For the first time since 1993, the New England Patriots have invested first-round draft capital in a quarterback. While the team chose Drew Bledsoe with the first overall selection 28 years ago, the Patriots selected quarterbackMac Jones of Alabama at number 15 in the 2021 NFL draft.
Selecting a quarterback so early in the draft seemingly indicates that the Patriots are sending a clear message. Like Bledsoe before him, Jones is the Patriots’ plan for the future of the position.
Of course, Bledsoe was joining a team with very little history of winning. His impact was expected to be immediate and decisive. There would be no quarterback competition. The job was his, and under him the Patriots had nowhere to go but up.
As presently constituted, Jones is joining a team with three possible starters already on the roster: Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer. Accordingly, the Pats have the luxury of evaluating Jones’ ability while giving him time to develop. However, that has not stopped head coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the Patriots offensive brain trust from testing him often and early.
During mandatory minicamp, Jones reportedly looked decisive and accurate, despite being shown several different defensive looks. While there were the occasional rookie mistakes and misfires, Jones seemed well suited to rise to a challenge. His resolve caught the attention of several of his Patriots teammates, who praised Jones’ preparation and adaptability.
Jones' comfort level within the Patriots organization can be attributed to the foundation he received at the University of Alabama. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban has long enjoyed a close professional and personal relationship with Belichick. The two not only have similar coaching styles, but also share the standards to which they hold their players. Those who emerge as leaders in a Belichick or Saban system are those who demonstrate both skill and leadership.
Christopher Walsh, publisher of SI’s Bama Central covered Jones during his time at Alabama. As such, he has watched the 22-year-old evolve from a young prospect into the quarterback who led the Crimson Tide to the national championship in 2020. Having covered Alabama football since 2004, Walsh is pretty savvy at identifying talent with optimal pro-level potential. He sees that type of potential in Jones as the Patriots quarterback of the future.
“He's a planner. He is very deliberate in how he goes about things,” Walsh said. “The workouts he's going to take very seriously. He's gonna be one of those guys who is really going to draw them in there.”
Walsh attributes Jones’ leadership ability to the example he sets with his teammates. He demonstrates a strong command of the playbook, but is also not afraid to mix it up, or even take a hit. Walsh recalled one such practice at Alabama that earned Jones the respect of his teammates.
“There will be some moments that will probably happen where he gets just drilled in a practice, or in a situation where he demonstrates just how much all in he is on this, '' Walsh said. “There was an offseason workout (at Alabama) and he just got pounded. He had a bloody nose afterwards and he got up and he’s like, ‘Let's go.’ It was one of those moments that kind of won over a lot of his teammates like, OK, you know, I'm ready to follow this guy.”
A Great Football Mind
While Jones may exhibit the leadership qualities that will endear him to his Patriots teammates, his on-field prowess will make him a near perfect fit in New England.
For all of the discussion surrounding the Patriots' desire to change their passing game, they still are operating under a very similar system to that which they ran while Tom Brady was taking snaps under center. The Patriots aerial attack remains timing-based, predicated on vertical routes and completions from quick, accurate throws. While Newton has given the Pats the chance to incorporate more zone reads into their repertoire, the quick game still seems to be McDaniels’ preference.
During his time at Alabama, Jones was quite proficient at running this type of offense. With a strong supporting cast of playmakers around him, Jones was able to create plays by leading his receivers under the defense, releasing the ball quickly and delivering it accurately. This gave his playmakers the space they needed to catch and run with the football. McDaniels and the Patriots have been at their best when operating under the same modus operandi. Therefore, it is likely no coincidence that Jones is now with the Patriots.
While leadership and on-field prowess are essential parts of succeeding in New England (especially at the quarterback position), Jones also exhibits an ability to learn from his mistakes. After all, as a rookie, there will be plenty of growing pains as Jones evolves into his role.
However, Walsh is confident that Jones will quickly learn from his mistakes, while not letting them immediately impede him from the task at hand. In fact, it may be Jones’ background in a more individualized sport that taught him that valuable lesson.
“He's very bright. He has a great football mind. '' Walsh said of Jones’ ability to quickly process his mistakes. “He seems (when he makes a mistake) to shrug it off pretty quickly. And the funny thing about Mac Jones is he was a tennis player before he was a football player and he kind of has that mentality, and you're gonna see him get mad at himself, and just the look on his face, and you're gonna be like, that's it, that's the tennis player right there.”
While Jones may face an uphill battle to beat out incumbent starter Cam Newton, the traits he exhibits make him the ideal, long-term fit for the Patriots. As Walsh described, the union between Jones and the Pats is harmonious. “It's kind of the perfect fit. He thrives in that kind of offense. He thrives in that kind of system.”
While Walsh’s assessment remains to be verified, it seems likely that the Patriots may have taken a major step towards future success simply by getting back to basics.