FanPost

Charlie Jones draft profile

Bacon the Grade

One year ago, it would have seemed entirely random to even do an NFL draft profile on wide receiver, Charlie Jones. He had never even been a starting WR up to that point in his college career. In 2000, he was buried so far down on Iowa's depth chart that he had a total of zero catches the entire season.

If Jones had stayed at Iowa and been a backup in 2022, I imagine Jones would have been treated similarly to Landen Akers, a Rams UDFA in 2021, who was primarily a special teams player at Iowa State. When I profiled Akers, I said that he was such a marginal prospect, I wondered if he would have only been a tryout player and not even an UDFA in a normal year, but 2021 had a particularly shallow draft pool. Akers is currently in the XFL.

Playing for Purdue, Jones had a stunning 2022, which has vaulted him squarely into the draft conversation. Jones might even be a Day 2 pick. Jones is the 84th ranked overall prospect on ESPN's board, which would be a 3rd round pick. Sports Illustrated also gave him a 3rd round grade. Ryan Fowler, an analyst for TDN in December proclaimed that he was "all aboard the Charlie Jones hype train." Garrett Williams is a CB for Syracuse who is the 44th overall prospect on NFLDraftBuzz and ranked 62nd by PFF. Jones got injured at one point during the Syracuse game, but still had a huge performance and multiple times he torched Williams for big plays. So, if Williams is a legit 2nd round prospect and Jones schooled him, what does that make Jones?

The emergence of Jones his final year in college reminds me of Danny Amendola at Texas Tech. Amendola never had at least 500 receiving yards in any season until he was a senior. In 2007, he had 109 catches for 1,245 yards playing in a Mike Leach air raid system. Despite his big year, Amendola went undrafted in 2008. He didn't make the cut for the Dallas Cowboys as a rookie, a journey chronicled on Hard Knocks, and spent that year on their practice squad. In year 2, Amendola failed to make the Eagles roster. The Rams signed him off the Eagles PS, likely with the intention of using him as a return specialist. Amendola would go on to become a very reliable NFL receiver. Even at the age of 35, Amendola was a key reason Matthew Stafford had a strong season playing for Detroit in 2020. Consider that in that 2008 draft, the Rams took Donnie Avery at the top of the 2nd round. Amendola's pro career had an inauspicious start, but in the long run Amendola would far outperform most of the big name WR prospects in his draft class.

In terms of pure physical and athletic measurements, Charlie Jones has similarities with Stedman Bailey, who the Rams drafted late in the 3rd round in 2023. Bailey and Tavon Austin played with Geno Smith in a pass happy spread system offense at West Virginia. Bailey was undersized to play as an outside WR in the NFL and he only ran 4.52 seconds in the 40. One advantage Bailey had was he had an abnormally large wingspan and big hands for a smaller WR.

Is Jones the next Danny Amendola? Or maybe the next Hunter Renfrow (5th round 2019, Raiders, Clemson)? Or have some of the draft experts gone way too far hyping up Jones as if he were the next Cooper Kupp and are ranking him too high?

Jeff Brohm, who was Purdue's HC, has a pass heavy system that has a history of producing NFL draft prospects at QB and WR, but those players have had mixed results at the NFL level. Tyler Higbee played for Brohm at Western Kentucky. Perhaps Jones is merely a "system WR", a mirage created by Brohm's offense.

The very next WR drafted after Cooper Kupp in 2017 was Taywan Taylor, who played for Brohm at WKY. Taylor caught passes from Mike White, the Jets QB. In 2016, Taylor had 98 catches for 1,730 yards and 17 TDs. After 2 disappointing seasons with the Titans, Taylor was traded to the Browns for a 7th round pick. One of the players who had beaten out Taylor on the Titans' depth chart was Kalif Raymond, a 2016 UDFA, who was a journeyman return specialist. Raymond is now with the Detroit Lions. IMO, Raymond is only a WR5 type player. Taywan Taylor had zero catches in 2 seasons for the Browns and injured his neck late in the 2000 season. He was drafted by a USFL team in 2022.

The enormous difference in outcomes between CK and Taylor is stunning. Kupp likely will be in the HOF someday. Taylor was almost a completely wasted 3rd round pick for the Titans. To be fair to the Titans, there were a bunch of other 3rd round players in that draft who also completely flopped in the NFL. So, even if the Titans had passed on Taylor and drafted a different position, the outcome likely wouldn't have been any different.

Even without hindsight, if we just judged them based solely on their college games, Charlie Jones is a better WR than Taywan Taylor. No doubt in my mind. So, if we took Taylor's 3rd round draft slot literally, then it isn't really such a crazy idea that if Jones had been in that 2017 draft, Snead could have been sitting in a pre-draft meeting and going around the room, asking the scouts "So, we've got to make a final decision, who do we like better? This Kupp guy or that other player, Charlie Jones?"

Only a couple of the boards like Jones. Just as many other boards have him ranked as a 7th round prospect. Is Jones one of the most underrated players in this draft? Or is he one of the most overrated players? How can the exact same player be shooting up some boards like a rocket and be in danger of being an UDFA on other boards? Perhaps we should ask actual NFL teams the same question, because in the 2017 draft Cooper Kupp and Taywan Taylor got drafted at nearly identical draft slots. Jon Robinson, the Titans GM at the time, was recently fired. Is Snead actually a better talent evaluator than Robinson or was this just one of those lucky breaks. If Kupp had somehow landed with the Titans instead of the Rams, would Robinson still have his job? If Snead had passed on Kupp or some other team had grabbed him after the Rams didn't take him in the 2nd round, would Snead have been the one to get fired?

I might not know how well Jones will play in the NFL, but I am very confident of one thing. He has one of the best nicknames in the 2023 NFL draft.

Background

Name: Charlie Jones. Nicknamed "Chuck Sizzle". Turns 25 years old next October.

School: Purdue, transferred from Iowa and Buffalo.

Size: Per SI 5'11'' tall, 183 pounds, 9 1/8'' hands, 31.5'' arms, 74 1/8'' wing, 4.50 sec (40 time). Per NFLDB 6'0'' tall, 188 pounds, 4.51 sec (40 time).

Danny Amendola was 5'10.5'' tall, 183 pounds, 8.25'' hands, 29'' arms, only ran 4.7 sec at the combine but 4.58 sec (40 time) at his pro day.

From Illinois, was lightly recruited. Redshirted in 2017 at Buffalo. Was kick returner for Buffalo in 2018. Didn't receive any scholarship offers when he entered transfer portal, so he walked on at Iowa and sat out 2019 as a transfer. Served as punt returner for Iowa in 2020, named 2nd team all conference as a returner. Had zero catches in 2020. Got a scholarship in December of 2020. Returned both punts and kicks in 2021.

Stayed with Iowa in spring of 2022, but changed his mind when he wasn't able to win a starting role during spring practices. He transferred to Purdue in May of 2022. Purdue's QB, Aidan O'Connell, who might be a Day 3 pick this year, was childhood friends with Jones. They played together on youth football and baseball teams as little kids. Jones said that he chose Purdue due to their pass happy offensive system. Jones exploded in 2022, emerging as the primary receiving weapon for Purdue. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa's coach, wasn't entirely shocked that Jones had success for Purdue, saying that Jones had demonstrated big progress as a WR during the spring 2022 practices.

2018 (Buffalo): 18-395-3 receiving. 15-289 (19.3 ave) kickoff returns

2020 (Iowa): 22-223 (10.1 ave) punt returns, one fumble

2021 (Iowa): 21-323-3 receiving. 37-285 (7.7 ave) PRs, 25-635 (25.4 ave) KRs, 2 fumbles

2022 (Purdue, 13 games): 110-1,361-12 receiving. 18-114 (6.3 ave) PR, 5-78 (15.6 ave) KR, 1 fumble

Got injured vs Syracuse (lower body injury), but later returned to game. Didn't practice all week prior to Wisconsin game, wore boot, but still had 10 catches for 105 yards in game.

Jones has an understated personality in interviews. He reminds me of the comedic actor, Steve Zahn.

ESPN 10th WR, 84th overall (3rd rd)

PFF not ranked top 100

Drafttek 213th (late 6th to 7th rd)

CBSSports 215th (late 6th to 7th rd)

NFLDB 169th (5th rd)

PFN not ranked top 100

Shane Hallam 110th (4th rd)

Brian Bosarge 184th (6th rd)

Sports Illustrated 3rd round grade.

PFF draft sim 177th overall (late 5th to 6th rd)

NFLMDD Sim 193rd overall (6th rd)

PFN draft sim 146th overall (5th rd)

NFLDB: Middle field threat, yards after catch ability. Natural, Reliable hands and focus. Makes acrobatic catches look easy, tracks ball well on long throws, high points the ball. Lacks elite speed. Isn't great at contested catches. lacks twitch to create consistent separation.

SI: Multiple release patterns, fluid off the line into stem. Shifts weight easily. Natural hands catcher. Lives in the middle. Can go up and get ball in traffic. Works through handsy CBs and big hits. Intelligent, can sight adjust against leverage and CB alignment. Fantastic spatial awareness and body control. Questionable speed. may struggle to separate vs tight coverage. Not much of a threat after catch.

TDN: Plays like a savvy veteran. Understands leverage and how to attack CB's base. Tracks ball consistently, high points the ball. Functional play strength, fights through contact. Settles into soft spots vs zone. Sells the vertical on comeback routes. Manipulates coverage with tempo of stem. Only 6 career drops. Release package not diverse. Repeats same move. Needs to improve pad level to create separation and hands usage vs press. 5th round grade.

Strengths

Beats CBs with double moves. Creates holding and PI penalties by beating the CB on releases. Attacked outside toes of CB, then slips inside and the CB has to resort to grabbing his arm to avoid giving up a big play. CB in off technique, the WR runs up middle of CB's frame, then angles to outside, getting the CB to open hips to the outside, then slips inside the CB. Nice hard sell on fake slant, beats the CB on double move to get deep and the CB has to grab the WR. Burns the CB on go route and the CB tries to arm bar him, then falls down and WR catches 55 yard TD.

Some of his better plays aren't catches or even pass targets. He beats the coverage on snaps where the pass is never thrown his way.

Quick hands and feet in release. Varies the step tempo on release, deceptively runs in place, confuses the CB with subtle angle changes and hesitations. Slow rolls outside fake, then smooth cut to the inside. The choreography of some of his release fakes is well planned and executed. One play there's almost no fake at all. The CB is playing outside technique, WR takes one step to the outside, getting the CB to mirror and then gets inside the CB. Attacked inside toes of CB, then angles outside, then cuts back to the inside. One play, he appeared to just run directly upfield and got by the CB, but it was still deceptive, maybe because when there is variety to your releases and the CB is expecting a fake, having no fake at all tricks the CB.

Flashes ability to craft routes at an NFL level. Critical long 3rd down late in 4th qtr in tight game. Zone coverage, he works the CB outside with his stem, creating needed space for inside break up the seam, that is high level route running and understanding of the coverage. Also flashes ability to sight adjust his route based on his post-snap read of the coverage. Another critical 3rd down late in 4th quarter, WR aligned in tight split, beats the CB deep down the seam. On shallow cross, his subtle upfield sell creates nice leverage at the break so there is quality separation and a comfortable target for the QB. Pressed the vertical to create leverage to the inside, I liked this route, because it fit the 2 deep shell coverage, I don't know if that is just coincidence or really good recognition by the WR to understand where the soft area would be in the zone and how to optimize that space with his stem. Very nice staircase route going over the middle of the field.

Not just a middle of the field WR. He sells inside fakes well, then breaks to the outside and can make catches outside the numbers. Head fake to his left as if he's about to turn around, then hits the breaks and turns to the outside to make the catch. Tricky stutter step fake where he goes in, then out, then in, beating the CB.

Precise yardage on routes. Effective upfield fake prior to turning for a WR screen pass. The tempo of his routes fit NFL football, because he has no wasted movements or excessive fakes that delay the timing of his break. He's able to create deception using very subtle and quick moves, staying on schedule within the progression. Nice hesitation fake like he's going to block, then slips by the defender. Sells vertical route, then sharp break inside. Multiple times sits down in the perfect spot vs zone coverage.

One trait he has that is dangerous is he can sink his hips and very quickly and fluidly turn around. Has a "1 step turn" where he can make it look like he's running upfield, but then snaps off the route and immediately flips back towards the QB. This makes it difficult for the CB to drive on short routes and comebacks, because they can't react quickly enough, especially if you have a good NFL QB who throws the ball on time so that the ball arrives in sync with the WR turning. Tom Brady in his prime, Charlie Jones might have been a prototypical "Patriots WR", because his style of play exactly fits what the Pats wanted their WRs to be able to do on the field.

Demonstrates awareness of location of back end line and sideline to drag his feet, has some toe drag swag.

Maintains concentration on ball even if safety is closing in on him. Confident hands catcher.

His best trait as a returner is his field vision. Sees the coverage players, sets up his blocks, instincts to make proper choices in when and how to cut.

Productive as the clear top WR on his team in 2022. Had 800 more receiving yards than the 2nd best receiver. Played through injury, had production even when he was hobbled and not 100%. Even though he was in a passing oriented system, he didn't have "cheap catches" like many spread system WRs who get a ton of bubble screens and manufactured throws. He had "legitimate" catches where he ran good routes and made tough grabs. His stats aren't just the product of the system. Not phased by pressure situations, came up huge several times with clutch plays in 4th quarter. Game is tied in 4th qtr, he runs a deep route, gets inside the CB, and makes an over the shoulder catch.

His QB has good arm strength, but also missed him badly on several throws. WR wins inside leverage on deep pass up the seam, but the QB's throw is way off target. On long 3rd down, the WR appears to read the coverage and knows he's wide open, turning around in an open area of the zone, but the QB's pass is terrible and misses him badly. Stutter step move wins at the GL, wide open for potential TD, but the pass isn't thrown his way.

Aligned as slot, X and Z receiver. Even if he were only a backup WR in the NFL, shows some ability to play all of the WR positions, not limited to just one role.

At all 3 levels tracks the ball well and adjusts to off target passes.

Shows some intelligent movement in scramble situations to get behind the defense. Broke up potential INTs.

Gives effort as a run blocker, he just isn't any good at it.

He's ready to play now. Advanced enough in technique that he could have a surprising rookie impact if he lands in the right situation.

Weaknesses

Hands aren't quiet. Hands appear to be only average, despite some acrobatic grabs and coming down with difficult catches. Ball not always firmly secured in his hand, it can move or slide around for a split second before he finally secures it. Double catches passes. Had sloppy catch where he awkwardly presses the ball to his chest. Body catch on comeback route. Made body catch and the ball popped out of his hands, up into the air as he was tackled, but the ball fell to him and he was able to grab it.

Almost always was aligned on the right side of the formation. Only occasionally was he to the left. Generally played outside WR, but at the NFL level projects as a slot WR due to lack of size.

Slightly built. Lacks muscle and thickness. Stiff arm is ineffective, not enough length or play strength. Durability questions due to his build, could be frequently hurt in the NFL. Pro football is a fast and violent game and I have doubts whether Jones is built to thrive at that level of intensity and aggression.

Gets rerouted by physical jam. Too small with limited length to make backshoulder catches. Unable to go over the top of CBs to make catches. Overmatched by size at the catch point, really struggles to win contested catch situations. On slant route, cannot maintain the proper angle of the route and fight through contact from the CB. Allows the CB to force him up against the sideline, not creating enough space for the QB to throw the ball.

If he can't trick the CB on his release, the CB stays glued on him in tight man coverage, he wears them like a jacket. He has no strength and size to push them away and create late separation.

Has little value as a run blocker. Poor length and play strength for blocking duties. Too light, short arms, gets pushed backwards or shoved off by CBs. Inexperienced player who doesn't have good instincts for how to protect the blocking angle. Allows CBs to easily get by him, shed his block. Ducks his head into some blocks, has weak base.

Doesn't possess easy burst. Has to dig to fully accelerate. Not dangerous on jet sweeps, takes conservative angles, not a powerful or dynamic runner.

A "try hard" overachiever, former walk-on who maxed his potential with hard work and on field IQ, but who doesn't have elite athleticism and size that translates to the NFL.

Not an elite returner. Has build up speed, not instant short area burst and acceleration, only hits full speed when he has about 10-15 yards of space. Lacks suddenness and elusiveness. Loses balance and breaks his stride, doesn't have great contact balance when defenders trip him up or grab him. Not explosive in making cuts. Benefited from some good blocking from his punt and kick return units.

If he can't win a returner job, he probably would be a poor special teams player, because he doesn't have the size and athleticism to be good on coverage units. This makes it risky to draft him early, because as a rookie he could end up getting cut by the Rams if they go with someone like Ben Skowronek, who is a bigger player and has more ST versatility. Even players like Austin Trammell and JJ Koski, it isn't a sure thing that Charlie Jones would be able to beat guys like that out even for a PS spot. All 3 of those WRs are similarly sized players and the deciding factor in which of them to keep could turn on ST value.

Inexperienced player, only one year as a starter. Had a false start. Only one year of receiving production. Red flag that he couldn't win a starting job at Iowa and had to transfer to get playing time.

He's 2 years older than a normal prospect. If he plays like a veteran, one reason is because spent 6 years in college and was competing against younger opponents in 2022.

Draft Grade and Pro Comp

5th round grade. Kyle Philips (5th round 2022, Titans, UCLA)

Philips had a 6th to 7th round projection from Lance Zierlein. Philips was a punt returner at UCLA. IMO, he showed more potential as a returner than Jones, because Philips has better short area burst and sudden feet.

Hunter Renfrow has a very low drop rate in the NFL (3.6% per Foxsports stats), but he also has a bunch of fumbles in his career (12 total in 4 seasons). Renfrow was only 5'10.5'' tall, 180 pounds, 7 7/8'' hands, 29'' arms, 71.25'' wing with 4.59 sec (40 time), so smaller hands and frame than Jones. Renfrow was a Pro Bowler in 2021 when he had 103 catches for 1,038 yards and 9 TDs. Renfrow would probably be the best case projection for Jones in the NFL.

I'm putting Chuck Sizzle in exactly the same round where Hunter Renfrow and Philips were drafted. Jones is a fun player to watch, but I'm not confident that he can consistently win 1 vs 1 in the NFL against physical CBs. If he landed on the right team, with a good QB and the right offensive coach, I think he could be a good WR in a progression and timing based offense. Jones understands how to get open, especially vs zone and while his hands aren't elite, they should be reliable if he doesn't have to make a high percentage of contested catches.

If Jones is still on the board deeper into Day 3, I consider him to be one of the better late round WR prospects in this draft. I'm not high enough on him to take him in the 3rd round the way ESPN and SI have him graded. Yes, some smaller WRs have turned out to be good, but Danny Amendola was an UDFA who got cut by 2 different NFL teams early in his career and Julian Edelman was a 7th round pick who for 4 years hardly played anything other than special teams for the Patriots. Even though I like this player, I still see him as only a Day 3 prospect.