In 2015, with starting quarterback J.T. Barrett hurt, Ohio State turned its playoff life over to backup Cardale Jones. He led the Buckeyes to a BCS Championship, throwing for 9.3 yards per attempt with seven touchdowns in three games. He was the talk of the draft community and, in a down quarterback class, likely would've been the third one off the board after Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.
Except Jones stayed at Ohio State.
It was a baffling decision for the redshirt sophomore. Ohio State had a pair of talented quarterbacks in Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, whom Jones had played behind for most of 2014. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman took a job with the Houston Cougars, throwing plans for the Buckeyes into disarray. And, finally, it seemed completely out of character for Jones, who at that point was most famous for tweeting that college classes were completely pointless. After he declared this year, he went on rants like this:
This is a man who understands the downsides of the NCAA system, and yet he chose to come back. It's a decision that has done a lot of damage to his draft stock.
Ohio State benched Jones in 2015. And while his statistics were down in his junior season, his passing was still better than what OSU got after switching back to Barrett, particularly the 8.3 to 6.7 YPA. The Buckeyes offense seemed to suffer from an identity crisis. They had a polished pocket quarterback in Jones who didn't add much in the running game. Barrett fit that system better but, uh, couldn't throw.
When you look at where Jones ranks on most big boards, you begin to think he's destined to be available on Day 3. He's not among the top five quarterbacks for ESPN's Mel Kiper or Todd McShay, nor for NFL Network's Mike Mayock. He's not on NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah's Top 50 prospects list. Jones is sixth on CBS's big board, and eighth on Matt Miller's quarterback board. But there's a lot of depth in this class, and teams have talked up players like Arkansas's Brandon Allen and Stanford's Kevin Hogan. I wouldn't be surprised if Jones was the tenth quarterback off the board.
And yet, how much did we learn about Jones this year? How much should one bad year affect his stock?
According to the Rookie Scouting Portfolio, there are reasons to believe in Jones' skill set. Matt Waldman ranked him second among all quarterbacks, arguing in favor of his arm talent, pre-snap adjustments, and patience in the pocket. Of course, Waldman also gave him a bit of a pass on checkdowns and mistimed routes with his teammates in 2014, arguing that the lack of time Jones had with his receivers probably forced them off the same page.
Jones's ability to live up to his talent is in the eye of the beholder. He's definitely got a NFL arm and the ability to back it up with his football intelligence. That's more than I can say for some quarterbacks who have been getting a free pass for poor decisions in college. (Hi, Christian Hackenberg!)
Had Jones come out after Ohio State won the championship, he might have gone as high as the end of the first round to a team that believed in him. In this deeper quarterback draft class, though, he's become an afterthought, a victim of the NFL's extreme bias toward the most recent season at the expense of everything else.
I don't have a lot of bold proclamations to make about draft prospects and I don't scout these guys on a regular basis, but this situation definitely strikes me as odd. If another team sees it like the RSP does, they potentially have an advantage—to the tune of, say, a solid starting quarterback available on Day 3.
Jones was always a bit of an odd fit for Ohio State. Perhaps he's a quarterback who is better suited to the professional ranks, where he can spend his time studying football.