Oklahoma and Florida State were ranked #1 and #5 coming into this weekend. My lasting impression afterwards was – why?
This wasn’t a great game by any stretch of the imagination, despite the big billing. Florida State’s offense barely troubled all night and looked positively cupcake when the far-from-spectacular EJ Manuel was replaced by skinny freshman Clint Tricket. The Sooner’s never really capitalised, keeping FSU in the game thanks to a lack of killer instinct on offense themselves.
Opinion is mixed on quarterback Landry Jones. On this blog there have been some aggressive arguments in favor of a high draft grade. National pundits are conflicting in their opinions - Tony Pauline has suggested a fourth round mark, while Todd McShay has Jones ranked among the top prospects for 2012.
My own personal opinion has always been that he has a lot of the qualities needed to start at the next level, but this is not a player I’d want to be handcuffed to with a high pick. Regular visitors will know how aggressive I think the Seahawks need to be in finding a franchise quarterback – but I cannot get behind Jones as that guy. That judgement was only reaffirmed in this game.
This was a typical Landry Jones on the road performance. He’s thrown 28 career interceptions, with 22 coming away from home field. Get pressure on him on the road in a difficult atmosphere and he generally struggles. Put a capable quarterback on the other team and Oklahoma struggles – as we saw last year with Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Tannehill. Unfortunately for FSU, the combination of EJ Manuel and Clint Tricket never threatened.
He finished with a state line of 18-27 for 199 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The first pick came with pressure up the middle, he panics and can’t avoid the defensive lineman and in trying to throw it away ends up turning it over. The second interception came after an over thrown deep ball into double coverage which was way off target. Bad decision, bad execution.
The Florida State defensive line was creating only average pressure, but even that was enough to throw him out of sync at times. Brandon Jenkins again confirmed my suspicions that he’s a long way off many people’s projected first round grade as a non-factor in this game. Instead it was down to sophomore Bjoern Werner – from Berlin, Germany – to stand out and flash pro-potential. Werner consistently caused problems off the edge and he could be a pick in the JJ Watt mould for 2013.
The talk afterwards was about a hard fought Sooners win on the road, but in terms of a pure draft projection you have to say that Jones still has a big question mark after this performance. The Oklahoma fast-paced offense doesn’t have the same fluidity and is easily disrupted by pressure on it’s signal caller. When Jones is taken out of that comfort zone, the errors creep in. How else can you describe a 22-6 interception difference between home and road games? The simple fact is that at the next level Jones isn’t going to be playing in such a well oiled machine of an offense that can operate with quick screens, up-tempo no huddle passes and keeping a defense off guard. He’s going to face almost constant pressure, he’s going to have to stay poised in the pocket and run through progressions. Can he do that? I am totally unconvinced.
Essentially, he’s going to have to be the man to cause the havoc through talent, technique, accuracy, execution and decision making. It won’t be because his offense has gone no-huddle before the other team has set a formation and before you know it the talented wide receiver has the ball on a screen and it’s a first down. Sam Bradford found a way to excel within this sytem because he was such a talented all round quarterback, he stuck out in a way Jones doesn’t. Bradford’s own performances were not dictated by his environment.
Here’s what it all boils down to – Jones is at his best when the Oklahoma offense is at its best. There’s never a case when the offense is playing a sluggish game and Jones carries the team on his back and drags them through. He is a product of his surroundings. When I draft a quarterback in the top 10-15, he better be able to go out there and keep me in a game on his own. That is the biggest question mark I continue to have, is Jones capable of that? Is he going to be found out at the next level when he can’t rely on a well-oiled scheme? When the chips are down and the run game isn’t working – when there’s another QB on the opposition roster throwing the ball around nicely - will he be able to step up to the plate? Or will he be JP Losman?
Until he can perform in a not-ideal environment and really stand out, I don’t feel confident enough to grade him any higher than round 2-3. This performance at Florida State didn’t make me feel like we’d seen a major improvement from that Missouri game last year when Blaine Gabbert looked a much brighter prospect than Jones. Had Gabbert been starting for Florida State, they would’ve probably won this game.
Now I don’t want to come across so overly negative because as I say there are some pro-aspects to his game. He made one excellent throw down the left sideline in the second half (nice touch/placement) and although the touchdown pass was under thrown to a wide open receiver, he still got the ball into the right area for his playmaker to make a game winning catch. Physically he’s not elite, but he’s going to be able to make most of the throws you expect from a NFL quarterback.
However, I feel like we almost have to talk about the negatives more just because he is being vaulted above his means as a top-10 quarterback. He is not – in any way shape or form – a top ten pick in my view. By giving him a grade in round 2-3, you almost have to justify not having him earlier by talking about negatives rather than the positives that warrant a possible round two selection. Because people have Jones as high as they do, the debate has already become ‘prove that isn’t the case’.
Jones is competing with Ryan Tannehill and a handful of others to be the #3 ranked quarterback in my view. I feel like we should be speaking more positively about that, yet I fear the debate will always carry a negative angle because he isn’t a top ten pick but people will argue the opposite.
And while you can rightly argue Christian Ponder shouldn’t have gone 12th overall this year either, we can’t use that decision by the Minnesota Vikings to justify any quarterback in the forthcoming drafts being projected above their deserved grade.
Matt Barkley had five touchdown passes for USC as they defeated Syracuse 38-17. He finished with a stat line of 26-39 for 324 yards and no turnovers. I’m led to believe it wasn’t the most efficient performance despite those impressive numbers, but Barkley is carrying his team along kicking and screaming right now. After three weeks he’s throwing 70% completions, he has a 9-1 touchdown-interception ratio and he’s on pace for 3568 passing yards.
Andrew Luck and Stanford outlasted Arizona to record a comfortable 37-10 victory on the road. Stanford should be ranked higher than #6, especially if Luck is truly as good as some appear to believe. Personally I’d have Stanford and LSU as the top two. Luck went 20-31 in this game for 325 yards and two touchdowns. He also had three carries for 36 yards. Nick Foles wasn’t as productive for Arizona, going 24-33 for 239 yards and a score. He maintains a late round grade.
Robert Griffin put up big numbers again in a blowout 48-0 victory for Baylor over Stephen F. Austin. In a delayed game, Griffin went 20-22 for 265 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers. He also added 78 yards on the ground from eight carries.
Ryan Tannehill finished with 337 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in Texas A&M’s 37-7 win over Idaho. He completed 26-39 passing in a stop-start performance.
Austin Davis got back to winning ways in a big 52-6 win for Southern Miss over SE Louisiana. Davis threw two touchdown passes.
Justin Blackmon had a surprisingly quiet day for Oklahoma State with just 57 yards and a touchdown in a 59-33 win over Tulsa. Brandon Weeden had three more touchdown passes and 369 yards, but he added two more interceptions. He’s throwing an 8-6 ratio at the moment, surprising given he only threw 13 picks last year.
Logan Harrell – sleeper defensive tackle prospect from Fresno State – had 1.5 sacks in a victory over North Dakota. He has thirteen sacks in 2010 and 2011 so far. One to watch.