A lot of people think Landry Jones is an elite quarterback prospect. It may not be a popular opinion, but I’m going to disagree. I think he’s a system quarterback, at least as we stand here today pontificating on whether the Seahawks are going to finally draft a quarterback early next year. I also think he’s been vaulted into a position of hype based around the guy he replaced.
Let me stress that I’m not writing off Landry Jones as either a high pick next April or a productive pro-quarterback. He has a full season with the Sooners to enhance his stock and he’s more than capable of achieving that. If Jones leads Oklahoma to an unbeaten season and therefore potentially a national title shot, then kudos to him and maybe I’ll look back on this piece with some regret. However, you could argue that’s exactly what should’ve happened 12 months ago when having topped the polls for a mere week Blaine Gabbert outplayed Jones in a way that destroyed any ambitions of ending the year #1.
I’ll also qualify that I disagree with Tony Pauline’s fourth round grade issued earlier this week. I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Jones isn’t close to the same level as Andrew Luck or Matt Barkley and talk of him going in the top ten is premature. However, he is at the top of a list of second tier quarterbacks (including Kirk Cousins at Michigan and Austin Davis at Southern Miss) who can really pump up their tyres with a great 2011 season.
And let’s be brutal here – if Christian Ponder can endure his 2010 season and still go 12th overall, then Landry Jones is capable of going earlier.
It’s easy to get behind a prospect like Jones. If you pick the right weekend you’ll find a productive quarterback churning out huge yardage and winning a football game. We’ve recently seen one Oklahoma quarterback enter the league seamlessly and Sam Bradford appears set to have a long and successful career in St. Louis.
Let’s get one thing straight right away – Landry Jones is not Sam Bradford. It’s not close. The only thing they really have in common is the color of their college jersey. I’m not saying people have compared the two, but let’s just make it clear right now that Bradford’s success should have no bearing at all when grading Jones.
Both quarterbacks benefited from a system that often requires only one read, includes a lot of multiple WR sets and is basically designed to create an up-tempo passing offense that dominates. Bob Stoops has created a system that works, wins and makes yardage inevitable for it’s quarterbacks.
Bradford threw 86 touchdowns in two years before injury ruined his final year in college. He won a Heisman Trophy following a 2008 season where he passed for nearly 5000 yards. Although the system played it’s part there, Bradford found a way to shine through it. People rarely talked about the offense at Oklahoma when Bradford was under center. He was completing the same swing passes, one read quick throws, mastering the no huddle offense. Yet he did it with such supreme execution and accuracy to become the #1 player among his peers.
Jones has similarly enjoyed mass-production during his two years starting. Like Bradford he passed for nearly 5000 yards last year. However, when I watch him play I usually feel like I’m watching a productive system rather than a quarterback for the ages. Jones doesn’t shine through withrare accuracy and execution. He has decent arm strength but not a Ryan Mallett type cannon. He isn’t mobile in the pocket or a threat running the ball (Bradford was unexpectedly elusive). He isn’t making multiple reads and very often throws blind to the first scripted target.
A fun thing to do sometimes is compare quarterbacks from previous classes to the upcoming group. We’ve heard a lot – too much – about how next year’s class is going to be so much better than previous years. Hyperbole. I would argue that a strong point can be made about the top end talent – Luck and Barkley – being a class above. Beyond that it’s just another year of quarterbacks.
In my mind Jones is not a superior talent to Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton. He lacks the physical potential of Jake Locker, which is exciting if unpredictable. I understand why Ryan Mallett went in round three, but his on-field game is also light years ahead in my mind. Jones isn’t going to come in and light up a team with physical potential or great accuracy. He’s going to have to learn an offense that demands so much more than he’s used to (not unusual for college QB’s admittedly, but this is an exaggerated case that makes an accurate grade a real challenge). He’s not going to extend plays with an elusive athleticism. At this stage he’s a guy I could see really prospering in the right environment (eg the Josh McDaniels offense) but you’d need the system to make the quarterback, because this is not a quarterback who makes the system.
In terms of the Seahawks I don’t think he fits their now obvious desire to make mobility a key component. That’s not to say a guy has to be Michael Vick or Vince Young running the ball, but clearly they need to have a certain degree of athletic ability. Charlie Whitehurt and Josh Portis have the 8th and 11th best short shuttle times ever recorded at the combine. Tavaris Jackson is similarly a capable mover. All three would run above-average forty times for their position.
Jones does not fit that mantra. He’s not Ryan Mallettas a runner, don’t get me wrong. He’s not going to be out-paced by a shirtless Andre Smith in the forty yard dash. In fact Jones will make the occasional play on the ground and he’s capable with boot legs and play action. However, it’s not a striking positive to his game or necessarily what he’s about as a quarterback and I’m not sure it fits in with Seattle’s outlook.
What I like about Jones is the fact he isn’t restricted to making several easy throws the way Jimmy Clausen was in college. It’s one of the bigger concerns I have with Kirk Cousins. Jones threw the ball on a medium level consistently well in certain games last year (particularly vs Florida State). His arm isn’t a cannon, but it’s good enough. It doesn’t look as forced going dowfield as when Cousins attempts a deep pass.
He outclassed Christian Ponder in 2010, but looked like the second best QB when sharing a field with Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden. Can he be the best quarterback on the field in every game this year? If so, Oklahoma will have a big season and we start talking about first round grades.
But because he doesn’t have explosive physical talent or elite accuracy, you’re always going to be wondering whether he can cope with a much more demanding system and whether he’ll stand out. Teams will gamble on a Jake Locker ‘getting it’ because he looks like John Elway physically if not necessarily in his performance at this early stage in his career. Teams won’t always gamble on a guy with all the yards and scores you’d ever want, but with a lingering concern that without his vast array of swing passes and screens he’ll just be found out.