NFL Draft News & Analysis

Purdue WR Charlie Jones makes perseverance a lifestyle and a playstyle

Going into the 2022 college football season, there was no consensus wide receiver or even group of wide receivers at the very top. With a star-studded draft class in 2022 that saw the likes of Drake London, Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Jameson Williams, Jahan Dotson and others make their leap to the NFL, there was plenty of room at the top of the college football leaderboard.

One of those spots has been filled by Purdue super senior journeyman Charlie Jones. A fifth-year player and two-time transfer, Jones has been unstoppable seven weeks in. He ranks top 10 in the country in receiving yards (735) and yards-per-game (105.0) and is No. 2 in the country in receptions (62) and receiving touchdowns (9).

Stats FBS Rank
Receptions 62 2nd
Rec. TDs 9 2nd
Rec. Yards 735 7th
YPG 105 10th

Some players talk about waiting their turn for an opportunity. Jones worked for his.

Growing up in Illinois, he played in a triple-option offense in high school — not exactly the best system for a wide receiver recruit who had dreams of playing in the Big Ten. Jones never got a Big Ten offer. In fact, he didn’t get any Power Five offers. He eventually committed to play for Buffalo.

It was there that Jones did everything he could to get on the field. He started, as many do, on special teams — specifically, returning kicks. When he got his chance at the receiver it was as a slot guy backing up K.J. Osborn, now on the Minnesota Vikings. But eventually, after a redshirt season, he recorded 395 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns. 

“I had a lot of good people around to help me, but for myself, it was just putting in work,” Jones said in an exclusive with PFF. “[I was] always trying to do something to better myself while I was out there. I didn’t know what the future held, but I knew if I took care of business where I was at, doors would open eventually.”

Following that first season of play at Buffalo, a spot opened up closer to home. It was that chance to play for a Big Ten school he had dreamed of in high school. But it wasn’t a guarantee. It was just a chance.

Jones was coming off shoulder surgery, so no one had a scholarship for him right away. But he knew of a few coaches at Iowa and had a friend from back home who was on the team who helped him get an opportunity to prove himself as a walk-on. Jones knew the Iowa program was one that legitimately gave walk-ons a chance to make the team and eventually work their way up.

And since he had never shied from the work, he took the leap.

Jones had to miss the entire first season due to the old transfer rules. When he finally got on the field, it was truly a restart for him, seeing work as just a punt returner and nothing more. But he embraced his role and his part on the team and did whatever he could to help. In his third year with the program, he was able to get in some looks as a receiver, recording 325 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns, but he knew he could be more.

“It was tough,” Jones said. “It was like when I was back in high school. I was a receiver. I knew what I was capable of doing. You want the ball because you want to help the team in the way you know you can. When the opportunities came, I tried to take advantage of them whenever I could. But after that year, I tried to find a place where I was more of a receiver and not just a returner.”

That led Jones to transfer once again, this time to Purdue to join a familiar face in quarterback Aidan O’Connell. Those two have some of the best wide receiver-quarterback chemistry in college football, which is quite something seeing as it's Jones’ first year on the team. But the chemistry you see on Saturdays had its roots planted long before they were both in the Boilermakers football program. The two grew up not far from each other and played little league football and baseball on the same teams. They went to different high schools but were able to stay in contact over the years.

Once Jones officially joined Purdue, he needed a roommate. And that ended up being O’Connell. 

“The chemistry is a big part [of our success],” Jones said. “Not only on the field but off the field. The closer you are as a team and as teammates the better you’re going to play … [being teammates] is something we always talked about growing up when we went to different high schools.”

In Jeff and Brian Brohm’s offense at Purdue, Jones is thriving. His favorite player to watch is Cooper Kupp, and like Kupp, Jones has become a reliable target in Purdue’s offense. His 35 first downs rank fourth in the FBS, and he has a 95.6% catch percentage when targeted with a catchable ball. Jones has also seen more press coverage against him than any receiver in the country (112). Every time the 6-foot, 185-pounder sees the defense come up to press him, he knows why. He loves the challenge.

Stat FBS Rank
Contested Catches 15 1st
First Downs 35 4th
Catch% 95.4% 44th
Threat% 30.5% 21st

“We’ve definitely noticed that in most games they’re pressing me,” Jones said with a smirk. “To me, they don’t respect me as much. But when I see that, I get excited because it’s another challenge and another opportunity to go show that I am capable of doing those things.”

Jones credited the coaching staff for putting the receivers in tough or uncomfortable situations in practices, and for him, it has helped his confidence and his experience beating that coles coverage off the line of scrimmage. With that tight coverage, he doesn’t have the luxury of consistent separation in space. As you’d expect, he’s forced to make a lot of contested catches, with his 15 such grabs ranking first in the FBS.

Jones isn’t just on track for career highs; he’s already surpassed them. In fact, he has more catches, yards and touchdowns than he had at any point previously in his career combined.

It’s been a long journey for him to get to this point, though.

“There’s a couple of different things that go into it,” Jones said. “My faith, my family; there've been a lot of times where things haven’t gone my way, and those two have been the two big things that helped me stay motivated. The third would be believing in myself. Even long before I was in high school, while I was in high school, while I was in Buffalo, through surgery, when I was a walk-on at Iowa, there was never a time where I thought, ‘Ah, I don’t think I can do this.’ I truly believed that if I continued to work and each day I just kept going that, eventually, I would get my chance.”

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