The Buffalo Bills have been doing their due diligence on the quarterback prospects leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, having several in for official visits, workouts and meetings. Tyrod Taylor had an impressive 2015 season, his first as a starter, but he’ll be an unrestricted free agent following the season and the Bills have made it clear that they don’t intend on extending him until they see more improvement during the 2016 season. Additionally, EJ Manuel will also be a free agent at season’s end, so the Bills have to draft a quarterback regardless, whether as insurance or an eventual replacement for Tyrod.
The Bills have expressed interest in Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Dak Prescott, Cardale Jones, Christian Hackenberg, Kevin Hogan and most recently, Paxton Lynch. Wentz and Goff are projected to be gone by the time the Bills pick at No. 19 overall, but Paxton Lynch will likely be available. However, the style of offense that Greg Roman has coached throughout his career doesn’t seem like a good fit for Lynch.
On the surface, Lynch looks the part—He’s 6’7” and weighs 230 pounds, while throwing for 6,809 yards and 50 touchdowns to just 13 interceptions over the last two years. But, he comes from one of the simplest passing systems in the country, with 241 of his 477 attempts being short passes to the sidelines while attempting just 83 passes over the middle of the field, with 57 of them traveling less than 10 yards.
One of the areas Doug Whaley mentioned that he wanted to see drastic improvement from Tyrod Taylor was his ability to work the middle of the field—so the interest in a passer that has extremely limited experience doing just that is a bit strange.
As it stands, the Bills are looking for a quarterback that doesn’t have to start from day one, but has a high enough floor where he could come in and run Greg Roman’s offense at a starting-caliber player as early as 2017. After watching several games of each of the quarterbacks that Buffalo has been linked to, that player is Ohio State’s Cardale Jones.
Cardale Jones is the enigma of the draft class, going from Ohio State’s third string quarterback in 2014 before being thrown into the fire after J.T. Barrett suffered an injury. Jones led a comeback against their rival Michigan Wolverines before going on to win the Big 10 Championship game in dominating fashion over Wisconsin, then beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and the National Championship against Oregon.
Those three games catapulted Jones into stardom, with many draft analysts claiming he should enter the draft and would likely be a first or second-round pick. Instead, Jones decided to stay in school in order to refine his game—a decision that backfired after he was benched after a string of erratic games.
While many will point to Cardale Jones being benched as a reason against drafting him, the context is important. Ohio State runs an option offense that J.T. Barrett has the ideal skill set for. Cardale, while possessing good speed and mobility simply isn’t the athlete that Barrett is and the offense calls for.
Now, Jones isn’t without flaws—after all, he’s played just 11 games—but when you study his game it’s clear that he has skills that translate to the NFL game and particularly, the Buffalo Bills’ offense.
Cardale Jones Size/Mobility
Cardale Jones has great size, standing 6’5” and weighing 253 pounds. He’s big and strong enough to shrug off defensive linemen, while having the mobility to pick up yards with his legs. In the two plays below against Virginia Tech, Jones breaks the tackle attempts and extends the play.
Against Alabama Jones shows off his speed, picking up 27 yards after dropping back, scanning the field and seeing that his receivers are covered. He breaks an arm tackle and lowers his shoulder to fight for the extra yard against three defenders.
Jones does need to work on his mechanics when making throws on the run, as he can get erratic with his release and ball placement. In the first play below, he throws the ball in the dirt and in the second, he lets the ball sail and it’s nearly intercepted.
Cardale Jones Arm Talent
Cardale Jones is one of the best pure throwers in the 2016 NFL Draft. He has the arm strength to threaten every level of the field both vertically and horizontally, while showing the ability to change the velocity on passes as needed.
Here against Wisconsin, Jones shows fantastic touch and accuracy on a pass that travels over 50 yards, dropping the ball right into the arms of his receiver in stride for a touchdown. Watch how he keeps his shoulders square before generating torque with his hips all in one quick, motion with a lightning fast release.
He does this again against Alabama, identifying single coverage on the outside and throws a beautiful ball on a tough throw to the sideline. The trajectory and touch is perfect from 50 yards out, but it goes right through the hands of his wideout.
In the NFL, quarterbacks are rarely going to have a clean pocket to work from so they have to have the ability to make throws while on the move. Cardale Jones makes a ridiculous play here against Virginia Tech after being forced out of the pocket. He keeps his eyes downfield as he rolls to the sideline, leaves his feet and still manages to deliver a perfect throw 35 yards downfield for a touchdown.
Cardale Jones is fearless in the pocket and doesn’t get rattled under pressure. One thing that immediately stands out when watching him is how calm he remains when under pressure. Lots of young quarterbacks will lower their eyes and mindlessly scramble away when the pocket collapses, but Jones will stand tall, keep his eyes downfield and make the throw, even if it means taking a big hit.
Here against Maryland, Jones stands tall as the pocket collapses around him, showing a quick, over top release on a throw with great velocity just as he gets hit.
This play against Oregon in the National Championship might be the most impressive of Cardale Jones’ collegiate career. Jones takes the snap on a three step drop from the shotgun. As Oregon’s edge rushers get depth in the pocket, Jones shows fantastic footwork, stepping up into the pocket before moving to the right. His eyes stay downfield and he’s able to locate his receiver, throwing the ball from a compromised position 50 yards down the field for a huge play to put the Buckeyes in scoring position.
Here’s the endzone view of the play.
This is another play that demonstrates Cardale Jones’ cool demeanor in the pocket. It’s his first career start and it’s for the Big-10 Championship. Jones takes the snap and fakes the handoff to Ezekiel Elliott before beginning to go through his progressions. There’s a corner route with the tight end running to the flat with two underneath crossing routes. Watching Jones’ eyes it appears to be a Hi-Lo read from the corner to the flat. Both are covered, but Jones doesn’t panic. Instead he sits back and waits for the underneath crossing route to develop and leads his receiver to be in a position to make a play. By waiting for the ideal time to get the pass off, Jones opens himself up to take a lick by the rushing defender, but he shows off toughness and poise on this seemingly “easy” throw.
Cardale Jones definitely needs to develop more consistency with his anticipation, but he flashed the ability to throw his receivers open as well as placing the ball where only his wideout can make a play.
Here against Wisconsin, Jones lets the play develop, allowing his receiver Jalin Marshall to break over the middle of the field before throwing the ball with anticipation, trusting that the wideout will get to the spot and make the play.
He makes another fantastic throw against Maryland, faking the wide receiver screen to get the safety to bite down, before uncorking a 40-yard bomb, hitting his wideout in stride for a touchdown.
Jones uses the pump-fake again in the same game, this time into the endzone, squeezing the ball in between multiple defenders for another score.
He has the velocity to fire the ball in between multiple defenders as he does here against Alabama on a key third down, firing a strike to his tight end over the middle of the field.
As impressive as these throws are, Cardale Jones has a bad habit of staring his receivers down, particularly on short, underneath routes. This is something he absolutely has to work on, because while he was able to complete throws like this at the college level, these are pick-sixes in the NFL.
Cardale Jones Fit with Buffalo Bills
When I first went to watch Cardale Jones, I wasn’t expecting much at all. I’d watched his games live, but never focused solely on him as a prospect, so I knew he had a big arm, size and some mobility. However, the more I watched, the more impressed I became with his ability to consistently throw his receivers open, go through progressions and stay calm in pressure situations. He’s got a quick release and can adjust his arm slot when getting throws off with defenders in his face.
There’s obviously a lot that Jones will need to work on, particularly staring down receivers and learning to use his eyes to manipulate defensive backs, but this should be expected by a player with only 11 starts under his belt.
Cardale Jones passes the eye test, but when you take the time to truly evaluate him, it’s immediately evident that he has the requisite skills of an NFL quarterback. The Buffalo Bills’ offense is quite similar conceptually to what Jones thrived in at Ohio State. They’re a run-oriented offense with power and option concepts. They rely on multiple tight ends and an H-Back and will spread defenses out with snag and stick concepts while relying on a lot of half-field, Hi-Lo reads, but they’ll also attack vertically with multiple deep shots per game.
Jones would be a fantastic fit for this offense and while he’d obviously need time to develop the nuances of his game and adjust to the speed of the game, I don’t think there’s a better fit in the 2016 NFL Draft for the Bills than Cardale Jones when it comes to the quarterback position.