Should he stay or should he go? Sigmund Bloom and I debated around this question Monday night. See below.
[Note: this exchange with Sigmund Bloom and me isn’t exactly as it went down, but close enough to post. Our views as I portrayed them represent the dichotomy likely found among the NFL]
It’s mock derision from Joe Bryant, who yells this at me from across the room at a house in Las Vegas Monday night. A small group of remaining Footballguys staff is watching the Ohio State-Oregon game. Sigmund Bloom buzzes with electricity as he witnesses Cardale Jones, the Buckeyes signal caller. Jones’ NFL physical skills and three wins against top college opponents has Bloom practically cooing at the television after every throw, every run, and any potentially positive move from the red-shirt sophomore.
“Look at that arm. With his tools, tell me he isn’t worth a first-round pick right now with today’s scarcity of starter talent?” shouts Bloom at my right. “His physical skills alone make him a player that NFL teams must consider seriously in the first round.”
“Logan Thomas was considered a first-round talent before his senior year,” I answer. “A lot of folks liked him more than Jones before he had another full season to display his deficiencies.”
“Hatorade!” Bryant screams with unrepentant joy. I don’t know what’s more fun for him, our debate or the game: Bloom the eternal flame; Waldman the fire blanket.
And I am the wet blanket on this one. I’ve seen one throw in this game that qualifies as a mature NFL-caliber target. It’s a dig route thrown over a linebacker and placed behind the oncoming safety. In terms of timing, placement, and accuracy, Jones gives the receiver room to make a catch and avoid an oncoming hit to the chest for a first down.
It’s a fine play. Otherwise, the best passes I’m seeing are vertical throws against single coverage–50/50 balls or wide-open, see-it/throw-it routes. Nice passes for sure, and part of what will be required as a pro, yet not the plays that truly separate first-round busts with great physical skills, and top prospects who earn teams significant returns on such an early investment.
What’s not on display is a consistent intermediate game between the hashes that wins in the NFL. No short game with touch–Jones is zipping balls on a line and contributing to dropped passes. And while Jones is avoiding sacks with his strength and quickness, he’s not doing any of this work under the type of pressure in a compressed pocket that top prospects with a fraction of his height, weight, athleticism, and arm talent displayed with greater aplomb as collegians.
But there’s no denying that at times Jones looks like a young, raw Daunte Culepper. He’s big, strong, and he throws with decent enough fundamentals that he won’t need to completely rework his feet or throwing motion like Terrelle Pryor. There’s more to Jones’ physical game that will allow teams to add layers rather than spending most of its time stripping Jones bare before applying instruction.
It’s why Bloom isn’t letting up. The host of On the Couch gets off the sofa to think, drawing upon his legal training to frame another question. It’s part attempt to bend me to his will and partial mining for the truth via dialectic.
“If [Marcus] Mariota has ceiling and floor this wide (hands wide enough for a small barracuda’s length) and Jones has a ceiling-floor this wide (about the length of an early adolescent bull shark), who do you take in the first round?”
“I’m the GM or personnel director?”
“They hired me to make decisions about the players we want?”
“Neither. I tell them we’re taking a top talent at another position–Leonard Williams. Or, we trade down for more picks. I won’t take a quarterback that early who I don’t feel strong enough about his feel, intelligence, and leadership for the game. We haven’t seen Jones face true pressure that remotely resembles an NFL pocket. He hasn’t thrown any timing routes.”
“Haaaaaaaterr . . . ”
“Is there any NFL quarterback who doesn’t throw timing routes in his offense?”
“Colin Kapernick is pretty close to that description at times, but the question should be: Has an NFL quarterback had sustained success without throwing timing routes?”
The Cardale talk fades briefly into the background as Ezekiel Elliott tears through a small hole for another chunk of yards, but we all know Bloom has a grip on this quarterback talk like a crocodile clamping down on raw chicken. It’s only a matter of time before he gets to rolling.
“I get that you don’t believe in picking quarterbacks in the first round. But what if you’re not you in this example? You’re a decision maker who believes in picking quarterbacks that early. Who do you take then?”
“I thought Teddy Bridgewater was a top-10 pick, remember? I’m fine with picking a QB prospect early, but if a team asked me to pick Jones–a player that even the opposition hasn’t had a lot of tape to scout–I’d tell them that they might as well let me put my application for a job at the local car dealership now, because I didn’t take this job to pick a quarterback due to the shine of physical gifts and a perceived urgency to grab them early whenever they appear. If I build a strong team, I’ll get a good quarterback down the line.”
Bloom pounces, peppering me with more questions to counter my thoughts on team building.
“How often do they appear? You have to take the chance on them when they do because these kinds of physical gifts are rare. How likely is it that you get a good veteran? Teams don’t let go of these players. That’s why mediocre talents are so in demand.”
“Veterans with skill appear about as often as rookies who will translate at the position,” I say as Jones runs over a defensive tackle with great pad level–the type of play Culpepper used to make before the NFL ground him up like sausage for an NFC Central tailgate. “I’d rather build a strong team that can sell a good quarterback on its merits than continue committing large sums of money and 3-4 years to prospects who will likely waste the peak talent window of this team.”
Bryant looks at me, cups his hands like a pair of parenthesis around his lips, and mouths the word “Hater” silently in my direction.
It’s an argument with no correct answer. Bloom is right that Jones has rare physical talent. The quarterback might also have poise, potential to develop into a timing passer, and untapped feel for the game at a higher level than the constraints of his inexperience and Ohio State’s offense won’t reveal tonight.
However, I’m right that NFL teams would be better off picking safer in the early rounds. Jones has been successful, but the offensive game plan didn’t require as much advanced passing skills to get the job done. Jones might have these skills, but he hasn’t proven anything more than flashes of accuracy, size, and strength of arm and body.
Oregon didn’t have much to scout Jones compared to Jameis Winston or Ohio State had available to scout Mariota. Comparing passing stats of Jones vs. Winston vs. Mariota without true context isn’t helpful.
For me, it comes down to a fundamental point about scouting: Do you presume a player can do what you haven’t seen or presume he can’t until he displays proof otherwise? You can’t really presume neutrality with the unproven skills when comparing a prospect to players who have displayed good or bad performances in specific areas of quarterbacking that we haven’t seen from Jones.
If I were Cardale Jones, I’d seriously consider staying in school. If there was a developmental league where he could start and hone his game without that pesky classroom experience and homework, I’d urge him to go. However, school or NFL is the current choice.
Jones has a better shot at starting in college and learning at a level that won’t eat him alive as an amateur. He can still work at his game, earn an all-star invite, and figure out the best strategy to prepare for the NFL. Otherwise he risks rushing into a quick money grab that could turn out to be a much shorter ride that historically ends in financial failure.
Of course, Bloom will tell you that Jones waiting a year will feel like a he’s a surer thing if he looks as good in 2015 as he did in 2014, but it won’t provide Jones or the NFL extra assurance of success.
The third-stringer-turned-overnight-star may succeed. I want to see him succeed. But when does taking a risk with this much unknown become too perilous, especially as high as someone with Bloom’s stance (first round) would consider him?
It’s clear that many NFL teams and NFL media presume that quarterbacks can develop elite feel, intelligence, work ethic, and leadership for the game. This is about as likely to me as it is Kellen Moore developing elite height, weight, arm strength, and speed.
I’m not sure why folks think the mental and emotional side of the game is somehow easier to develop. If you ask me, we’re mighty presumptuous. Of course, the NFL is an environment where smart risks make imbeciles out of geniuses and dumb risks make champions out of chumps.
I’m just a fool who watches tape.
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