As the confetti began to fall in Dallas Monday night, Marcus Mariota and Cardale Jones were heading in two different directions. Mariota walked to the locker room, glancing up at the gigantic screen one last time and surely realizing it may be his last moments on a college football field.
Jones was jumping and jiving his way towards the the midfield stage, ready to accept the national championship trophy after just his third collegiate start. Yet, by the time the confetti gets cleaned up, the two quarterbacks could be going right back towards each other for another meeting – in the NFL Draft.
The next three and a half months could be quite similar for the signal callers with contrasting college careers. Marcus Mariota is a three-year starter, going 36-5 in that stretch and racking up nearly every award possible, including the Heisman Trophy this past December.
Cardale Jones began the season on the bench. In fact, he started pretty far down the bench as the third-string quarterback. A season-ending injury to Braxton Miller just days before opening kickoff and another to then Heisman-candidate J.T. Barrett in the regular season finale forced Jones into the spotlight just as it was shining brightest.
Despite the differing trajectories, each still has the same decision to make now: return to a top-5 team next year or enter the NFL Draft. Mariota could defend his Heisman, earn his Master’s degree, and, most intriguing, try once again for that elusive first Oregon football championship.
Jones knows that he still has plenty of developing to do, but his draft stock may never be higher. He’s also said he wants to finish his Bachelor’s degree, but should he return to Ohio State, he’ll face a backfield with both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett returning. His situation is a conundrum college football hasn’t seen yet.
If the two decide to leave school for the professional ranks, though, what is their draft stock following the national championship? Mariota’s stock remains similar given the enormous sample size for NFL scouts. He would likely be the first or second quarterback off the board with Jameis Winston also entering that mix. His projection as a top-10 lock should stay the same regardless of the loss.
For those pointing to the championship game as sign that Mariota is a system quarterback, that’s just rubbish. He threw for over 300 yards, but more importantly he’s further developed than any dual-threat quarterback in the last five years, and he has a well-above average arm to boot. His frame will add a few more pounds without sacrificing elusiveness, and he’ll bail out his offense with his legs at the next level as well.
Jones is far more difficult to evaluate given his three games of college experience. His 6’5″ and 250 pound frame is impossible to argue with, though. The NFL knows a high-upside quarterback when they see it, and Jones is just that. Someone would likely take a chance on him around the second or third round if his pro day and the NFL combine were to go well. That being said, there’s so little known about him that he could go higher or lower depending on the next few months.
As we know, it’s nearly impossible to predict what every NFL general manager is thinking, and that’s especially true in Jones’ case. You can bet he and Mariota will be two of the most talked about prospects this spring as the world awaits their decisions and subsequently the NFL Draft.
Who knows, maybe sometime after the confetti is long gone in Dallas, they’ll meet there once again.