Let’s Relax About QB Mac Jones

Don’t sleep on QB Mac Jones

By: Jason Willis

On the Week 5 edition of ESPN’s NFL Primetime Booger McFarland said “Mac Jones is playing the position as well as you can ask a rookie too.” Ask many around the NFL and you will likely hear similar comments. If you discuss the matter with Patriots fans you will quickly forget if you’re talking about Mac Jones or Joe Montana in his prime. At one point he was even the betting favorite to win Rookie of the Year. However, let’s take a step back.

When Mac Jones was selected out of Alabama in the first round of last year’s NFL Draft, he was the fifth quarterback selected. Going to the New England Patriots with the fifteenth overall pick, this looked to be a great landing spot for a passer with much to prove. Simply, he was almost never tested at Alabama. His team was the most talented in the country by a long shot and as such things came easy for them. 6/11 offensive starters are playing in the NFL right now and more will follow come next year’s draft. So while he threw 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns, and just four interceptions, he very rarely faced adversity.

Of course, this is not the end all be all. Mac Jones has always has uncanny accuracy and ball placement. Even if the guys he was throwing to at Alabama were wide open most times, Jones always threw an easily catchable ball in the perfect spot. My worries with Jones stemmed from his ability to adjust to NFL speed. Could he make NFL throws into tight coverage? How would he respond to pressure? Would he have the confidence to continue throwing down the field? With these worries, I gave Mac Jones a third-round grade. My hope was that he could sit on the bench initially as he adjusted to the game at the NFL level. This looked like it may happen as the Patriots once had Cam Newton on the roster. However, following a strong pre-season from Mac Jones, Newton was released.

With the starting job now Jones’ to lose, the Patriots and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wasted no time. Early on it was obvious that they would not be limiting the playbook for the youngster. Instead, the playcalling would be very similar to what was ran when Tom Brady was there. Lots of mesh, slant/flat and drive concepts with shots off of play-action. Throwing all of this at him so early in his career is certainly a bold move.

The biggest weaknesses for Mac Jones at this point is his timid play style. He simply does not take the chances needed from a starting NFL quarterback. The causes for this are likely numerous. First off, he is slow to process like most rookie quarterbacks. Despite playing SEC football, the NFL is a much faster, more complicated game and it takes all rookies time to adjust. This slow processor limits his ability to attack defenses however because even when receivers pop open, Jones is too late to see it. The other reason for this is his limited arm talent. He simply does not have high-level arm talent to stretch the field or throw the ball to the opposite sideline. This of course is most worrisome in his development. He can get acclimated to the NFL game sure, but can he ever overcome his physical limitations?

This timidness handicaps the entire offense as defenses are now going to force Jones to beat them over the top and to the sideline. Opposing teams will let him have the three-yard dump-offs if they know he won’t try and take them deep. Against the Houston Texans last week, Mac Jones attempted just two passes over twenty yards. With the exception of the Saints game in week three, he has just eight of these passes. The Saints game stands out as a total anomaly but also offers some hope. In that game alone he threw the ball 20+ yards twelve times but had just one completion. Currently, he is 28th in the NFL in yards per attempt.

Not many took Mac Jones seriously as an NFL prospect. As such the bar was set low so even meeting expectations has created some excitement. Alas, we must still be honest. Sam Monson at PFF put it very well. While a three-year-old tying his own shoes is impressive, at some point it is going to become expected. That is where we are now with Mac Jones. He currently has 1,243 yards, five touchdowns, and five interceptions. Even though he hasn’t had the ugly games similar to Zach Wilson’s four-interception game or the ugly passes like Trevor Lawrence’s flea-flicker, it’s because he’s not even trying to create big plays. Big plays are not the only thing lacking, however, as Jones does not routinely test tight windows. Much of this can likely be attributed to the fact that he never had to do so in college. If Jones would show the willingness to attempt these throws more often like Wilson and Lawrence, it would go a long way towards feeling comfortable about his NFL future.

Thus far, Mac Jones is playing timid, albeit, safe football. Simply, he looks like a rookie quarterback and that is okay. However, as sports media and fans, the anointment of him as seemingly the best rookie quarterback should stop. Is the book closed on Mac Jones’s career after five games? Of course not, but at this point, he has been a below-average/bad quarterback on a below-average/bad team.

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