Who will start first: Trey Lance, Justin Fields or Mac Jones?

Who will start first: Trey Lance, Justin Fields or Mac Jones?

All Things CW: Get Ready for an Iron Bowl-Type Showdown on a Whole New Level

Alabama and Auburn, known for having one of the fiercest rivalries in sports, will square off in a new place, the quarterback room of the New England Patriots
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Somehow this seems to have been missed by nearly everyone when it comes to the quarterback situation with the New England Patriots. 

The starter is widely considered to be the best quarterback in Auburn history. 

The first-round draft pick is statistically the best quarterback in Alabama history. 

If that doesn't make you say something like "Oh man," you probably aren't a real college football fan. Granted, college fans in this state don't pay attention to the NFL like they do in most places, but that's as close to an Iron-Bowl showdown in the league as we're ever going to see. 

Of course, Bill Belichick won't give a moment's thought to how the bragging rights at stake. He's coming off his first losing season since 2000, and the offense had more passes intercepted than caught for touchdowns.  

He had never selected a quarterback in the first round of the draft until Jones fell to the Patriots at No. 15. The coach has other things on his mind. 

Both quarterbacks are considered legends in this state after leading their college teams to undefeated seasons en route to the national championship. 

Newton 2010: 185-280 (66.1 percent), 2,854 yards, 30 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 182.0 passer rating. 

Jones 2020: 311-402 (77.4 percent), 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 203.1 passer rating. 

Jones was clearly the better passer. His completion percentage and passer rating both set NCAA single-season records. His 4,500 passing yards were an SEC record even though Alabama played an abbreviated 10-game regular season only against league teams. 

His 41 touchdown passes in 13 games were two short of the school record set by Tua Tagovailoa in a 15-game season.

But Newton also ran 264 times for 1,473 yards and 20 more touchdowns. He was a physical freak behind center — and we mean that in a good way — for the Tigers at 6-5, 245 pounds (Jones is 6-3, closer to 220 pounds when soaking wet).

Since then, his most successful season came in 2015 when Newton was named the league's Most Valuable Player (MVP) and helped Carolina to a franchise-best 15–1 record en route to a Super Bowl appearance in Super Bowl 50. 

Newton was 296-for-495 (59.8 percent), for 3,837 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, plus he ran for 636 yards and 10 more scores.

But Newton has had only one winning season as a starter since (2017), and injuries have taken a toll.

During the 2020 season, Newton passed for 2,657 yards, eight touchdowns, and ten interceptions to go along with 137 carries for 592 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. It was enough for the Patriots to sign him to a one-year deal worth up to $13.6 million, but also start thinking about the future. 

Factoring the depletion of talent on the Patriots no one's really certain how much Newton's declining numbers had to do with him and the team around him. Newton could have a lot left in the tank, or he could be close to empty due to wear and tear. 

That he has a one year deal probably makes this a make-or-break season for him in terms of being a starting quarterback in the league.

The other tricky thing is how does offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels design an offense when the quarterbacks are so different in style? 

As for how the competition will play out, it seems pretty obvious that Newton will go into camp as the incumbent, and it's on Jones to learn and show he's ready to both handle the speed of the pro game and the responsibility of running the offense. 

He's going to get compared to Tom Brady, which is unfair, but also reality. 

The situation in general is rare with the Patriots and Belichick. One has to go all the way back to Brady taking over for Drew Beldsoe to find anything similar. 

NBCSports/Boston did just that. This is a Belichick quote from the Tuesday before the 2001 season opener against the Bengals when he announced Brady had leapfrogged Damon Huard on the depth chart and would be Bledsoe’s backup:

Tom is pretty mature. I thought that, you know last year we had, I forget the number now, 23 or 24 rookie first year players in here last year by the end of the year. And I don't think there is any question in anybody's mind that Tom clearly took over the leadership of that entire group—offense, defense, everybody that was involved.

“And I think he was well respected because he had the most contact with those players. You know doing extra work on the practice field after practice and meetings and that kind of thing. Tom has a lot of natural leadership and so as he kind of took that situation over, not in a…I don't think he was overly assertive or confrontational in any way. I don't mean it in that way.

“I just think his natural leadership was something that all those players saw and looked up to and it was easy to see as a coach that it was a natural thing for him and he was very comfortable doing it without being obstinate or confrontational in any way. So I'm not really surprised. Tom continued to make steps in the offseason and then carried the hard work and improvement he'd made in the offseason onto the field in training camp and then in the preseason games.

“You know unfortunately, and this is always a tough situation for a coach, unfortunately there are some players who have worked as hard as anybody did in the offseason program and even in training camp, but unfortunately when they got an opportunity to play they just didn't or weren't able to produce the same or as many positive results as the effort they put in to the practice and preparation.

"You know you'd always like to see that go from the practice field to the game field or from the meeting room to the game field. And with some guys like Tom it did, and unfortunately with other guys who really worked hard, but it just for whatever reason weren't able to quite show that same leap in progress. You know, even though they put in just as much time and effort as anybody else did."

So what does Jones have to do? Really just keep doing what he did last season, but with the caveat that he almost certainly won't have to wait for three years like at Alabama. 

He has to win over the team again. 

More Belichick and the Draft 

• An interesting note in Albert Breer's MMQB this week is that Belichick's first losing season in 20 years not only led to the Patriots being more aggressive in free agency, but a different kind of draft prep as well. 

"The result to scouts outside the organization was obvious: The players that the Patriots took were all highly productive college players, and there wasn’t the kind of wild Belichick curveball those who’ve been there got used to (e.g., Jordan Richards or Tavon Wilson in the second round), where the New England coach valued a player way over where the rest of the NFL’s scouting community did." 

The team's first two picks: Jones and Crimson Tide defensive lineman Christian Barmore. 

Leatherwood Wasn't a Reach 

Alabama offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood was highly considered a second-round prospect by many, but the Las Vegas Raiders took him with the No. 17 selection, what may called the most controversial pick of the first round.

We recently noted that that Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said he didn't trade down and take Leatherwood later on because the Outland Trophy winner wouldn't have been available. Numerous reports since the draft have indicated that many teams considered him a low first-round pick.

One in particular ready to snatch him up was the Ravens. Ozzie Newsome isn't the general manager any more, but Baltimore had the No. 27 and 31 picks and had just traded away right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Ravens saw a dramatic drop-off at the position after the first few players and ended up not taking a tackle. After the draft they signed free-agent linemen Alejandro Villanueva from the rival Steelers to a two-year deal for $14 million, with $8 million fully guaranteed.

The Greatest Draft of All-Time

Rick Gosselin, who has covered the NFL for 49 years for United Press International, the Kansas City Star and the Dallas Morning News, put together an all-time NFL draft identifying the best player selected in each of the first 259 slots.

The Greatest NFL Draft of All-Time included the following.

48. Dwight Stephenson, C, Miami, 1980. (8, 114) Hall of Fame. NFL’s 100th anniversary team. All-decade. 5 Pro Bowls. 1985 NFL Man of the Year. Started in one Super Bowl.

52. Ken Stabler, QB, Oakland, 1968. (15, 184) Hall of Fame. All-decade. 1974 NFL MVP. 4 Pro Bowls. 1 Super Bowl ring. 1974 NFL Offensive Player of the Year. 1976 NFL passing champion.

112. Eddie Jackson, S, Chicago, 2017. (4, 62) 2 Pro Bowls. 10 career interceptions, 3 for touchdowns. Voted one of the 100 greatest Chicago Bears.

200. Bart Starr, QB, Green Bay, 1956. (16 seasons, 196 games) Hall of Fame. All-decade. 1966 NFL MVP. 2-time Super Bowl MVP. 4 Pro Bowls. 5 championship rings. 1969 NFL Man of the Year. 1966 NFL passing champion. His jersey number 15 has been retired by the Packers.

Bet he had some tough choices, but that last one had to be among the easiest. 

Rookie already turning heads 

Hearing that a rookie is off to a great start in the pros and  quickly standing out in terms of preparation is nothing new at Alabama. However, it is for a women's basketball player. 

The Los Angeles Sparks recently used the seventh pick of the 2021 WNBA Draft on Alabama forward Jasmine Walker. The two-time All-SEC selection was twice a finalist for the Katrina McClain Award as the nation’s top power forward and led the Crimson Tide to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 22 years.

According to the Los Angeles Times, she showed up at training camp having already watched film of her new teammates to understand how veterans like Nneka Ogwumike, Seimone Augustus and Kristi Toliver like to play. She even went back and looked at some of their college film.  

“She’s just a sponge,” Ogwumike said. “It’s really refreshing to be able to have a young player that has the maturity and the respect for the game in a way that really shows in her individual [performance].”

Did you Notice?

• Breer tackled what would have to happen for the Falcons to trade Julio Jones in his mailbag: Will the Raiders Be in on Aaron Rodgers? What Would the Broncos Offer?

• Which Rookie Quarterback Will Succeed Most in 2021?

• What to Make of Flores' Tua Comments

• Can These Powerhouse Football Programs Bounce Back in 2021?

• Which College Football Teams May Regress in 2021?

Christopher Walsh's notes column All Things CW appears weekly on BamaCentral+

Somehow this seems to have been missed by nearly everyone when it comes to the quarterback situation with the New England Patriots. 

The starter is widely considered to be the best quarterback in Auburn history. 

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