In the weeks leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, NESN.com will be taking a closer look at this year’s quarterback class and how each player could fit with the New England Patriots. Next up: Alabama’s Mac Jones.
Mac Jones, Alabama
6-foot-2 5/8, 217 pounds, 9 3/4-inch hands
Projected round: Early first
2020 stats: 77.4 percent (311-for-402), 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns, four interceptions, 11.2 yards per attempt (13 games)
Strengths: Accuracy, processing, pocket presence
Weaknesses: Arm strength, lack of mobility, size
Testing numbers: 4.83-second 40-yard dash, 1.70-second 10-yard split, 7.04-second 3-cone drill, 4.39-second 20-yard shuttle, 32-inch vertical leap, 9-feet, 8-inch broad jump
Analysis: If the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft goes as expected, the New England Patriots won’t have a shot of drafting Jones.
If the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft goes as it should, Jones will be selected right around where the Patriots are picking at No. 15 overall.
The San Francisco 49ers traded up from No. 12 overall to No. 3 with the intention to draft a quarterback. The Jacksonville Jaguars almost certainly are taking Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, and the New York Jets currently are expected to select BYU’s Zach Wilson. That leaves Jones, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance for the 49ers at No. 3 overall.
Jones is the most popular projected pick for San Francisco. Former NFL executive Michael Lombardi said recently that the 49ers aren’t taking Fields.
Trading up to take Jones at No. 3 seems like a pretty major reach, but if he’s available for New England at No. 15 overall, or if the Patriots had to move up a few spots to take him, that seems like a fine range for a quarterback of his caliber.
Jones is an unbelievably accurate passer. He makes normal throws look easy and is very rarely off the mark to all areas of the field. Jones is a quicker processor and hardly ever takes sacks. Yes, he had an unbelievable offensive line in 2020 and only was sacked 10 times all season. He has a good feel for pressure and maneuvers the pocket well despite less than ideal athleticism. Jones also protects the ball well (only four interceptions all of last season). The first was batted at the line of scrimmage, the second came when he was hit while throwing, the third was a slightly underthrown deep ball on a contested catch and the fourth was a contested ball thrown slightly behind his tight end, Morris Forristall.
The 2020 Heisman Trophy finalist had just eight turnover-worthy plays on 428 drop backs, according to PFF’s charting.
Jones will take what’s given to him, deliver an accurate pass and won’t take unnecessary risks. If that’s what a team is looking for out of their quarterback, then Jones is a fine pick. That just might not be worth trading all the way up to No. 3 overall from No. 12 when a poor man’s version of Jones — Stanford’s Davis Mills — could be taken 30 picks later.
Jones’ lack of mobility is probably a bit overblown. He certainly doesn’t look overly athletic, but the Alabama QB ran a 4.83-second 40-yard dash with a 7.04-second 3-cone drill at his pro day. The Jacksonville, Fla.-native won’t make plays with his legs like Fields, Lawrence, Wilson and Lance can, but he’s not a complete liability on scrambles, and he can evade rushers in the pocket. He might look a little awkward, but he has similar mobility to a quarterback like the 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo.
Jones is a slightly undersized quarterback at 6-foot-2 5/8-inch, 217 pounds, and he could certainly spend some time in an NFL weight room to build up his strength. He can deliver a deep throw accurately, but he does appear to labor on longer passes. Still, Jones was 72-for-101 on intermediate passes and 33-for-56 on deep tosses in 2020. His average depth of throw was just 8.76 yards, however, which ranked below Fields, Wilson, Lance (in 2019) and Lawrence. Jones also only has one year of starting experience and was arrested and charged with a DUI in 2017.
The 22-year-old was absolutely helped out by his receivers in 2020. Wide receiver DeVonta Smith was the Heisman Trophy winner, fellow wideout Jaylen Waddle is expected to be a top-15 draft pick, and running back Najee Harris could sneak into the second round. Of Jones’ 4,500 yards, 52.2 percent came after the catch. Among top quarterbacks in the 2021 class, only Lawrence’s yards after catch rate was higher than Jones’. Smith accounted for 41 percent of Jones’ passing yards and 56 percent of his touchdowns. There were circus catches made by Smith, Waddle and sophomore Alabama receiver John Metchie that would not have been hauled in by lesser wideouts. If the ball was near them, there was a good chance they were going to come down with it. Waddle had a 100-percent contested catch rate in 2020. Yards off of screens also accounted for 13.1 percent of Jones’ passing yards last season. That was the second-highest rate among top quarterbacks behind Lawrence (21.8 percent).
Some of those same criticisms — arm strength and being surrounded by elite talent — could be made about Joe Burrow — picked first overall by the Cincinnati Bengals last year — in 2019, as well. Burrow was surrounded by wide receivers Justin Jefferson (2020 first-round pick), Ja’Marr Chase (a projected 2021 top-10 pick) and Terrance Marshall (projected 2021 second-round pick), plus running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (2020 first-round pick).
Here are Burrow and Jones’ advanced stats, per PFF:
Adjusted completion percentage: 84.2%
Average depth of target: 8.76 yards
Yards after catch percentage: 52.2%
Turnover-worthy play rate: 1.80%
Adjusted completion percentage: 81.9%
Average depth of target: 9.63 yards
Yards after catch percentage: 43.4%
Turnover-worthy play rate: 1.19%
While Jones did have a higher adjusted completion percentage, he was throwing shallower passes, benefitted more from yards after catch, and had a higher rate of turnover-worthy plays. These are nitpicks, but there is a reason why Burrow was considered the consensus No. 1 overall pick and Jones isn’t. It’s not just because of of the rest of the talent in Jones’ quarterback class.
It’s fair to call Jones a slightly poor man’s Burrow, however. And if he could be taken 15 picks later than Burrow, then he’d be a fine value. A player like Fields has much higher upside than Jones based on his arm strength and mobility, however. Fields’ accuracy and ball security also were nearly as good as Jones in 2020. If the 49ers have made up their minds to take Jones, it’s not too late for them to change it.
While a quarterback with more upside like Fields or Lance would be more exciting in New England, the Patriots certainly could make it work with Jones if the 49ers pass.