Before I begin this piece, I want to raise attention to the updated draft order following week 11 of the NFL season. According to NE Patriots Draft, Seattle actually improved it’s position from 11th to 10th overall despite recording back-to-back victories with a win over St. Louis. Miami – one of the favorites to pick first overall just a few weeks ago – are now up to #8 after three successive victories. After Indianapolis there are three teams who almost certainly won’t be drafting a quarterback next April (Carolina, Minnesota and St. Louis). That’s a dangerous situation for Washington at #5, who if it ended like this would be sweating about teams possibly trading above them. I’ll be publishing my first mock draft of the season later this week.
On Saturday Robert Griffin III met Landry Jones in the Oklahoma vs Baylor shoot-out. It ended in a 45-38 victory for Griffin and the Bears. I’ll discuss Griffin’s performance in a future piece (I believe Griffin tape and also Barkley vs Oregon is forthcoming) but today I want to talk about Jones because I’m at a stage where I feel like I don’t need to see any more tape to determine he’s not a first-round talent.
Oklahoma’s first drive of this game perfectly sums up Jones as a prospect. On his second attempt, Jones takes a play action in the gun before a pre-meditated throw to a receiver running a short in-route. Jones doesn’t make a read after the snap and forces a dangerous throw straight at a covering defensive end. The pass is tipped up into the air and is almost intercepted. He needs to recognise that pass just isn’t on and progress to another option – he’s too handcuffed to the play call and it almost resulted in a turnover. If I’m drafting a quarterback in round one, he needs to have even a basic ability to get out of a call when it breaks down. Watch Matt Barkley and study how well he makes a pre-snap and post-snap read, continuously diagnosing the defense as the play develops around him. Barkley shows time and time again a natural ability to work on the move and still make good decisions. Watch his performance in dismantlin Oregon at the weekend and then watch Jones forcing blind passes, making zero reads and just throwing the ball to the receiver he’s told to throw to. You’ll be watching a player primed to make a quick impact on the NFL and a player who’s not even close to that level of technical ability.
Jones’ first possession ends with a 3rd and 28 throw into double coverage which is again tipped up into the air and the interception is dropped by a Baylor defensive back. Jones locks onto his receiver early and should know better than to try and force that pass. In this situation, Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley would be checking down through their progressions but Jones is keyed into the play call. It was incredibly fortunate not to be picked off and he can’t afford to make such a dangerous pass with two corner’s draped all over his intended target. The all-22 tape showed a check down to the running back was an option, but Jones never strays from the call.
Here’s another example – in the second half he takes a snap, rotates his body to the right and without looking just throws it straight into a jumping defensive black who blitzed the right edge. Jones doesn’t even recognise he’s there – he just throws at maximum velocity straight at the guy. There’s no pre-snap read here to detect the corner who had blatantly moved to the LOS ready to blitz the edge. It’s just snap, turn, throw without any read during the play. The ball hits the DB and goes spiralling up into the air and for the third time is fortunate not to turn into an interception. Blind throws are difficult to watch in college football and a major concern when you see it consistently. Jones is a prime culprit.
I appreciate that scheme is king in Oklahoma and it requires a fast tempo, quick hitting passing game. However, how can you sufficiently judge that Landry Jones can handle a completely different offense at the next level where he’ll be challenged in so many different ways? He’s not alone in that sense – many college quarterbacks work in systems that don’t translate to the pro’s. Yet Jones doesn’t compensate with an ideal skill set physically – his arm is good some of the time (above average touch on deep fade, nice velocity on intermediate slant and occassionally the short post) but it’s not exactly a cannon either. He’s not a mobile player who can extend plays with his footwork. He doesn’t show any kind of improvisation when plays break down. His decision making is frequently poor in college because he’s tied to the play calls, so do you trust him to make good decisions when the shackles are released?
When he gets protection and the time to let things unfold, he can be precise. He’ll hit the slants, in-route’s, quick screens and such. That’s great, but in the NFL he’s going to be disrupted, he’s going to have much more pressure and he’s going to need to drive the deep ball with accuracy. I suspect defenses will let him hang himself to a degree - he’ll be really susceptible to safety blitzes and interior pressure. Give him a lot of different looks and get into his head. He’ll show consistent traits on tape so I’d project he’ll be an easy quarterback to figure out. Even when he has good protection and he’s at his most successful, he’s not a surgeon by any means. Saturday’s single interception came with perfect pass protection, he simply missed his receiver (high, wide throw) and allowed the defensive back to make a play. The decision was pretty awful too – he had three Baylor defenders surrounding one receiver and although he managed to get the ball over two of the players, the third made the pick. Again, he needs to diagnose that the pass just isn’t on in that situation and checkdown.
His lack of poise under pressure is a strong concern. Referring back to the first drive, he takes the snap in the gun but a linebacker goes unblocked straight through the middle of the offensive line. The play is effectively over as soon as Jones notices the blitzing linebacker and just throws it away. To some extent he played it safe, but a one man blitz was enough to impact the quarterback to bail. There’s no pre-snap adjustment. There’s no attempt to extend the play or improvise – at the moment the linebacker penetrates the line Jones knows he isn’t going to have the time to execute to his hot read. His tight end had run an in-route and had space to the left – he could’ve been thrown open with a quick pass. Whenever this offense is knocked out of sync, Jones isn’t capable of making things happen.
It’s not just the way he struggles against pressure throwing, he’s immobile and cannot extend plays. Nicolas Jean-Baptiste had two sacks from the interior where Jones was basically a standing target. This wasn’t a case of an explosive burst off the snap reaching the quarterback before he can react, these were two slow developing routes and Jean-Baptiste had enough time to disengage and break into the backfield. Jones barely moved in both instances. He may not run a time quite as slow as Ryan Mallett managed last year at the Arkansas pro-day, but even Mallett was superior in his ability to extend plays with pocket smarts and footwork. On the rare occasions where he avoids pressure, it impacts his decision making too much. You can tell Jones is thinking ‘I’ve got to get rid of this’ even when he manages to avoid an outside rush and will throw to the first receiver he sees. He struggles to re-set his feet and drive through the ball, and had another pass tipped in this situation just before the end of the first quarter.
Jones’ pro’s (Good height, fairly quick release, precise in the pocket when protected, decent arm) are outweighed by the negatives (too many blind throws, lack of mobility, struggles to deal with pressure, no evidence of pre or post-snap reads, poor decision making, no threat in space, slight three-quarter release).
I used to think Jones would be an unwise first round pick – that somebody would take the chance on his college production. Now, I’m starting to have my doubts. He’s always been a mid-round level player in my eyes, yet I believed he’d still find a home in round one. I have to think he’ll struggle to maintain a first round grade on most boards, despite continued high grades by the mainstream media. He needs to land on a team that runs a timing offense that can afford to keep him on the bench while he develops his play to something akin to a pro-standard. That team isn’t Miami, Washington or Seattle.
The best case situation would be to land in New England or Kansas City as a back-up – but New England has already taken on project-Mallett and Kansas City appear to be keeping their faith in Matt Cassell for the long haul. Does his current injury situation impact that? Who knows, but KC has the kind of offense that Jones needs to be part of. Arizona already made one mistake trading for Kevin Kolb, but if rumors of an ‘out-clause’ for the Cardinals are true, it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see Jones land in the NFC West. Even so, it appears unlikely that Arizona would depart from their investment in Kolb so soon and without even a full off-season.
This piece reads mostly negative because I’ve intentionally highlighted flaws in Jones’ game that are not being covered in most other places. We’re not talking about a completely hopeless cause here, but then Jimmy Clausen was considered worth the risk in 2010. In hindsight, Clausen would probably command no more than a late round flier now rather than a second round investment. Established scouts were projecting Clausen as a top-10 pick the day of the 2010 draft and for a long time he was considered the likely #1 overall pick. Highlighting issues within Clausen’s game and how they translate to the next level somewhat explain why he’s struggled to make an impact. I suspect the same for Jones and while he’s physically superior to Clausen, they also share several limitations and could end up having similar careers.
For me, Jones will probably end up competing with Ryan Tannehill to be top of the second group of quarterbacks after Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley and Robert Griffin III. His floor is probably round two based purely on reputation and the stigma of a big-name quarterback remaining on the board. However, like Clausen he could easily go in the second round and prove ineffective at the next level.