Mel Kiper Jr. has been evaluating the NFL draft long enough to know player comparisons are dangerous, especially when one invokes a football legend to describe a college prospect with skills that might or might not translate at the next level.
This didn’t stop Kiper from mentioning Tom Brady recently while assessing Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, though, and it naturally raised eyebrows from those wondering how the ESPN draft analyst could possibly compare the greatest QB in NFL history to a 22-year-old kid.
Well, Kiper explained his thought process this week on ESPN’s “First Take,” reminding us that Brady wasn’t always the GOAT.
“The Mac Jones-Tom Brady comparison came up when I looked at Tom Brady when he came out as a late sixth-round pick (in 2000). After they drafted somebody with their pick in the sixth round — a cornerback out of Virginia, New England did — (the Patriots) took Brady as a comp pick late in the sixth round,” Kiper said. “He had a 5.24 (second) 40 (yard dash). He had a 24 (inch) vertical. Those are the two worst vertical, 40 times of any quarterback I’ve ever evaluated, outside of Ryan Mallett, and Mallett was drafted by the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick (in the third round in 2011).
“So when you look at Mac Jones, he’s not Joe Burrow. He doesn’t have the ability to beat you with his legs or run for first downs, OK? But he slips, he slides, he creates with his legs enough in the pocket to get the ball to those receiving options, as he did in that national championship game when he got the ball to Jahleel Billingsley, tight end, to help beat Ohio State.”
In other words, don’t get too caught up in the name. Instead, focus on Brady’s skill set.
Sure, comparing Jones to Brady still might be a stretch in that regard, underselling the latter. But there are plenty of other reasons — leadership, intangibles, consistent development, etc. — that explain how Brady has won seven Super Bowl titles in his NFL career. And if teams knew back in 2000 how great Brady would become, he obviously wouldn’t have lasted until the 199th overall pick.
“You think about also with Mac Jones, the concern, guys, is only 17 career starts,” Kiper said. “That’s it. He completed over 77 percent of his passes, you referenced his touchdown-to-interception ratio, I’ve talked about his leadership, his competitiveness, his incredible intelligence, I get all this, his incredible accuracy. But the 17 career starts is the one concern in addition to being able to move and avoid and create with his legs enough to get those first downs in a league now that’s all about mobility and duel-threat quarterbacks.
“Some have called quarterbacks like Mac Jones a dinosaur. Well, Tom Brady, if he’s a dinosaur, he won a Super Bowl at 43, and he was a late sixth-round pick when he came out. I was comparing more Mac Jones to what Tom was when he came out of Michigan; not what he was when he became the greatest of all time. So I think that’s why you have to go back and kind of evaluate things as they were; not as they are right now. When Brady came out, he was a late sixth-round pick for a reason. Ironically, the comp is a top-10 pick. So late sixth-round pick, now a top-10 pick, Tom Brady has certainly helped Mac Jones, and those comparisons certainly have helped Mac Jones, as well.”
Interestingly enough, the Patriots desperately need a quarterback one year after Brady left to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency, and some have suggested New England should target Jones, perhaps even trading up to land the Crimson Tide star.