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NFL Draft grades 2021: Evaluating the Patriots performance in the first round

Related: 6 winners and 3 losers from the first round of the NFL draft

NFL: NFL Draft Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Well, Mac Jones to the New England Patriots actually happened. We laughed, we cried, we hurled. Bill Belichick has answered the long-term quarterback question, and now the only question is how long Cam Newton holds on to the starting job before Bill decides that Mac’s training is complete and the student has become the master.

Whether or not you like that answer to the quarterback question is another story. Calling the pick “polarizing” is both a massive understatement and also completely accurate, in a “calling the Matrix a good sci-fi movie” sort of way. And as you’ll see in the grades and reactions below, the pick has everyone on both the national and local levels pretty split, from the draft cognoscenti and superfans that’ve seen every game since the Boston days to guys like my dad who the only non-Brady Patriot they can name is Steve Grogan. True story. I don’t think my dad’s watched a Super Bowl since Back to the Future II came out.

Anyway, let’s get to the grades!

View From the Pats Pulpit Community

First up, your verdict from our reader’s poll last night. Most of you really liked it!


How would you grade the Patriots’ decision to draft Mac Jones at No. 15?

This poll is closed

  • 67%
    (8727 votes)
  • 23%
    (2970 votes)
  • 5%
    (730 votes)
  • 1%
    (182 votes)
  • 1%
    (243 votes)
12852 votes total Vote Now

And a few premium-choice USDA-certified reader comments:

Phal3123: Consider me less excited about this pick than others. Mac Jones’ arm strength just isn’t there. Not going to challenge anyone outside the numbers or drive the ball deep especially in cold Foxborough weather. At least we didn’t have to trade up and at least we have a rookie contract QB to try build around. 2021 should be fun with the right expectations: divisional round at best if we have good injury luck. Moving forward the only chance at a SB with Mac Jones is if Bill aggressively spends on wEaPoNz around Mac. Our ceiling is low right now and for the foreseeable future with a physically (arm strength included) limited QB and a bottom at best 10 WR unit. It will take me months to train my mind to be optimistic about this pick but I’ll get there. At least it’s not Kyle Trask, at least it’s not Kyle Trask, at least it’s not Kyle trask.

Very true. Mac Jones beat Kyle Trask.....just like he did pretty much everybody else en route to the Crimson Tide’s 378th national title.

All I Do Is Win: I’m happy taking Mac at 15.

Prediction: Mac will have the best 2021 season of all five 1st round rookies, and beat out Cam for the starting job in September.


Alecin0z: FCUK YEAH!!!!!

Mac Jones, welcome to the best NFL team...EVAH!

Bonus: a compliment from the enemy!

njccc: So look, Raiders fan so I don’t like your team to put it mildy, but not here for that—and never will be, fuck a troll. All that shit about Beli shaking his head in pro days about Mac that I saw when Mac missed a throw deep or two, like PD’s mean shit, haha. Beli schooled these guys, he got the second best QB where he should go, all these other QB’s are basically dual threats who may not even be able to play for a year, or more, and should have all went mid to later first round aside from Lawrence. Well played, Beli.

View From National Football Media

Moving on to the national scene, the reaction ranged from “of course they did” to “Patriots are ALL the way back” to, well, you’ll see.

ESPN - Mike Reiss

Why they picked him: The Patriots have been looking for Tom Brady’s replacement since he departed in free agency, and Jones’ strengths most mirrored Brady among the top QB prospects in the draft. He’s accurate and known for his decision-making, which are two of the top things coach Bill Belichick values most at the position. He has also played some of his best football in high-stakes, high-pressure situations.

Biggest question: Jones was a one-year starter who wasn’t viewed as a first-round-caliber prospect entering 2020. He also had NFL-caliber skill-position players around him, which sparked questions as to how much of his success could be attributed to his teammates. — Mike Reiss

CBS - Pete Prisco

Grade: B

It’s the perfect situation for him. He fits in the Josh McDaniels’ offense.

USA Today - Touchdown Wire

Analysis: There is room in the game for a quarterback that you can “win with,” and that might be Jones. He might not have the ceiling the quarterbacks above him offer, but he might have one of the best floors. Jones could be a very good NFL quarterback that helps deliver a team to the playoffs. In a league filled with risk-averse decision makers, a QB with Jones’ floor might seem like a nice warm comfortable blanket of a pick. You’re just going to have to be okay with his lack of mobility and second-reaction ability, and you’ll have to have faith that he can do in the NFL what he did at Alabama without DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle demolishing every cornerback they faced.

Grade: C. I like Jones’ fit with the Patriots better than most, because Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels know how to make the most of a quick-processing pocket quarterback. The problem is, Jones is going to have to be the second coming of Tom Brady to make this work with his lack of mobility and second-reaction ability. Jones is the Patriots’ first first-round quarterback since Drew Bledsoe in 1993, and I can see this working, but I can also see Jones falling short of expectations for multiple reasons.

USA Today FTW - Charles McDonald & Steven Ruiz

I’m lower on Mac Jones than mostI don’t see him as a first-round talent — so this grade is going to be harsh. I’ve covered the recent track record of quarterbacks like Jones, and it isn’t good. The Patriots will be banking on their coaching staff to develop Jones mentally, but there is no coaching up his right arm, which just isn’t strong enough for him to develop into a legit top-10 quarterback, and that’s what you’re hoping for when you take a QB in the first.

Grade: D+

Yahoo Sports - Eric Edholm

Two months ago, this was a popular pairing. But it felt unlikely the more we heard talk of Jones landing with the 49ers at No. 3. But for the Patriots to get Jones at No. 15 without trading up is a scenario we were not sure would happen. Jones is now Bill Belichick’s highest-drafted QB ever. What a wild result. Jones might not be great, but he could be in a pretty perfect setup in New England. Grade: B+.

The SB Nation Mothership

This was the pick I had in my very first mock because there were two logical landing spots for Jones: San Francisco or New England. Jones is the most NFL-ready quarterback in this draft who may have a limited athletic ceiling, but if there’s ANYONE who knows how to coax incredible play out of people who don’t have ideal measurables, it’s New England. This is a great spot for Jones, a great pick for the Patriots. Now we’ll see if he can become the next franchise quarterback for the team. Grade: B+ (Chad Reuter)

Analysis: Sometimes picks just make themselves. The Patriots didn’t have to make a move for a young passer, who many analysts projected would be a perfect fit in an offense that excelled for many years with a similarly pocket-bound, but accurate and quick decision-maker. Things couldn’t have played out better for Bill Belichick.

Jones’ average athleticism cost him some draft position, but if his receivers are in the right spots, he will deliver the ball effectively and let them be the playmakers. Grade: A

Pro Football Focus

Pick Grade: Elite

The narrative surrounding Mac Jones for the past few weeks was focused on whether he was worth not just the No. 3 overall pick, but the three first-round selections the 49ers invested in that draft slot. At No. 15 overall, it’s an entirely different conversation. Jones led the nation last season in overall PFF grade (95.8) and was the most accurate college quarterback in terms of adjusted completion rate (84.2%) PFF has seen. This is an outstanding pick.

The Ringer

There are a few reasons I could talk myself into this pick: Jones is a quick processor, brings very good accuracy, and he does conjure images of Tom Brady in the way he moves in the pocket (some would also say they have similar body types). But his lack of overall arm strength and athletic tools could cap his ceiling. Jones has just 17 total starts under his belt and may need a strong support system around him to excel at the next level. But in a smartly coached scheme under Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels, he should benefit from a near-ideal landing spot.

Grade: C+

And finally, a local flavor or three:

NBC Sports Boston

Grade: B+

Jones is one of the most NFL-ready QBs in this year’s class. He’s a smart player with an accurate arm and an ability to thrive in high-pressure moments.

The Alabama star dominated for the national champions in 2020. He completed 77.3 percent of his passes for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns and four interceptions.

The Patriots needed to find a long-term solution at quarterback this offseason, and Jones has a good chance to be that player.

CLNS Media - Evan Lazar

According to most draft pundits and my evaluations of the prospects, Fields is a superior talent with better arm strength, mobility, and playmaking ability at the quarterback position.

But what I would like to do is explain what the Patriots saw in Jones to make a first-round commitment as their quarterback of the future.

As Weis said, Jones is deadly accurate, with a completion percentage over expected of plus-16.8 and 82.6 catchable pass rate were second in the nation during the 2020 season.

The former Alabama quarterback also routinely does the little things such as making quick decisions and reads, manipulating defense, moving in the pocket, and throwing with touch, timing, and sound ball placement. With Jones, it’s the details that stand out, not the tools.

Boston Herald - Karen Guregian

Maybe Jones comes across as just another guy at the position. A quarterback who’s not going to excite the masses.

Maybe the overwhelming view of the pick is a thumbs down.

Jones just might fool you.

The Patriots, who didn’t have to surrender any assets to land him from the top pool of quarterbacks, were able to take him in their assigned spot at No. 15, and they took him for a reason.

While he’s not Tom Brady, watching Jones play, and getting to know him, had to remind the Patriots of the greatest quarterback of all time.

It’s hard not to think of No. 12 when seeing what Jones brings to the table.

Like Brady, Jones is purely a pocket passer. He fits like a glove when it comes to many of the traits the Patriots appreciate in quarterbacks. Having him, is like throwing a warm, old blanket around the offense, based on what’s been successful for the Patriots over the past two decades at the position.

Barstool Sports - Jerry Thornton

The Perfect Patriot: Mac Jones

I have to admit I’ve had Jones on the brain for months. Every since the losses piled up in New England and it became clear a middle 1st round pick was becoming a reality. While Jones just kept coming up with huge performances against the NFL’s minor league, showed poise, command of the Tide’s offense, maturity and - dare I say this without those good, moral folks at the NCAA having one of their episodes - professionalism. He’s shown all the traits the Patriots seem to prioritize. And a guy looking bad with his shirt off didn’t scare them off in 2000, why should it now?

Whom the Pats Will Take: Jones. I say this on March 24th. This presumes a veteran quarterback they love (hellooo, Jimmy GQ) doesn’t shake loose. They can not only stand pat at No. 15 and still land him, they could conceivably drop back a few spots, add a pick, and still get him.