It takes time for an American quarterback to make an impact in the CFL after an NCAA or NFL career. To a certain extent it is like playing a completely different game, with the wider and longer field, extra defender, and shorter play clock. So organizations often take extra time to develop franchise quarterbacks, as the position usually requires time to study and learn. Yet Jonathon Jennings has been far from the norm in his first two years in the Canadian Football League. His quick development has the possibility of making a splash in more than one league.
Jonathon Jennings to the NFL?
CFL Learning Process
Some of today’s best quarterbacks in Canada have gone through this learning process. For example, Ottawa Redblacks’ Travis Harris sat behind Ricky Ray and Zach Collaros for three years in Toronto before his chance came. It took four years in Edmonton and Winnipeg for Matt Nichols to finally get the starting job. The Eskimos’ Mike Reilly spent his first two seasons in B.C. learning from head coach Wally Buono, until a trade to Edmonton gave him his shot. Even last year’s Most Outstanding Player, Bo Levi Mitchell, was Henry Burris’s backup in Calgary for a couple of years before it became his team.
The quarterback position is so vital in the CFL that you don’t want to rush the process. And when a team does rush the process, negative results aren’t too far behind. But every rule has its exceptions. In this case, the Lions’ Jonathon Jennings is the exception, which could lead him to the NFL.
An Exceptional Quarterback
In 2014, the Saginaw Valley State product tried out for a few NFL teams as well as the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and did not get a contract. Fast-forward a year later to B.C., where he wins the back-up job and is thrown right into the fire when starting quarterback Travis Lulay falls to injury. In eight total games and six starts, the rookie turned heads, completing 66 percent of his passes for 2,004 yards with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He got the starting job the next season.
In his first season as a starter, Jennings displayed his powerful and accurate arm, throwing for over five thousand yards, while completing 67% of his throws and scoring 27 touchdowns. In his sophomore season, he showed off his athletic ability too, running for 363 yards and four scores. He picked up his first career playoff win against the Blue Bombers before falling to the Stamps in the Division Finals.
Developing into an Elite Quarterback
These past two seasons have displayed just how quickly the 24-year-old is developing into an elite quarterback. Of course, there were some less impressive stats for him last year – such as his 17 picks – but such bumps are expected when one is learning on the job. He never had the opportunity that most of his peers did, to develop and hone his craft as a second- or third-string player. However alongside those struggles were flashes of brilliance that would leave spectators in awe. Moving forward, there’s no reason why Jennings shouldn’t continue to improve under the guidance of one of the best head coaches, Wally Buono.
There is no reason to think that an NFL team won’t give Jennings a shot. He has a rocket for an arm, the ability to extend plays with his legs, and perhaps most impressive is his mental game. He has the capabilities to read and anticipate defences and quickly adjust accordingly. The only aspect missing from his arsenal is experience, which cannot be taught, but does come with time. Last year Jennings benefited from (and partially relied on) having the league’s best ground game, but expect to see him being given more opportunities to make plays with the ball in his hands this season.
Suppose he dominates this coming year, improves on all his numbers, and brings B.C. a Grey Cup. It would not be a total surprise to see a franchise south of the Canadian border give Jennings a call for at least a try out.
Coming from a Division-II school, not many thought Jennings would excel this quickly in his professional career, but he clearly has all the tools to continue his growth and possibly bring his talents to the NFL.
Jennings’ potential is quite frankly, limitless.