The New England Patriots’ 2021 season might have come to an end in a disappointing fashion in the wild card round of the playoffs, but overall it was a promising one. The team looked a lot better than it did the previous season and bounced back from a 7-9 campaign to end its postseason drought after one year.
The biggest reason to feel optimistic coming out of the season, however, was quarterback Mac Jones. The 15th overall selection in the draft, Jones beat out incumbent Cam Newton during training camp and ended up starting all 18 of the Patriots’ regular season and playoff games.
The rookie had some ups and downs along the way, but overall left a very positive first impression. Including the postseason loss in Buffalo, he completed 376 of his 559 pass attempts (67.3%) for 4,033 yards, 24 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Heading into Year 2, Jones is seen as a realistic candidate to make the famous sophomore jump. The question, however, becomes how that might actually look like especially considering the changes New England’s offense is currently working through:
What are realistic expectations for Mac Jones in 2022?
Since the end of their 2021 campaign, the Patriots lost long-time offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and several assistants on that side of the ball. As a result, head coach Bill Belichick has decided to “streamline” the operation and entrust Matt Patricia and Joe Judge with running it.
The early results have been mixed, but what does all of that mean for Jones and his outlook? In order to get a better feel for what to expect, we asked Cale Clinton, co-author of the Football Outsiders Almanac — please click here to purchase your copy — in what is the second installment of a five-part Q&A series.
So, what can Mac Jones’ sophomore campaign realistically look like?
I think the bar should be high for Mac Jones, especially considering his 620 DYAR is the tenth-best finish by a rookie in DVOA history. I recognize that there are legitimate concerns about the offensive play-calling, but Jones was a very good quarterback last year. He showed a strong command of the offense, flashed accuracy at all levels of the field and navigated the pocket well for a rookie. The mistakes were few and far between. Jones faded a bit down the stretch–that second Buffalo game was especially rough–but for the most part I would consider his rookie campaign an overall success. Given that New England is likely to run a new offense in 2022, I’d at least like him to stay consistent with last year’s numbers while building on his areas of need.
The biggest growth potential? The deep ball. As New England’s offense got more spread out and vertical as the season progressed, Jones tried for more deep shots to Nelson Agholor and Jakobi Meyers. The only problem is Jones’ arm wasn’t strong enough for some of those throws. Receivers who had broken free from their man would have to come back and lose YAC potential, and some open balls turned into outright contested catches. The old “best-shape-of-his-life” offseason talk should always be taken with a grain of salt, but pictures of Jones this summer are a far cry from the shirtless pics during Alabama’s National Championship. If that translates to better velocity on his passes, then Jones can really take his game to another level in his sophomore season.
The questions about New England’s offense are legitimate, at least based on the first two weeks of training camp. Accordingly, Jones plateauing a bit from a statistical perspective could indeed happen even though such a development might be seen as a disappointment.
Growth, of course, goes beyond the numbers. And one thing is certain: the Patriots made a long-term commitment to their quarterback, whether he shows some drastic improvements in 2022 or not.
Part 2 of our conversation with Cale will focus on rookie wide receiver Tyquan Thornton and what he can do to avoid going down the N’Keal Harry route.