Monday night, after the National Championship game, I jokingly tweeted that Cardale Jones should declare for the NFL Draft so he wouldn’t have to “play school” any more (in case you’re unfamiliar, Jones tweeted in 2012, “Why should we go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.”). However, the more I think about it, the more it seems that declaring for the NFL Draft is actually the best career move for Jones.
I’m sure that the possibility of Jones going to the NFL after this season is as shocking to him as it is to anybody else who follows the sport. Cardale Jones started this season as the third string quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes. After Braxton Miller got hurt before the season began, Jones moved up to second in the depth chart. Then, he moved to number one after Heisman candidate J.T. Barrett sustained an injury in their final regular season game. Jones’ first start would come against Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship game, and I, among many others, predicted that he would fold due to pressure and inexperience. However, Jones put his critics to rest with a 59-0 victory. He then went on to defeat Alabama and Oregon to take the National Championship trophy. Over those three games, all against extremely tough competition, Jones had 742 yards passing with 5 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions. He also added 90 yards and a touchdown on the ground. While these numbers are not historically good, his presence on the field as a leader and his clear ability to make big plays showed more about his game than any stats could.
So why should Cardale Jones forgo his last two years of college and jump to the NFL? First off, his draft stock will never be higher than it is right now. Even if Jones won the Heisman trophy next season, his draft stock would still manage to decline because scouts would have an entire season of film to look at to evaluate his game. There are bound to be flaws in his game that would show themselves over an entire season. However, right now, he is coming off arguably the three biggest consecutive wins in Ohio State’s illustrious history. Since these were his first three games as a starter, scouts and GMs are bound to be mystified by such a quick jump to elite quarterback play. These three wins also prove Jones’ ability to take control of and lead a team almost immediately. The intangibles that Jones possesses are something that scouts long for, especially in a quarterback.
Secondly, there is no guarantee that Jones would even start next year in Columbus. Despite his dominant success this year, Jones will likely still be overshadowed by Barrett, a red shirt freshman. Before Barrett’s injury, Urban Meyer all but declared him the starter for next season, causing Miller, a preseason Heisman hopeful, to already make plans to transfer. Since Barrett also had an incredible season and has already beat out Jones once on Ohio State’s depth chart, it’s not inconceivable that he will do so again. This would mean that Cardale Jones, after a magical playoff run and a National Championship victory, would likely be starting next season on Ohio State’s bench. As a 22-year-old, this would cause his draft stock to decline greatly. There would always be the option of a transfer for Jones, but even then he would have to sit out for a season due to NCAA rules.
Third, this is not a strong year for college football quarterbacks entering the draft. After Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota (who has yet to declare) likely go first and second in the draft, there is a big drop off in quarterback talent. According to NFL scouting specialist Matt Miller, there might not be another quarterback taken until the third round. However, if Jones declares, Miller predicts that he could go in the second or third round on potential alone. On top of that, Miller’s analysis of the 6’5″ 250 lb Jones says, “His arm is amazing. He grades great throwing to every level of the field, and he has great anticipation too.” All of these things lead one to believe that Jones would be the third quarterback taken in this year’s draft (or the second if Mariota stays at Oregon another year).
Cardale Jones would potentially be missing out on a major payday if he decides to return to college, but he also might not be putting himself in the best position to succeed. If he’s not able to win the starting job at Ohio State, sitting on the bench in college won’t help him to become a better quarterback. Instead, his best chance to succeed would be starting his career as a backup on an NFL team and getting to face an NFL defense each day in practice. Also, with the success that Cam Newton has enjoyed, who has an almost identical build to Jones, teams will be more likely to make the investment into Jones, both financially and time-wise. He also would be getting the best coaching at the highest level for a football player. If he doesn’t declare this year, his draft stock is likely to fall, and he may actually take a few steps back as a player due to far less playing time and weaker competition.