Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones (12) smiles as he responds to questions during media day for the NCAA college football playoff championship, Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015, in Dallas. Ohio State is scheduled to play Oregon on Monday. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
A collegiate athlete’s decision to return to school after a big-time season should always be applauded. But in the case of red-hot redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones, his decision is a tad complex. Fresh off Ohio State’s impressive 42-20 victory over Oregon in the national championship, Jones just completed arguably the most important three-game run of a first-time starting signal-caller in NCAA history. He bulldozed Wisconsin before taking down Alabama and finally Oregon, quite a stretch for a third string quarterback who never started a college game before. With his stock sizzling and the team set to return its top two signal callers that started the season, it would’ve made sense for Jones to declare. He chose otherwise and now he returns to a loaded position after a run that would’ve definitely landed him in the pros. Did Jones make a mistake? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: I love Jones’ decision to return. Yes, he’ll have to beat out J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller, both very talented quarterbacks before their injuries, to earn a starting job, but he’s done something that the majority of college quarterbacks don’t do, and that championship experience will tilt things in his favor. With only three games starting experience it really wasn’t a hard choice to make. His college experience is next to none and it’ll only help his stock if he comes out and dominates next season after teams have had a chance to scout him in the offseason. It would’ve been a stretch for Jones to crack the first round this year but he assuredly would’ve landed in the first few rounds. If he performs well next year then he’ll lock up a top spot in the 2016 NFL Draft and command a stronger salary. Jumping into the NFL with virtually no college experience outside of three games would’ve been a deep challenge for the 22-year-old, so his return was definitely much needed.
Green: You’ll never see a college rookie complete the run that Jones just did and you’ll never see an NFL stock go from zero to 100 like we just saw with the 6-foot-5, 250-pound specimen that is Jones. I understand the fact that Jones didn’t get a lot of playing experience, but there are quarterbacks that go a full four-year career and never amass the collection of wins that Jones just rung up. No matter how long a college quarterback stays in school, he’ll still have to learn a new system at the next level, so what difference does Jones’ experience make? Whether it’s three games or 30 games, Jones and a guy like former Heisman winner Jameis Winston would’ve both had zero NFL experience going into next season. His stock was blazing and he easily could’ve cashed out after what we just saw. Add in the fact that this season’s original starter, Baxter, and the original backup, Barrett, are set to come back and things could get tough for Jones. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer could feel the need to run with senior Braxton Miller as next year will be his last. With Miller and Jones still underclassmen, they’ll eventually get their shot again and Meyer could definitely play that card.
Riley: Jones is banking on beating out both Miller and Braxton, and you have to love that swagger. If you’re concerned about him in a college quarterback battle then what does that say about his NFL chances? The father of a newborn daughter, Jones could’ve easily “cashed out” if he simply wanted a payday but, obviously, a long-term career with a degree backing him is in the quarterback’s head, and you must acknowledge that. Draft stock can be tricky and we really don’t know where Jones would’ve ended up had he declared. But another season as the starter in Columbus would’ve all but assured him a more stabilized stock and accurate picture for his future. Competition this summer with the other candidates is only going to make him better and another title could land him in NCAA history. And let’s not forget that even with him returning he’ll still only be a redshirt junior. He’s setting himself up for a memorable college career. It was more to gain for Jones to return, and it’ll be exciting to see how he responds.
Green: The same competition that you’re looking forward to seeing him participate in would’ve been that much more intense in the NFL. Jones’ size would’ve granted him a fair chance at the next level despite his level of inexperience, which actually would’ve worked in his favor. With only three games starting experience, an upper level team would’ve been in a more ideal spot to draft him in the later picks, which would’ve given him even more time to get some NFL practice reps in. Nothing is guaranteed in sports, especially contact sports, so striking while the iron is hot can be vital. Even if Jones goes on to win the Heisman next year and adds another title, nothing will be as memorable as his opening three-game act that he just displayed for the nation.