Patriots first-round pick Mac Jones looks every bit the franchise quarterback on his game tape from Alabama.
His throws are right on the money — deep balls with the perfect distance and trajectory, slant passes with pinpoint placement, crossing routes thrown right in stride.
Jones set an NCAA record with a 77.4 completion percentage, and became the first Alabama quarterback to reach 4,500 passing yards. The Patriots drafted him 15th overall, the first time Bill Belichick has taken a quarterback in the first round.
“The guy checks every box for what the Patriots are looking for,” said former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. “He is similar to a quarterback that you have a lot of familiarity with for the last 20 years.”
There’s just one major caveat when evaluating Jones: Was he truly as great as his numbers and the film suggest, or was he a product of the incredible talent around him? The Crimson Tide had a record five players from the same offense chosen in the first round last week.
Previous Alabama quarterbacks Greg McElroy, A.J. McCarron, and Tua Tagovailoa all thrived in college but struggled in the pros, though Tua still has plenty of time to develop.
“You watch the tape, Jones was not under duress very often,” said Greg Cosell, the X’s-and-O’s guru at NFL Films and ESPN NFL Matchup. “He will be polarizing in some draft rooms. Some will see Jones as a highly schemed and highly programmed ball-distributor QB without any special physical traits.”
That’s not to say Cosell is down on Jones — it’s just the opposite, in fact. He is enamored with Jones’s accuracy, the way he sees the field, and the way he can manipulate safeties with his eyes.
But there’s no denying that Jones, who started only one full year, played with the best of everything at Alabama.
The best playmakers — receivers Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith both went in the top 10 in the draft, and running back Najee Harris went 24th.
|Player||2020 stats||Draft pick||Team|
|WR Jaylen Waddle||591 receiving yards, 28 receptions, 21.1 yds/rush, 4 TDs||Rd. 1, No. 6||Dolphins|
|WR DeVonta Smith||1856 receiving yards, 117 receptions, 15.9 yds/rush, 23 receiving TDs||Rd. 1, No. 10||Eagles|
|RB Najee Harris||1466 rushing yds, 251 attempts, 5.8 yds/rush, 26 rush TDs||Rd. 1, No. 24||Steelers|
The best protection — left tackle Alex Leatherwood went in the first round, and center Landon Dickerson in the second.
And the best coaching — a legendary defensive coach in Nick Saban and a longtime NFL offensive coordinator in Steve Sarkisian.
“Jones is an especially challenging evaluation because he played in a near-perfect situation in Tuscaloosa with an elite offensive line, running game, pass-catchers and play-calling, which makes it tough to evaluate him independent of his surroundings,” wrote The Athletic’s Dane Brugler. “Wasn’t routinely moved from his spot while playing behind the best offensive line in college football.”
Belichick wrote in a scouting guide in 1991 that his preferred attributes for a quarterback were: “accurate rather than a guy with a cannon”; “emphasis on our game will be on decision, timing, accuracy”; “can’t be sloppy, fundamentally unsound guy.”
That reads like Jones to a T. His arm strength is most often described as good, not great, but he throws an excellent deep ball. His accuracy and ability to process the field are outstanding. Jones is not a runner and doesn’t have a great body type, but he has shown the ability to slide and shuffle in the pocket and find throwing lanes. He took just 13 sacks last year, with 402 pass attempts.
“I like guys that get rid of the ball fast,” said former Jets and Dolphins GM Mike Tannenbaum. “He has really good mechanics in his delivery. And very, very accurate — like, really good, pinpoint accuracy, where he allows his receivers to be productive after the catch.”
But watch Jones’s 90-yard touchdown pass in the Georgia game; the cornerback fell down at midfield. Watch Jones’s 59-yard touchdown pass against Auburn; it was just a quick slant, with Smith doing the rest. Those are just two of many examples of Jones taking advantage of busted coverage.
Jones didn’t face much adversity, either. The Tide trailed once at halftime all season, and only two of their 13 games were within one score entering the fourth quarter (average score: 39-14).
Jones’s receivers won’t be nearly as wide open in the NFL. He won’t have as many clean pockets and well-defined throwing lanes. And he’ll be in a competitive game almost every week.
“The protection in particular is a big factor,” Cosell said. “When a quarterback is comfortable in the pocket, he can play the position to his maximum.”
Those are generalities, of course, and it’s not as if Jones played against a bunch of stiffs in the SEC.
There is a great All-22 breakdown of Jones scanning through his reads and making the right decisions. His highlight tape shows him delivering a perfect crossing route to Waddle for a touchdown while getting crushed by a Missouri blitzer, demonstrating pinpoint accuracy on a back-shoulder throw for a touchdown against Georgia; and hitting John Metchie perfectly in stride on a 78-yard deep-ball touchdown.
One AFC scout said Jones deserves a lot of credit for Alabama’s explosive offense.
“Mac benefited by having all of that talent around him,” the scout said. “But his greatest strength is the mental side and playing within himself to eliminate his mistakes.
“For a guy like Mac, who does not have the athleticism and arm strength as other QBs in the class, it is all about being accurate, making good decisions, and putting his teammates in the position to succeed.”
Weis disputed the idea that Jones was just a product of the talent around him.
“With all those great guys he was playing with, who was the leader of the offense? Mac Jones,” Weis said. “The question is not who you’re playing with, it’s what you do with who you’re playing with.”
Jones may have had the best surroundings in college football, but most evaluators believe he showed enough on his own for the Patriots to be confident in his ability to grow into a franchise quarterback.
“There were a lot of well-schemed, predetermined, primary-read throws in Alabama’s pass game,” Cosell said. “It won’t be that easy in the NFL.
“But I will say this: He was a very accurate thrower. He didn’t make receivers work for the ball. He’s a precise ball-placement guy, and that’s a great starting point.”
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.