For any underclassmen considering entering the NFL Draft, there is often a great risk involved. Potentially develop another season in college or try to cash in and go pro?
There is no guarantee with either. Just because a player returns to college doesn't mean there will be continual development. Maybe worse, a player can go pro and plummet in the draft -- or even go unpicked.
These are the issues facing Ohio State redshirt sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones leading up to the Thursday deadline to declare for the 2015 NFL Draft.
Jones has what looks like the toughest pro decision of any underclassmen this season. He's started just three games, looked fairly good and won each. Oh, and those games were the Big Ten championship game, the Sugar Bowl and Monday's national title game.
In other words, when the spotlight was brightest, Jones stepped up and played well. Adding in some minimal spot duty, Jones completed 56 of 92 passes this season for 860 yards and seven touchdowns. He ran the ball 72 times for 296 yards.
In those games, Ohio State's "third-string" quarterback looked the part of an NFL quarterback. At 6'5 and 250 pounds, Jones seems to have good enough mobility and movement skills and displays incredible arm strength. That is, however, a small sample size after Jones backed up Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett for the Buckeyes.
Here is the quick case for why Jones could go pro:
He's not guaranteed to even be Ohio State's starting quarterback next season. Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer is fond of Miller, and Barrett is the player who got Ohio State in a position to even play in those games. Would Jones be better served being a backup on Ohio State or a backup on an NFL team?
Jones would also be considered a highly-rated player at the position, though that's mostly due to it being an absolutely poor year to draft a quarterback. It's basically Marcus Mariota of Oregon, Jameis Winston of Florida State and Brett Hundley of UCLA. After that, it's a lot of players who look like backups in the NFL. Maybe one or two will become starters, but none seem to have the potential and ability Jones possesses.
It's likely that NFL scouts and general managers might not have a high grade on Jones. They shouldn't right now. He's played in three games that probably haven't been deeply analyzed. But what do we always see between now and the time the draft starts? A quarterback will have a good pro day and combine and vault higher in the draft.
There is no quarterback better than Jones in this year's draft who will benefit from the silly season.
In a scripted pro day session, Jones will get to show off a rocket arm and his ability to get out on the move. At the combine, he'll probably have the best bench press numbers of any quarterback and look good in agility drills.
2015 NFL mock draft
2015 NFL mock draft
Jones will rise during the offseason process, perhaps all the way into the second round. But should he be willing to put that process off a year or more?
The case against Jones going pro is that, well, he's said himself he's not prepared for such a jump.
"I'm not ready for that level yet," Jones said on Tuesday.
That's something similar to what Jones said the week before Ohio State beat Oregon 42-20 to win the national title. It could be true, too. Jones basically won those games for Ohio State on his ability to throw deep and get first downs thanks to short runs that took advantage of his power running style. But if Jones doesn't think he's ready, maybe he's not.
Either way, Jones' decision to go pro or stay at Ohio State is going to be a risky decision. Ultimately, it may well be one that changes the 2015 NFL Draft.