Mel Kiper Jr. went there. In fact, ESPN’s NFL Draft guru went there multiple times.
In assessing Alabama quarterback Mac Jones — his strengths, his weaknesses, his comparables — Kiper dropped the “B” word.
“I hate to say it, but he kind of has a little bit of Brady in him,” Kiper said last month. “I’m not saying he’s ever going to be Tom Brady. He wouldn’t be close, probably.
“But he has that competitiveness and he’s so smart; he picked up that offense [at the Senior Bowl] like it was nothing. Other quarterbacks were struggling with the verbiage and, ‘Boom,’ he was in and out of the huddle quicker than anybody I’ve ever seen.”
Kiper, the king of the mock draft, took the comparison further when he mocked Jones to the Patriots in his last two versions. First, he had New England trading up to grab Jones at No. 9. In his latest simulation, he has Jones falling to the Patriots at No. 15.
While comparisons are always a risky business, there is some validity to Brady/Jones. Aside from their intelligence and competitive fire, both stand tall in the pocket, are exceptionally accurate passers, and are exceptionally strong leaders teammates are drawn to.
Despite being hit with the “lack of athleticism” label, both are thriving in an era when being a dual-threat quarterback is almost a prerequisite for success at the highest level — or at least to be a first-round draft pick.
The 6-foot-3-inch, 217-pound Jones won’t bowl anyone over with his time in the 40, but he does have excellent footwork and sneaky pocket quickness, allowing him to buy extra seconds and subtly avoid pass rushers.
Jones keeps his eyes downfield during chaos, and his timing, anticipation, and ball placement are impeccable.
While serving apprenticeships under national championship quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa, Jones polished his mechanics and devoured the Crimson Tide playbook. He was more than ready to take over the offense when he got his chance in 2019 following Tagovailoa’s devastating hip injury.
He came into 2020 as the starter and blistered the SEC, throwing for 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns in leading Alabama to another national championship.
Critics point to the loaded cast Jones had around him — including a massive offensive line, elite receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, and the best back in the country in Najee Harris — as main reasons for his success.
However, Jones came to the Senior Bowl days after winning the national title, and without any of his sterling skill players from Tuscaloosa participating, he put on a signal-calling clinic for the better part of three practices before tweaking his ankle and sitting out the game.
He proved during those sessions that he could pick up a pro-style offense in short order, which would bode well if the Patriots, who run a complex offense, could snag Jones, who said he met with New England’s representatives in Mobile.
For more evidence of Jones’s smarts, consider the comments of longtime NFL executive (and former New England staffer) Mike Lombardi on the Pat McAfee Show last week.
“They tell me Mac Jones is one of the smartest players ever at Alabama — that he’s teaching [new offensive coordinator] Billy O’Brien the offense at Alabama. Think about that. He knows it so well that when Billy O’Brien came in from the Texans, they sat him in a room with Mac Jones and Mac Jones went over everything with him. That’s pretty impressive.”
All of those factors add validity to the Jones/Brady comps.
Bill Belichick and Nick Saban are tight, so it’s safe to assume they’ve chatted about Jones. O’Brien once served as Belichick’s offensive coordinator, so his takeaways from the tutorials with Jones could be valuable.
Jones’s stock has steadily been on the rise, and he impressed at his Pro Day last week. It was clear during that session that he was eager to show he is more athletic than people think. He rolled out smoothly and made a ton of accurate, off-platform throws.
Jones throws again Tuesday during the Tide’s Pro Day II. If he has another stellar performance, he could work his way into the top-five conversation. Meaning the Patriots, armed with 10 picks, would need to make moves to secure him.
The 49ers recently acquired the third overall pick, leading to speculation they’ll be players for Jones. (Peter King is reporting GM John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan will attend Jones’s Tuesday session.) Shanahan has long coveted prototypical pocket passers, with Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan among his more well-known and successful students, and it’s possible he’s targeted Jones to be his next project.
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.