Had things played out differently in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, Mac Jones might be starting against the New England Patriots this week, not for them.
Head coach Sean Payton, whose New Orleans Saints will visit Gillette Stadium on Sunday, said Wednesday that he and his staff were “really high” on Jones entering this year’s draft.
How high? According to a post-draft report from former Patriots executive Michael Lombardi, New Orleans actually tried to leapfrog New England to grab Jones but couldn’t find a willing trade partner.
The Patriots selected the Alabama star 15th overall, and Jones beat out Cam Newton to win the Week 1 starting job. The Saints, whose quarterback situation was murky following Drew Brees’ retirement, settled for Houston defensive end Payton Turner at No. 28 overall.
Watching from afar, Payton said Jones has made a “really positive” impression thus far.
“He was someone that we were really high on,” the Saints coach told New Orleans reporters on Wednesday, via a team-released transcript. “I think he processes information fast. At Alabama, if you watch closely his tape, the ball comes out, decisions are made fast. I think he sees the field horizontally as well as vertically well. He has the arm to make the throws that you want. His decision-making and processing are where I felt were really strong suits with him, and I think he’s handling it well.
“It’s not easy to all of a sudden come in and start Week 1 as a rookie, but he’s a smart player.”
Jones is 1-1 as a Patriots starter thus far, completing more than 73 percent of his passes in each of his first two games with zero turnovers.
The Saints also are 1-1 under new starting QB Jameis Winston, with a blowout win over the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 and a lopsided loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 2.