DALLAS — While Urban Meyer was doing most of the talking, Cardale Jones owned the room.
Ohio State's rising star quarterback was all big grins, silly smirks, rolling eyes and mischievous glances Tuesday, the day after he helped the Buckeyes roll Oregon 42-20 to win the first College Football Playoff national championship.
Jones said that he's not ready for the NFL. But after just three college starts, the 22-year-old, third-year sophomore is in a unique position. Should he stay or should he go?
“Cardale's brand right now has never been stronger, might never be stronger again in his life,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.
On the other hand, the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder from Cleveland is still a raw — though enticing — prospect.
“I'm amazed at the speed and quickness he has for a guy that weighs over 250 pounds,” said former NFL executive Gil Brandt, who now works as an analyst for the NFL Network.
“But his passes, some are on the money, some are low, some are high and some are wide.”
Jones is eligible for early entry to the NFL draft because he is at more than three years removed from graduating high school. The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Thursday.
Brandt said Jones has the talent to be selected, probably somewhere in the back half of the seven-round draft, but he would be better served developmentally by another year playing college football.
But there is the rub: Ohio State could have three star quarterbacks on the roster next season with Jones, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller. Jones is not guaranteed to be the starter.
It's a strange position for Jones to find himself. Back in August, he was the Buckeyes' third-stringer. But after Miller hurt his shoulder in the preseason and Barrett broke his ankle against Michigan, it was up to Jones to lead Ohio State the rest of the way.
In three games against Wisconsin (Big Ten championship), Alabama (Sugar Bowl semifinal) and Oregon, Jones was 46 of 75 for 742 yards passing and five touchdowns.
“I mean, it's very odd,” Jones said of going from Meyer's doghouse to considering an NFL career in such a short time. “You know, I'm going to be starting three games in three years, and you know, guys play their whole career to have that buildup and have that motivation to play in the NFL.
“In my personal opinion, I'm not ready for that level yet. I mean, like Coach Meyer said, it's a conversation me and him will have later down the road. But to me right now, it's far out.”
So is Jones' personality. Meyer has been blunt in talking about how Jones' work ethic and maturity have been lacking over the last three years. The coach has seen a change he couldn't have expected.
“I mean, it's kind of cool to be sitting here using the word NFL next to Cardale's name,” Meyer said, a comment that prompted a sideways smile and giggle from Jones, who was sitting across from the coach on the dais. “He certainly has talent. Is he ready right now? That's a chat I guess we'll go and have at some point, probably not right here in front of everybody.”
Jones was goofing around with his teammates and coach after the national championship game Monday night, giving Meyer bunny ears as he sat for his postgame news conference and trying to distract Ezekiel Elliott with a cellphone while the running back answered questions.
Jones seems to have the type of personality that could make him college football's next click-bait star. He can't cash in on that if he stays in college, but staying in Columbus, Ohio, might be best for him in the long run. Goofy is great for Twitter. The NFL is serious business. Is Jones ready for that?
“Some guys change when they're 50 years old, it's too late,” Meyer said. “Other guys change when they're going through the journey like we all did when we're 17 to 21 years old, 22 years old in his case. Very proud of him. But we have not had that conversation yet.”