“The NFL, after three [college] games, was really out of the question for me.”
–Cardale Jones at his press conference earlier today
Or was it? At first or even second glance, a quarterback declaring for the NFL draft after just three starts seems absurd. And for someone with two years of college eligibility remaining, as Jones has, it would be unprecedented. But quarterbacks with little playing time have been drafted and succeeded at the next level.
Matt Cassel had no choice but to leave USC in 2004; he had exhausted his four years of eligibility. Even though he’d spent his college career as a back-up, the Patriots drafted him in the seventh round. For all they knew at the time, Cassel could have been among the top quarterbacks in the country — after all, he backed up Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. A strong pre-draft showing was enough for New England to take a chance on a player who hadn’t started a game since high school. While far from a star, Cassel has proved to be a solid NFL quarterback.
Brad Johnson began his college athletic career on the Florida State basketball team before joining the football team and starting seven games over two seasons. Johnson was drafted in the ninth round (of 12) in 1994 by the Minnesota Vikings and would eventually earn two Pro Bowl nominations and a Super Bowl trophy (with other teams).
A.J. Feeley made just eight starts for Oregon but was drafted in the fifth round in 2001. He would make 18 NFL starts between 2001 and 2011.
Then there’s Jay Schroeder, who started a combined 100 games in college and the NFL: 99 with the Redskins, Raiders, Bengals, and Cardinals, and 1 at UCLA. He was a third-round pick in 1984 despite his lack of experience.
Jones decided he needed more playing time at the college level before going pro. And that’s probably true. All of the quarterbacks mentioned here didn’t have the option to return to school. It’s crazy to think that if Ohio State quarterbacks Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett hadn’t gotten injured, Jones’ only hope at an NFL career would have been a strong pro day performance, a la Cassel, an unlikely proposition indeed. With three incredible performances under his belt and another season or two to show what else he can do, he’ll have a much better chance.