel blue, battle red, and liberty white and helps Houston win championships.
So what say you? Should the Houston Texans draft Cardale Jones if he decides to enter the 2015 NFL Draft?
UPDATE (01/15/15): It's all moot for now. Cardale Jones has announced he will return to Ohio State next year.