The New England Patriots entered the 2021 NFL Draft with one major hole on their roster, and they did not waste any time to address it. Despite approaching the draft in patient fashion and not moving up in the first round, the team was still able to land quarterback Mac Jones with the 15th overall selection.
The expectation for Jones is clear: the Alabama product was selected to one day become New England’s face of the franchise, and the next long-term solution at the most important position on the field. However, there is no guarantee that he will take over as the starter in 2021 — despite his experience in a pro-style system and natural fit with the Patriots.
The team, after all, has plenty of experience ahead of him on its current quarterback depth chart. Let’s take a look.
Cam Newton: The incumbent starter was re-signed via a one year contract before the start of free agency. While he is not getting paid starter money, Newton does give the Patriots a solid baseline at the quarterback position: he has one year of experience in the system, will be playing with a much-improved supporting cast and will not have to deal with the circumstances that were the 2020 season. Newton will serve as a mentor for Jones, and it would not be a surprise to also see him retain his starting role for one more year.
Jarrett Stidham: One year ago, Stidham was seen as the potential successor to Tom Brady. Given the addition of Newton and now the draft pick invested in Jones, however, it is apparent that the team does not feel that way about him. While today’s events do not mean that Stidham has no short-term future in New England, his path to a starting role seems to be blocked first by Newton and eventually Jones. As for 2020, though, he will likely compete for the QB2 job behind whoever takes the starting role.
Jake Dolegala: Of the quarterbacks on New England’s roster, nobody is on thinner ice at the moment than Jake Dolegala. The former rookie free agent first joined the Patriots last September and went on to spend the entire 2020 season on the practice squad. In case the club wants to trim its roster after the draft, letting go of Dolegala seems like a logical move. Even if he is kept around for training camp, his chances of making the time are slim to none.
Mac Jones: The guy, at least at one point. Jones, as mentioned above, is coming from a pro-style system under a former Bill Belichick assistant. While not possessing the same athletic upside as other first-round quarterbacks this year, he has the tools to become an effective starter in New England. The question is: When? Jones could very well earn a starting gig this year, but the learning curve for quarterbacks is a steep one regardless of the program they are coming from. Him not becoming the Day 1 starter for New England would not be a surprise.
At the end of the day, the Patriots will do what they have always done: let their players compete. While Newton appears to be the favorite to earn the starting gig again and in turn give Jones some time behind the scenes to develop into the next number one at the position further down the line, the two passers and Stidham will get a fair shot at proving themselves over the coming weeks and months.
Will Jones emerge victoriously? Stranger things have happened, but based on the circumstances it would not be surprising if Cam Newton remained QB1 — for now.
How would you grade the Patriots’ decision to draft Mac Jones at No. 15?
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