As Landry Jones wraps up his senior season at Oklahoma with another batch of gaudy statistics, the NFL Draft looms. Scouts will continue to pore over game film and debate his NFL stock, and it should be interesting to see which team decides to invest in him and in which round.
Jones, who holds virtually all of the major passing records at OU and is among the leading passers in NCAA history, has a chance to be very successful in the NFL. For the OU fan, an intriguing exercise is to compare Jones' NFL outlook with another crimson and cream gunslinger: Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford.
Jones won't enjoy the notoriety (or have to deal with the immense pressure) associated with being the No. 1 overall pick like his predecessor, but he could end up being a steal as a mid-round selection.
Let's compare Jones' current NFL prospects with Sam Bradford's prior to entering the draft.
Essentially, the only question mark with Bradford was his durability. Coming off a disappointing shoulder injury that all but wiped out his final season at OU, scouts began to wonder about the health of the promising quarterback.
However, Bradford alleviated those fears by turning in a nearly flawless workout in front of scouts, and he hasn't been hindered by his shoulder in his third year as the starter for the St. Louis Rams. Interestingly, he did miss six games in 2011 with an ankle injury.
Apart from his medical history, Bradford seemed destined for NFL stardom. In two complete seasons as a Sooner, he showed all the tools necessary to shine as a pro: arm strength, accuracy, good decision-making and poise. He made quick reads and clearly had an impressive mental grasp of the game from a young age.
It's too early to judge Bradford's career in the NFL. He had an impressive rookie season and was named Rookie of the Year, but he has regressed somewhat since. His next few seasons will make the picture clearer.
Now, let's take a look at Jones. I once wrote that he is doomed to fail as a professional quarterback, namely because his inability to deliver in key situations. He has placed a huge dent in that argument in 2012 with his late-game heroics and coolness under pressure.
Despite his incredible performances in recent games, it's hard to argue that Jones has been inconsistent as OU's signal-caller in his four years as starter. But there are characteristics that have been evident throughout his career.
Firstly, it is hard to argue that Jones has NFL-caliber arm strength, and when he gets good protection, he is very accurate and prolific as a passer, like Bradford. As Jones has demonstrated at OU, especially this season, he will shred a defense if he has protection and viable receivers.
It's when defenses pressure Jones that the concerns arise. Although he has had plenty of experience as a college quarterback, Jones still seems to panic under pressure at times.
Moreover, sometimes Jones seems almost careless and sloppy when pressured. Sooner fans know the look. Instead of alertly throwing the ball away in these situations, as Sam Bradford would have done, Jones will dance around awkwardly and try to force ill-advised passes.
Although he had nothing less than a masterful game against West Virginia, Jones' interception against the Mountaineers is a good example of this.
Jones' fumbles, such as the ones against Oklahoma State last season and Kansas State this season, are additional examples of his proclivity to panic and break down under pressure.
One may say that sounds overly critical when we're talking about one of the leading passers in college football history. But that is what's so fascinating about Landry Jones: He has put up sparkling numbers throughout his career at OU, but sometimes he regresses in key situations and leaves fans puzzled as to how such an accomplished player can struggle to such an extent.
Encouraging for Jones is that he is playing very well at a critical time. In the last five games, he has passed for 1,980 yards and 17 touchdowns en route to a 5-0 record. His poise and delivery in the clutch against West Virginia and Oklahoma State were very impressive.
Ultimately, there's more uncertainty about Jones when compared to Bradford. Bradford was polished and consistently delivered at a high level at Oklahoma. Jones has delivered at even higher levels statistically, but his game isn't as complete as Bradford's.
If one were to think about it in terms of luxury cars, Jones can go incredibly fast, but he can also sputter. With Bradford, you know you'll always get consistently very high speeds.
To summarize, Jones has similar, if slightly lower, NFL potential, but there's a greater possibility than with Bradford that he won't fulfill that potential because of looming questions.
But based on what he's shown as a Sooner, it's logical to think Jones can thrive in the NFL if he is surrounded by talent (and of course if he gets the chance to start). If he gets good protection from his offensive line and enjoys a variety of capable receivers, he has the chance to be successful.
Specifically, Jones' ability to dissect complex defenses and blitzes remains to be seen. Most likely, he will also learn to simply throw the ball away quickly when under pressure in the NFL. Doing this alone would help his game considerably.
Regardless of what he does or does not do in the NFL, Jones has had an amazing collegiate career. But it's hard not to wonder about what the future holds for him, and where he and his predecessor will stand relative to each other in years to come.
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