Note: This is the third in a series looking at all the Gators QBs (Kadarius Toney, Kyle Trask, Jake Allen, Emory Jones, Jaylin Jackson and Feleipe Franks). Click on the links to read the other breakdowns.
The commitment of QB Emory Jones was a signature moment for Dan Mullen during his first recruiting cycle.
He was ranked the 85th best prospect in the country and the 5th best dual-threat QB according to the 247Sports composite. In a place like Gainesville where QB play has been such an issue, that’s a pretty big deal.
But high school pedigree only means so much. Feleipe Franks was the 54th best national prospect in 2016 and really struggled in his redshirt freshman season. Add to that a checkered history of true freshman QBs with similar recruiting rankings and it isn’t a sure thing that Jones will start this year, or even be an impact player for the Gators.
In the stats I could compile from his senior year in high school, Jones completed 61.8 percent of his passes with a 13.3 yards per attempt average. That did only come on 144 attempts though, meaning that he threw the ball – on average – 12 times per game.
The question is whether that is a reflection of significant deficiencies in Jones’ ability to throw the ball, or whether that’s just a function of his Heard County offense?
The expectation is that Jones is going to get plenty of opportunities to win the starting job as Mullen’s star recruit. What follows is an analysis of the high school film, to get a feel for whether Jones has the ability to take that starting job by the horns early in 2018.
Where Jones excels
I believe that watching full game film from a QBs best and worst games gives you a good idea of what that QB can do. That was an issue for me with Jones, as the only games I could find full game film on were Heard County’s 2017 games against Darlington and Callaway.
The game against Callaway certainly qualifies as one of Jones’ worst, as he went 3-13 for 79 yards. He was much better against Darlington (14-20, 134 yards) but that wasn’t his best game. His best game came against Pepperell (7-9, 164 yards, 2 TD with 16 carries for 172 yards and 4 TDs), but only highlights are available for that game.
Thus, to be fair to Jones I’ve taken some clips from highlight compilations to give a complete picture of his abilities. Realize though that those clips are biased towards a subset of plays where he excelled, and so I still believe that the highlights from the tape against Darlington and Callaway are likely most representative.
With that said, the film shows that Heard County has an offense predicated on running the ball and a short passing game. Jones did take a deep shot on occasion, but typically only when the defense stacked the box and he clearly had one-on-one coverage on the outside.
Quick throws were a staple of the offense, and Jones does that very well. Here he is asked to make a quick read based on the defensive coverage. When his wide receiver in the flat comes open, he delivers the ball on-time and on-target, allowing his receiver to gain a few extra yards after the catch.
Jones also shows a strong arm and is accurate when throwing on the run. On this play, he rolls to his right and is pressured pretty quickly. He is still able to make a strong throw to his wide receiver down the field despite the pressure and having to make the throw off of his back foot.
This was important for Jones as there were a lot of designed roll outs in the Heard County offense. I didn’t chart it, but would estimate that more than 70 percent of passing plays the offense asked him to roll out of the pocket. A lot of this design was likely out of necessity, as it did not appear that the offensive line was a strength of the team.
On this play, the right tackle decides to block the outside linebacker, which gives the defensive end a clear shot at Jones. This makes Jones deliver the ball early and inaccurately. Typically the tackle is taught to take the defender closest to the QB, which means that you block the end and let the linebacker go. Now the linebacker would have gotten the same shot at Jones, but another half second would have meant a completed pass.
You can see the result here. On this play, Jones identifies the blitzer and throws the swing pass to his running back. But because the blitzing linebacker is a step or two later, Jones is able to deliver the ball and hit the running back perfectly in stride, giving his receiver a chance to run.
Jones consistently makes solid throws when he is able to set his feet. On this play, Jones rolls to his left but instead of throwing the ball on the run he stops, plants his back foot and delivers the ball. The throw is accurate and has a ton of zip on it, which was important because it had to fit into a small window against a zone defense.
Arm strength does not appear to be a problem for Jones. On this play, he makes the throw on the run and throws a rope to his wide receiver streaking down the field.
And this throw is just amazing. Jones gets hit right as he lets it go while rolling to his right. He throws the ball back across his body to a receiver streaking down the middle of the field. And the throw travels more than 50 yards in the air.
Jones also can show good touch on deep throws. On this play, the defense is in a Cover-0 defense, meaning 1-on-1 across the board. Jones lofts up the ball perfectly for his wide receiver and the result is a TD.
I should stress that I only saw one completed deep ball in the two complete games that I watched. It was not a huge part of the Heard County offense and so it is unclear whether this is something Jones will do consistently well. But none of this analysis takes Jones’ running ability into account either. He is able to make plays when the initial play breaks down, and that brings significant value.
Where Jones struggles
None of this means that Jones is perfect. There are certainly areas where he struggles that jump out when you watch the film as well. The issue is that some of those struggles may be specific to the offense that is being run.
Like on this play, he throws deep into double coverage. But I don’t know what else he could have done except scramble, because this play only has one option. It is a one-man route with nine other players providing pass protection. It’s a bad play call against this defense, but the throw has to be to the outside if you’re going to throw this against a 2-deep coverage.
Jones struggles at times with decision making. On this play, he scrambles around looking for an open receiver and makes a dangerous play throwing back across his body to the middle of the field. The pass is almost intercepted and had very little chance of being completed. But even if it was, the upside is extremely limited.
He was able to get away with this type of throw at the high school level. Here he does pretty much the same thing as in the previous play, but this time is able to complete the pass against triple coverage. I saw him do this in the full-game tape multiple times, and it’s telling that it even shows up on his highlight tape. This isn’t something he will be able to get away with consistently in the SEC.
Many of the play designs for Heard County are fairly simple reads. But even with that being the case, Jones did not always make the right read.
On this play, the defense should give Jones 1-on-1 coverage on either his receiver breaking out into the flat or his receiver running a deep corner route. But both defensive backs run with the deep route, leaving the receiver in the flat uncovered.
Jones had locked onto the deep route from the start and made the throw. The wide receiver actually beat the double coverage, but the play required a perfect throw and Jones overthrew it. These are the hidden plays that don’t always get criticized, but taking the deep shot here prevented an easy first down.
Locking on to a target was not uncommon while I was watching the film. On this play, Jones’ primary receiver is the wide receiver on the slant. But he stares him down, allowing the linebacker to drop into coverage and get a hand on the pass. This is a really good play by the linebacker, but is facilitated by Jones locking on to his receiver.
But perhaps the most prevalent issue I saw from a decision-making standpoint was Jones’ desire to run the ball without going through his progressions.
On this play, Jones’ receiver is open in between the zone. Jones pump fakes but doesn’t deliver the ball and instead decides to run. The result makes it look like a good decision based on the outstanding run that Jones makes. But you can’t count on making two or three defenders miss all the time, and his receiver was open.
On this play, the slot receiver is the primary read and he has the defensive back beat, so much so that the DB grabs onto the receiver. If Jones makes the throw, it is a TD or a flag. Instead, he decides to run. The result is nearly scoring and getting the ball to the 1-yard line, but this could have been a TD.
Again on this play, Jones’ primary read appears to be open. And again, he pulls the ball down and runs for a first down. He takes a big hit at the end, the kind that he won’t be able to take regularly against SEC competition.
There is a lot to like about Emory Jones. He has a strong arm, can throw on the run and appears to be pretty accurate throwing deep. He isn’t afraid to throw the ball into tight windows, and when he gets his feet set, does so really well.
But he doesn’t always set his feet, sometimes even when he has time. He tends to lock on to one receiver and not get to a second read on a regular basis. The only time he went to a second read was when the play call had him roll out to his right and gave him a two-man read. Even then, sometimes he delivered to the wrong receiver.
The differentiator is his running ability. He fits perfectly what Mullen wants to do from a running perspective. He’s not as big as Tim Tebow or Nick Fitzgerald, but he’s significantly larger than someone like Kadarius Toney. And Mullen tries to give his QBs the ability to make decisions about where to go with the ball before the snap, which should aid Jones if he has to play early.
But I don’t think we should mistake some of the ways Mullen simplifies his offense as being simple to execute. In his nine years at Mississippi State, Mullen did not ever give significant playing time to a freshman or redshirt freshman. Prescott and Fitzgerald were the only QBs to get significant playing time under Mullen as sophomores.
But in most of those cases, Mullen had another option. He had Chris Relf, Tyler Russell or Prescott. The only player with any experience at all is Feleipe Franks. The only other players who aren’t freshmen or redshirt freshmen are Kyle Trask and Kadarius Toney, neither of which have any significant playing time as a QB.
Mullen has shown much more of a willingness to run his QBs over the past five seasons. From 2009-2012, his QBs averaged 2.8 rushing TDs per season. From 2013-2017, his QBs averaged 13.4 rushing TDs. For sure, much of this is helped by having Prescott and Fitzgerald during that time. But a jump of more than 10 rushing TDs per year indicates a shift in philosophy in the red zone.
And that’s where Emory Jones is going to get his first crack at things. Based on what I’ve seen on film, he’s probably not going to be impressive enough throwing the ball to win the QB job outright in camp unless Franks looks really unimpressive. Instead, he’s likely going to be inserted in the red zone to provide the dimension that Mullen had his last few years at Mississippi State.
From there, the play of Franks will likely dictate when Jones gets the opportunity to own the job.