INDIANAPOLIS – It’s like Braxton Miller and Cardale Jones are sitting on opposite ends of a seesaw. As one former Ohio State quarterback rises, the other falls.
Miller rose first. He started for the Buckeyes from 2011-13, throwing for 52 touchdowns against only 17 interceptions while rushing for more than 1,000 yards in two of the years.
Then came Jones. As Miller dealt with a season-ending shoulder injury in 2014, it was Jones the third-stringer who orchestrated three straight late-season wins against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon which resulted in a national title.
Jones could have entered the draft, but returned to school as the favorite to beat out Miller and J.T. Barrett for the starting quarterback job, which he did. Miller saw the writing on the wall early and moved to wide receiver.
But it wasn’t Jones at the peak of the seesaw as he and Miller met with the media within an hour of each other at the NFL Scouting combine. Both were asked if they thought they’d be first-round picks, and the answers were indicative of the general feeling about their NFL futures.
“Do I think? Oh, I know for sure,” Miller said. “With the way I work …”
Miller let the response hang in the air, never finishing the sentence as he walked off the podium and into the bowels of Lucas Oil Stadium.
Jones was less grandiose.
“Of course I think that, but my goal is to get my foot in the door and let my preparation and leadership take it from there,” Jones said. “The opportunity definitely is more important than being any pick.”
It may have been hard to peg at the time, but Miller’s conversion from quarterback to wide receiver was a blessing in disguise. He was always an athletic quarterback, and has found a home catching passes. While he had only 25 receptions for 340 yards and three touchdowns as a senior, Miller showed flashes during the season and then turned heads at the Senior Bowl.
“I love his tape, I love what I saw at the Senior Bowl, I really like everything about this kid,” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. “But I think the first round is a little bit of a reach. I think as good as he looked at the Senior Bowl, he’s still very raw at running routes. He takes too long getting off press (coverage). There are some things he’s got to learn how to do.
“Having said that, I think his skill-set is awesome. He’s probably going to run 4.4 (seconds in the 40-yard dash), he’s quick, he’s fast, he’s tough, he’s really competitive. So I think it’s just a developmental timeline for him to be productive, and I think he’s going to go in the second round.”
Jones, meanwhile, was inconsistent during the 2015 season and eventually benched in favor of Barrett. He’s the rare backup quarterback invited to the combine -- which tells of his tools -- but there’s no question his stock has slipped. Mayock grouped Jones with Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg as his two “wild cards” at quarterback.
“Both have a ton of talent,” Mayock said. “Big, good-looking kids, but their tape is poor. From a skills perspective they have starter tools, but their tape is poor.”
Jones said he doesn’t regret skipping last year’s draft, when he would have been a higher selection. Jones’ body of work was only three starts at that point, and he said the experience gained over this season – while potentially costing him a ton of money – was a net benefit.
“That year helped me with a little more maturity, being faced with different obstacles during the season,” Jones said. “I think this year going back to school definitely did me well.”
“I don’t want a job,” Jones added. “I want a career.”
Miller was asked earlier this week if he could challenge the 40-yard dash record of 4.24 seconds set by Cardinals running back
“I don’t know,” Miller said. “That’s blazing. I just want to run as fast as possible.”
On Sunday, Miller clocked in with unoffical times of 4.50 and 4.55 seconds, slower than most thought he would run. It's hard to know if it will affect his stock, but Miller surely was hoping for a better result.
Jones had a solid showing with 4.83 seconds unofficially in his first 40, but then pulled a hamstring in the second attempt and won't be able to do any more of the drills.
For Miller and Jones, the ups and downs continue. Both believe the high points are indicative of their true abilities, but it's in the hands of NFL teams now.
"I think I'm ready for that level," Jones said. "Only time will tell."