You may not know this, but I’m from Cleveland. I’m neither a Browns, nor a Cavaliers fan. For reasons that we’ll save for another day, I’m an Indians fan. Though I’m not a fan of all the Cleveland sports teams, I am a fan of people from Cleveland who make it to the big time. The next person from Cleveland who has the opportunity to do so will be Cardale Jones, but for him life in the National Football League may not be as easy as many think it will be. There’s no secret that Jones could have entered the draft after guiding Ohio State to a national championship, but he elected (or was convinced) to return to the Buckeyes last season to improve his football skills. To be frank, it didn’t work out for him, and many think his NFL draft stock has dropped significantly since last season.
But, what is the biggest challenge for Cardale Jones at the next level? Is it reminding everyone that he’s matured since his infamous tweet of nearly four years ago? Does he need to show that his mostly untested skills can translate into NFL success for whomever takes a chance on him? Or, does he need to just show up, smile and hope for the best?
Honestly, I’m not sure what the ceiling is for Cardale Jones because we’ve seen so little of him in his time at Ohio State. I don’t know what NFL scouts are looking for and I understand that the NFL is a cutthroat business, but it’s really tough to see scouts make determinations about people as people when spending such little time with a person.
Is Cardale Jones the smartest guy in the room? No. That much is clear, but what does that have to do with being a quarterback at the NFL level? Nothing. Yes, quarterbacks in the NFL need to be smart, quick and have good arms, and Jones is probably good enough to fill those roles. I think if scouts, coaches and ostensibly the fans of their team expect all quarterbacks to be like Joe Montana or even Tom Brady, they themselves are being unrealistic.
Here are some thoughts from random NFL scouts recently published by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
"You can't pass a talent like that," said one scout. "If you're going to bet on one, bet on a guy with all the talent if he shows you enough want-to." Passer rating of 97.2, rushed for 617 yards. "Kind of reminds me of a poor man's JaMarcus Russell," said another scout. "At least JaMarcus had some touch. This guy just throws the ball. His mechanics are all over the place." Added a third scout: "Strong arm. Big, big body. Not the brightest cookie in the world. I worry about him when he gets money in his pocket. I just don't know if it's all there mentally." Wonderlic of 25.
The ceiling for Jones is the same ceiling you and I have at our 9-5. We’re all only as good as our weakest team member. And while some think Jones is the next coming of JaMarcus Russell, nothing from afar seems to indicate that.
When I see someone I’ve never met like Cardale Jones who passed up an obvious payday return to school to better his quarterback skills by exposing himself, I see someone who has the humility to be the sponge of knowledge that’s needed to be successful at any level.
Do I think Jones will become the next Tom Brady, Payton Manning or even Philip Rivers? No, but hell, I don’t think we knew for sure any of those three would be as good as they have been in their NFL careers.
In five years, what’s the football obituary we attribute to Cardale Jones? Well, I hope it isn’t written. I hope for his and his family’s sake that he’s still playing. Jones immediately beats the JaMarcus Russell comments by being in the league and having a modicum of success. He doesn’t need to be a starter because last time I checked NFL backups still cash large checks.
Cardale Jones’ ceiling is what he makes it and his boom or bust status comes in how he handles the diversity of being a lovable guy versus being head down in the playbook. Being a fun and lovable guy is great for the fans, but at the end of the day those fans want a high level of production and more wins than losses. But as my former Campus Pressbox colleague Ryan Isley said, “sometimes, enough is enough,” and “Jones needs to Step out of the Spotlight.”
So, not only does Jones need to manage his expectations he has to prove all the scouts wrong who think he isn’t smart enough or good enough to be in the NFL. Seems like an easy task, right?
Good luck, Cardale.
Family first, then football, then all the other shenanigans.
E-mail Damien at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @damienbowman.