Mac Jones left little doubt about his status last season: he is the New England Patriots’ quarterback of at least the immediate future. A first-round draft pick in 2021, Jones delivered an impressive rookie season that saw him earn the starting gig in training camp and never look back — even leading the Patriots back to the playoffs.
Jones did have some ups and downs during the year, and appeared to hit the so-called “rookie wall” late in the season, but all in all played some very good football. The arrow is certainly pointing up, but that does not mean the young passer’s talent is universally acknowledged.
This being the internet, there is a lot of negative talk about him. So, with the offseason in full swing let’s take this opportunity to clear up some common misconceptions you might have heard about New England’s QB1.
Jones has a weak arm
This is probably the most common talking point used to criticize Jones. Supposedly, he has a bad arm. Why else would the Patriots have had him attempt only three passes during that early-December game in Buffalo, right?
Let’s take a look at the facts, starting with the obvious one. No, he doesn’t have the same cannon of an arm that some of the other quarterbacks in the NFL possess. If he had, Jones wouldn’t have been around when the Patriots were on the clock 15th overall last April.
But there being some validity to questions about his arm strength when compared to the Josh Allens or Justin Herberts of the world does not necessarily mean “Jones = weak arm.” As you probably imagined, the issue is much more complex than that.
For starters, arm strength is a pretty broad term. Does it mean velocity? Range? Ability to accurately deliver the football? All of the above? As far as Jones is concerned he is not a top-notch player in every one of these different categories, but to classify his arm talent as poor or insufficient is still missing the mark like a Sam Darnold dump-off versus the New England defense.
After all, Jones has proven that he can make even the most difficult throws in the playbook. Take the following connection with tight end Hunter Henry as an example:
Throwing from the far-side hash mark into a tight window, Jones delivers a pin-point throw that arrives just over the defender at a location where only Henry can get it. Elite arm strength or not, if a quarterback can make a throw like this chances are he has a bright future in the league.
As far as his actual arm talent is concerned, the following quote by NFL analyst Brett Kollmann sums up the discussion quite well.
“Even though he doesn’t have a Justin Herbert arm or a Josh Allen-type arm, which, I don’t think anybody can argue that he does — that’s not even a debate to me — it doesn’t mean that he has no arm,” Kollmann said in a video about Jones last November. “His velocity is good, no matter what weird narrative was preached about him pre-draft. And it certainly is better than Tua’s was coming out of Alabama the year before.
“And, overall, I do think that he is a very, very effective passer at every level of the field. There is not a single throw in the playbook that I don’t trust Mac Jones to make. ... I truly think that his touch, timing and ball placement is better than a lot of other quarterbacks in his age bracket that maybe have stronger, natural arms.”
Jones has a low ceiling
Tied directly to the discussions about Jones’ arm talent is the notion that he has a low ceiling at the quarterback position. Of course, we are again talking about a rather subjective definition of an oft-used word.
Ceiling, after all, can mean a lot of things depending on what you are looking at. Take the aforementioned Josh Allen from the two-time AFC East champion Buffalo Bills as an example.
Compared to Jones, Allen has superior arm talent and athleticism in and outside the pocket. In theory, a player of this caliber should be less reliant on the talent level around him; an offense’s wiggle room is significantly bigger the higher its talent level at quarterback is.
However, the same would then also be true for somebody like Baker Mayfield. Allen and Mayfield are not necessarily on opposite ends of the quarterback spectrum, but there is a clear difference between the two: the Bills’ QB is a realistic MVP candidate, while the Cleveland Browns just replaced Mayfield by paying a king’s ransom to acquire a passer facing 24 civil lawsuits over alleged sexual assault.
Based on his pre-draft evaluation and eventual status as the first player off the board in 2018, however, Mayfield’s projection looked more favorably than Allen’s (or Jones’). And yet, he failed to put it all together and is now on his way out of Cleveland. Allen, meanwhile, is flourishing in Buffalo.
The comparison between those two and Jones is obviously not perfect but it shows that “ceiling” as an assessment tool can be dangerous. There simply are too many variables involved that could and will have an impact on a player’s eventual ceiling, and that is not even going into what constitutes a “ceiling” to begin with.
Just look at Tom Brady, the consensus greatest quarterback of all time and a seven-time Super Bowl champion. Based on measurements and his evaluation coming out of college, he had the lowest ceiling of all the QBs mentioned here. However, no player at any position has ever reached higher levels than Brady.
Why? Because Brady was a lot more talented than people were (and still are) giving him credit for, and because he joined a perfect situation in New England.
Mac Jones is no Tom Brady, nobody is. But the Patriots’ current starting quarterback was also drafted into a comparatively favorable setting for a player of his skillset. The wiggle room with him under center might be smaller in theory, but that does not mean New England will not be able to play successful football with him leading the charge. Heck, it already did in 2021.
Jones will never make Josh Allen’s highlight-reel run play or threat the needle quite like him. But for all his talk about a supposed low ceiling, he has all the tools to become a very good NFL quarterback and most importantly lead New England to a lot of wins.
At the end of the day, that is all that matters.
Jones isn’t athletic
Jones was the fifth of five quarterbacks selected in the first round of last year’s draft, and he was different from the others: as opposed to Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance and Justin Fields, he was seen as more of a traditional pocket passer.
That in itself is not a negative, but Jones is part of what appears to be a dying breed — at least to a degree — in today’s NFL. In an era where athleticism at the quarterback position is no longer just an added luxury but a skill teams are actively willing to invest in and build their offenses around, Jones was a throwback of sorts.
However, that does not mean that he is not athletic.
In fact, Jones was ranked as the 14th most athletic starting quarterback in football last year based on Kent Lee Platte’s Relative Athletic Score:
14. While not an elite athlete, #Patriots 1st round rookie Mac Jones tested out above average in almost every test, to the surprise of many who evaluated him. It'll be an interesting career to follow given whose shoes he's filling in New England. pic.twitter.com/RV4BSJdk5M— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) June 14, 2021
Jones’ 7.18 RAS is not as impressive as that of some of his peers, but it is also not as bad as a lot of other players’ — including Aaron Rodgers (7.16) and ex-Patriots Jimmy Garoppolo (4.99) and Tom Brady (2.74). Of course, athleticism does not make a quarterback, but Jones is still a lot more athletic than people realize.
He made use of those skills on occasion in 2021 as well. Not counting kneel-downs or aborted snaps, Jones carried the football 38 times as a rookie for an average gain of 4.3 yards per attempt. He picked up 23 first downs and his longest rushing attempt covered 16 yards.
Those numbers are not eye-popping, but they are still quite solid for a player primarily defined through his skills as a pocket passer. Make no mistake, Jones is a lot more athletic than plenty of folks realize.
Jones is a Pro Bowler
“Wait, wait, wait! Jones is a Pro Bowler. I saw him play in the game. I saw him do the Griddy.”
Indeed, the Patriots’ quarterback did play in this year’s Pro Bowl as one of three AFC quarterbacks. He went 12-for-16 for 112 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He did the dance.
Admittedly, we are getting a bit into the semantics here but that is a necessity to understand that misconceptions can work both ways: positive and negative. This one is a positive for Jones, and it still does not do him much justice because while he was at the Pro Bowl it is not a hard argument to be made that he was not among the top-three QBs in the AFC last year.
In fact, Jones did not make the Pro Bowl on first ballot. Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert did, as did Lamar Jackson. Jackson eventually pulled out of the game and the nod went to Jones.
“So, he was No. 4? That’s not bad!”
We could get into an entire debate about how to rank quarterbacks here, but that would be missing the mark like a Sam Darnold... you get the idea. The fact is that Joe Burrow, Josh Allen or Derek Carr all had no worse cases to make the NFL’s all-star game last season over New England’s QB1.
Chances are that all of them would have made the game before him had the circumstances allowed them to. Burrow, however, was off to play in the Super Bowl while nobody would blame Allen or Carr for not accepting a potential invitation.
The issue here is not that these players were necessarily more worthy of Pro Bowl recognition than Jones last year, but the fact that the youngster playing in the game is no accurate reflection of what he was and wasn’t as a quarterback last year. He was very promising and the statistically best rookie passer in all of football, but that still does not make him an all-star even when seeing the Pro Bowl as the popularity context that it is.
The problem is that seeing Jones as such a player will be creating unfair expectations. If he shows growth in Year 2 but does not make the Pro Bowl, his season will not be a failure despite a lack of individual accolades.
The sooner this is understood, the easier it will be to get past the misconception that the Pro Bowl is a true representation of a player’s performance — especially one at the premium position in the game.
What all this boils down to is this: Jones can be a Pro Bowler without playing at a Pro Bowl level.