The Value of Cardale Jones
This is a bad quarterback class.
Ever heard that one before? If not, you must be new to the NFL and its annual draft.
Most quarterback classes are bad. At least, they’re called bad because everyone wants to poke holes in them. Take last year’s class as an example. It was a two quarterback class, only Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota projected as quality starters in the NFL. The class lacked depth, so it was a bad class. Of course, there are plenty of classes that have depth but no stars, those classes are also bad because they don’t have stars.
Most quarterback classes are bad because most quarterbacks are bad. It’s a matter of how you measure it. Last year’s class wasn’t actually bad, it was really good. Whenever you can get two quality prospects, it’s a good class. The importance of depth is overstated because an overwhelming majority of quarterbacks picked outside the first round don’t become more than bad backups. (Calling a backup quarterback bad is probably redundant at this point save for a few exceptions)
Whenever you draft a quarterback, you’re chasing the exception at the position. The NFL itself only has a handful of great players, the guys who can mask the limitations of their offensive lines while throwing receivers open with consistency. Surpassed them, you’re lucky if you have a quarterback who is talented enough to excel and is consistent enough to make his positives outweigh his negatives.
The desperation for talent at the position will always force quarterbacks to be picked earlier than they should be on draft day. It’s happening this year as Carson Wentz’s height and arm strength have been enough to draw comparisons to Andrew Luck.
Wentz is only being talked about as a first-round pick at this point, a top-10 or even top-five pick by most people. Yet, it’s hard to separate his skill set from some of his peers.
None of the quarterbacks in this class should be taken in the top five, there’s no question that the more talented players at other positions offer greater value to their prospective teams. Vernon Adams should go in the first round to a team who can set him up for success, but that won’t happen because of the NFL’s fixation on the size of the quarterback rather than the ability of the quarterback. A few players will creep into the first round even if their skill sets suggest they should be taken later than that.
Paxton Lynch, Jared Goff, Wentz, Connor Cook, Cardale Jones and Christian Hackenberg could all be gone off the board before the end of the second round. From that group, the most intriguing prospect is Jones.
Jones is intriguing because of where he is likely to go in the draft against where Wentz goes. Why compare the two? Because both show off major flaws while possessing the arm strength and size that NFL teams covet. The differences between the two are tough to see, so it’s hard to decipher the discrepancy between their expectations. What makes it really interesting is that Jones shows off positive traits that Wentz doesn’t, traits that should matter a lot in the NFL.
A lot of Wentz’s plays are largely useless for evaluation. A lot of them look like this play. Wentz is able to stand still in the pocket without any semblance of pressure around him. He has a wide open receiver who he doesn’t have to throw open, that receiver was his first read on a simple play design also. Wentz doesn’t have to deliver the ball against pressure and he doesn’t have to move his feet at all in the pocket.
Even though Jones didn’t play in a complex offense either, he was put in more situations that allowed us to explore his skill set.
The biggest difference between Wentz and Jones falls in Jones’ favor. Wentz has heavy feet. He doesn’t make subtle movements to set and reset in the pocket or adjust to arriving pressure. When he holds the ball in the pocket he plants both feet firmly in the ground, suggesting that he isn’t naturally able to adjust. That is hugely important in the NFL because the pockets tighten behind even the best of offensive lines.
In the above play, we can see Jones set and reset his feet while reading the defense before delivering the ball as the pocket around him collapses. Jones has to deliver the ball over an arriving defensive lineman while still fitting it into a relatively tight window.
It’s not that Jones is as graceful as Marcus Mariota or as nimble as Drew Brees, it’s that he exhibits enough precision and quickness in his feet to suggest that he will be able to manage NFL pockets. Precision and quickness that just isn’t seen in Wentz. Furthermore, Jones does this while maintaining his eye-level downfield. He isn’t an impatient quarterback nor does he panic when his first read isn’t open.
On this play, Jones recognizes that his flat route is double covered. He isn’t exceptionally quick to come off that read but when he does he shows off the poise in the pocket to adjust to the arriving pressure behind him. Jones slides forwards and to the right before delivering a perfect pass from an established base.
Active feet and active eyes allow a quarterback to keep the timing of a more complex passing game. Simpler systems will allow the quarterback to lock onto one area of the field and hold the ball until he can see someone come open. If you want to attack every area of the field and every level of the defense, you need your quarterback to execute more difficult reads. In the above play, you can see Jones is constantly moving his feet without losing his balance while shifting his eyes to survey the defense.
Jones is inconsistent reading coverages. He can show off a slow process but he will also scan the field from sideline-to-sideline quickly without losing any of his composure.
This play is a good example of Jones scanning the field from left to right. It’s third down and he throws short of the first-down line but that was the only option available to him. The defense had called the perfect coverage to sit on each route, something that can be seen if you take your eyes off the ball and watch the receivers as they flutter in and out of the shot.
Moving comfortably in the pocket while reading coverages downfield is an important trait for any NFL quarterback prospect. When paired with an ability to deliver the ball against big hits, there is a foundation for a coaching staff to build on.
Jones is the size of a defensive end. He officially measured 6’5″ and 253 lbs at the combine. He used that size as a runner in college, showing off the power to run through defensive tackles even. Being that big and that strong doesn’t guarantee toughness, but Jones showed off plenty when delivering the ball against pressure at Ohio State. He won’t shy away from contact or drop his eyes when pressured.
In the above plays, Jones is hit in his line of sight during the first clip and hit from his blindside in the second. He’s not impacted by either blow, standing tall and delivering the ball before absorbing the contact.
That all comes with an often-impressive deep ball.
So what is it about Jones that makes him a bad prospect overall? The quarterback has major accuracy issues. He is reminiscent of Zach Mettenberger with his placement. Mettenberger doesn’t throw with any precision, he can’t lead receivers to space or place the ball so they can make comfortable catches when open. This lack of nuance as a passer can work in specific systems at the college level, but the problems it creates are multiplied in the NFL.
Take this play for example. Jones turns a 50+ yard touchdown into a 30-yard gain because he slightly overthrows Braxton Miller. It’s only a slight overthrow, but it’s a slight overthrow from a completely clean pocket to a receiver who is in a vast amount of space.
Missing wide open throws is something that will happen to even the best of quarterbacks. It only happens once or twice in a season though. Problems arise when a quarterback has a consistent strain of inaccuracy in everything he does. Jones will miss wide open throws downfield, he’ll miss wide open throws over the middle of the field, fitting the ball into tight windows can be a major problem while throwing receivers open with touch is an adventure at all times.
Accuracy issues should be majorly problematic in the NFL in theory, but it’s something that many speak about as something that can be corrected. Mechanically a quarterback can be taught how to better set himself up to be accurate, but there is still very much a mental aspect to throwing the ball to a spot that is more natural than developmental.
The question with Jones is less about his ability to be a pocket passer, his understanding of coverages or his toughness to stand in the pocket and more about how much of his inaccuracy can be traced back to his footwork or throwing motion.
Jones will probably be a late second or early third-round pick in the 2016 draft. He will be much better value than Carson Wentz because Wentz has ball placement concerns of his own, even if not as significant, without exhibiting the same pocket traits that Jones does.
Neither Jones or Wentz should be expected to star on the next level. If you were forced to pick between the two (I’m not sure who could force you in this scenario), Jones quite comfortably offers greater value as a second or third round pick against Wentz going in the top 10.