The New England Patriots were looking at a quarterback in the draft and ultimately got their man in Alabama’s Mac Jones without having to sacrificing future picks. While Jones doesn’t offer the rushing abilities the four QBs taken ahead of him do, he does bring the right set of intangibles to the position.
Coming into the draft, I had Jones as the second best fit for the Patriots as a quarterback who could succeed despite having average arm talent and an unathletic body type that; he brings great intangibles to the table at perhaps the toughest position to play in pro sports.
Jones entered Alabama as part of the school’s legendary 2017 recruiting class that resulted in eight first-round picks between the 2020 and 2021 drafts. As a freshman, he was buried on the depth chart behind Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. He wouldn’t get his first chance to play until his redshirt sophomore season, when Tagovailoa suffered a horrific hip injury against Oklahoma. He went on to start the team’s final four games, completing 68.8 percent of his passes for 1,503 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions while Bama went 3-1 in those games.
With a strong 2019 finish and Tagovailoa entering the 2020 draft, Jones ended up getting the starting job. He completely decimated the college football landscape, completing 77.4 percent of his throws for 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions.
One of the biggest knocks on him coming into the draft was the lack of starts and the fact his offense featured four other first-round picks (Jaylen Waddle, Devonta Smith, Alex Leatherwood, Najee Harris) in this year’s draft. While that is a valid concern, he also showcased the ability to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball while under pressure, the ability to quickly go through his progressions, and make accurate throws to his receivers. When you have enough functional arm talent, the difference in intangibles make all the difference in the NFL because every starter has enough physical talent to succeed.
Following an excellent year that included a 13-0 season and a National Championship — beating Justin Fields and Ohio State convincingly — Jones took his talents to the Senior Bowl. While not named the MVP, he was one of the best quarterbacks both in practice and during the game. A successful Senior Bowl week catapulted Jones into a Top-15 pick and a lot of mock drafts successfully predicting the Patriots would draft him.
The Patriots certainly scouted him heavily as Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels both watched him throw on Alabama’s pro day before ultimately making the decision to take him with the 15th overall selection.
In New England, Jones already unseats Jarrett Stidham as the backup to Cam Newton at the minimum. Since Jones comes out of an RPO system in Alabama, I do think they will be able to call those playes for both him and Cam. Early on, the Patriots will use those RPOs to ease Jones’ transition into the starting QB role next season. Newton will be the starter in Week 1 unless Jones completely kills it in camp or Newton suffers an injury in the preseason. If there becomes a situation where Cam is unavailable either due to Covid-19 or injury, then the Patriots will insert Jones into the starting role.
There will be a learning curve for the rookie when adjusting from an RPO offense to a traditional NFL scheme, which includes taking snaps from under center. He’ll also need to be able to make the proper pre-snap reads, adjust protections and plays at the line, and understand when it’s time to give up on a play instead of risking a turnover.
From his work at Alabama, though, he shows the aptitude to be able to do those things, although how much freedom he’s given there will be dependent on how the coaching staff feels about his progress. As he gets more experience in the system, we will see the offense morph from an RPO-based one to a traditional one.