Drastic times call for drastic measures. When it comes to the New England Patriots, this meant selecting a quarterback in the first round of the NFL Draft to help give them some perspective moving forward at the most important position on the field.
The quarterback in question is Alabama’s Mac Jones, whom the Patriots selected 15th overall last week. Jones may not have been the “sexy” pick given his lack of athleticism or playmaking abilities compared to some of the other passers in this year’s class — i.e. Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields — but he still checks a lot of boxes for his new team and what its head coach is looking for.
Why do we know that?
For one, because for the majority of their 21 seasons under Bill Belichick the Patriots ran an offense similar to the one Jones had at Alabama.
While New England employed far fewer RPO concepts with Tom Brady under center, the focus on timing patterns and precision-based passing was the same. The Crimson Tide, led by long-time Belichick confidante Nick Saban, asked Jones to make good decisions with the football and lead an offense built to methodically advance the ball while taking advantage of its big-play weapons.
We also know this because NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah offered a glimpse into Belichick’s mind last offseason. Jeremiah shared a handout on social media that he had originally received while working as a member of the Baltimore Ravens’ scouting department in the early 2000s (the Ravens, of course, were born out of the original Cleveland Browns team that Belichick coached until their relocation to Baltimore).
The entire handout is worth taking a close look at, but for our purposes let’s focus on what it says about the quarterback position:
For 20 years, the Patriots had a quarterback who perfectly fit that description. Tom Brady never possessed the strongest arm nor the most impressive athletic skillset. However, he was as cerebral a passer as any the league has ever seen: his decision making and leadership, in combination with pin-point accuracy, propelled him from a sixth-round draft pick to the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.
With Brady taking his talents to Tampa Bay last offseason, the Patriots were in need of a long-term replacement. While Cam Newton was asked to fill those shoes in 2020, and might again serve as the starter this year even with Jones in the fold, the youngster will take over as QB1 sooner rather than later.
And, as a look at the descriptors above shows, he very much is a prototypical Bill Belichick quarterback.
The most important part of what Belichick-led teams are looking for from the quarterback position is decision making, and Jones fares very well in this category. He knows where to go with the football, rarely forces passes to where they should not go, and is neither fooled by coverages nor blitz packages. He does not hurry through his progressions or motion, and instead generally takes what the defense is giving him.
The fact that he was charted with only 2.5 percent turnover-worthy plays by Pro Football Focus also speaks for his ability to make smart decisions with the football.
Jones does not have the best arm coming out of college, and it pales in comparison to some of the impressive throwers the league has recently seen emerge — from established quarterbacks such as Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, to fellow rookies like Zach Wilson. All these players can throw a football over them mountains with just a flick of their wrist. Jones is not in the same category from that perspective.
However, that does not mean he does not have an NFL-caliber arm or is unable to make all the throws. As the film shows he can still throw some pretty good passes and deliver the ball on a line. Just take the following touchdown against Texas A&M from last season:
Jones puts the ball exactly where he needs to — in front of the wide receiver so that he does not have to break his stride while also not giving the defender a chance to make a play on the ball — and he does it while the throw travels 45 yards through the air. What is equally impressive about this play is that the young QB throws from the far hash mark to hit the outside receiver in a trips formation to the opposite side of the field.
That is an NFL-caliber throw, and if Jones can build on moments like these he can become a very good deep ball thrower in the NFL. Yes, his arm strength has limitations that could impact him at the next level. As the Belichick notes above show, however, arm strength is secondary to other skills — and Jones has still shown that he can push the ball down the field.
When looking at Jones’ measurables through MockDraftable’s spider chart, nothing really stands out (other than the fact that his closest comparison from this perspective is the Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson):
Jones is no impressive physical specimen. While his wingspan and broad jump cross the 80 percentile threshold, all the other numbers are pretty average compared to NFL quarterbacks. Still, he very much fits what the Patriots historically have looked for at their quarterback position in terms of size.
His height (6026), weight (217), arm length (32.50) and hand size (9.75) as measured at the Senior Bowl compare favorably to the averages of past quarterbacks drafted by New England:
Patriots quarterback measurements
|Method||Height||Weight||Arm Length||Hand Size|
|Method||Height||Weight||Arm Length||Hand Size|
In terms of size, Jones does not stand out in comparison to other QBs around the league. He does, however, fit the Patriots’ target range in all four of these categories.
A player’s toughness cannot properly be evaluated through statistics or film alone. It can, however, be judged by those around him. In Jones’ case, Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is a good source.
Speaking with Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer last month, Sarkisian recalled a moment against Auburn in 2019 — only Jones’ third start since taking over for an injured Tua Tagovailoa — that stood out to him in terms of the physical toughness the young passer brought to the equation.
“Derrick Brown, they had some great pass rushers,” Sarkisian said. “I mean, he is standing in and taking hits and delivering strikes at critical moments and leads us down at the end of the game again for a game-tying field goal, which we ultimately missed. But doing that, he earned a lot of respect for me. And I think he earned a lot of respect from his teammates, from the resiliency that he showed, the mental and physical toughness that he showed.”
Jones’ numbers from that game do not stand out when put up against those he posted last season — he completed two-thirds of his throws for 335 yards, four touchdowns and two pick-six interceptions — but he still got the job done in the end.
His toughness also was on display during his final collegiate game, the National Championship against Ohio State in January.
Jones suffered what was later described as a “really bad bone bruise” on a scramble attempt. He fell forward, with linebacker Pete Werner eventually rolling him up. While the issue was tended to on the sideline and Alabama’s athletic staff put some ice onto the leg, Jones did not miss any snaps and eventually finished the game completing 36 of 45 pass attempts for 464 yards and five touchdowns.
Let’s go back to Steve Sarkisian’s interview with Sports Illustrated to shed some light on the competitive nature of his then-quarterback. Sarkisian noted that during the Coronavirus-impacted 2020 season, Jones and the rest of Alabama’s offense held self-organized workout sessions. The QB led the charge, and was able to impress his offensive coordinator with his eye for detail.
“I said, well, ‘What’d you guys do?’ And he said, ‘This is what we covered. This is what we ran,’” Sarkisian said. “And I was like, Wow. Most guys go out and they throw some go-balls and some posts. And he’s running plays, they worked on audibles. I mean, he was working on all sorts of things because it was important to him. And then it became really important to them. [Organizing the workouts] just came natural to him because he was so driven and so competitive.”
This competitiveness was apparently also on full display during one practice while Jones was still running scout team drills. He repeatedly hooked up with wide receiver Tyrell Shavers, prompting Nick Saban to ask him to “stop throwing it to him all the time.”
Jones’ response, according to defensive back Jared Mayden?
“Well, tell your defense to stop it.”
Then, there is the story about him coaching sorority flag football as shared by Michael Casagrande of AL.com:
Referees a few times asked the ZTA sideline to quiet down because they couldn’t hear each other on the field. At one point late in the game, Jones got thrown out with a smile, shaking his head on the way out. An interception returned for a touchdown in the closing moments cemented a third straight win for ZTA.
Jones honked his approval from the parking lot. His team was undefeated and looking like the best in the league.
No matter if it is playing or practicing for the Crimson Tide, or coaching sorority flag football, Jones’ competitive spirits seem to be running boiling hot.
For one final time, let’s go back to Steve Sarkisian’s statements about Jones earlier this year. He also spoke about the leadership element that he brought to the table, especially after filling in for regular starter Tua Tagovailoa late in the 2019 season.
Jones was up to the task, according to Sarkisian.
“His teammates wanted to be there with him. That stood out to me, that this guy’s a really innate leader,” he said. “And sometimes, again, that was hard to tell when Tua was in the building. All of the sudden, Tua wasn’t there anymore. He’s gone. He’s with the [Miami] Dolphins. You really started to see the leadership qualities. The players gravitate to him.”
When speaking about Jones one of the first skills that is repeatedly mentioned is his ability to throw an accurate ball. As the play illustrated above shows, he certainly can do that: he knows where to put the football in order to give his receivers the best chance of making the catch or to set them up to gain yards with the ball in their hands.
Again, his raw arm strength might become a problem on some type of throws or when trying to thread the proverbial needle. In general terms Jones is a very accurate passer, though.
The numbers also illustrate this: according to the Pro Football Focus Draft Guide, Jones finished the 2020 season with an adjusted completion percentage (i.e. a completion percentage that does not account for drops, throwaway, spikes, bats at the line and throws while hit) of 84.2 percent. No other quarterback had a better rate than this.
As was mentioned above, the Patriots’ offense is built largely around precision and timing. While off-script or improvisational plays happen and Jones is not necessarily well suited for those due to his limited baseline athleticism, he is a very good player when operating within an offense’s script. His 17 starts at Alabama showed that, and they also saw him develop into a very good rhythm passer with impressive timing.
Just look at this play from last year’s game against Notre Dame as an example for that:
Alabama is running an RPO concept, with Jones asked to either hand the ball off or throw it to his primary target based on how the defense reacts. In this case, the target was wide receiver John Metchie on a crosser from the right side of the formation. He executed the potential hand-off quickly to draw the second-level defenders down, and was able to get the ball out to Metchie as his primary read.
Jones has proven himself a very good RPO quarterback with the Crimson Tide, and his natural feel for timing and operating within a designed rhythm certainly have helped with that.
This is closely tied to the decision making and timing/rhythm paragraphs above, but it is worth noting that Jones has illustrated time and again that he has a good feel for the field and his surroundings. Whether it is climbing the pocket to avoid pressure — a Tom Brady speciality — or throwing guys open with anticipation, the 22-year-old has had his fair share of moments doing all those things.
As far as his judgement is concerned, his low turnover rate is a manifestation of his skill in this area. Once again, he has shown he can make smart calls with the ball in his hands and knows how to distribute it without creating issues for the offense as a whole.
According to his new head coach, Bill Belichick, Jones still has some work ahead of him when it comes to the technical side of playing the quarterback position.
“We’re excited to move in that direction, but we all have a long way to go,” he said during a media conference call shortly after the Patriots drafted Jones 15th overall. “We need to learn what he can do. He needs to learn a lot about professional football and refine his fundamentals and techniques.”
While refining will be on the menu for him, Jones already brings a solid foundation to the table. He is no Tom Brady, obviously, but he knows how to move in the pocket, slide away from pressure, keep his eyes down the field and throw with a quick yet compact motion — all things that are on display here:
The ball placement is not as good as it is on other plays he made throughout his career at Alabama, but given the situation — pressure up front, having to slide back and readjust his feet — it certainly is not bad either. While off-platform fundamentals and plays will remain a question until he goes up against NFL-level competition, the starting point from a technical perspective is a solid one to work with for Belichick and company.
All in all, as mentioned above, Jones checks a lot of the boxes the Patriots and their coach in particular are looking for from their quarterbacks. While a lot has happened since the handout above was first printed in the 1990s, the core principles are still very much part of New England’s offensive DNA and how the team uses its passers.
Despite his shortcomings and lower ceiling than that of other QBs in this year’s class, Jones is a very good fit for that.