New England Patriots: Mac Jones and his improbable journey to Foxboro

BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 05: Mac Jones #10 of the Alabama Crimson Tide looks on prior to the game against the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on December 05, 2020 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 05: Mac Jones #10 of the Alabama Crimson Tide looks on prior to the game against the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on December 05, 2020 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

If you went back in time three years and told an Alabama football fan that Mac Jones would soon be the New England Patriots quarterback of the future, they likely would have laughed.

But after the Patriots selected Jones with the fifteenth overall pick in last week’s NFL Draft, all signs point to that being the case.

So how exactly did this improbable journey come to be? Let’s take a look back, all the way to Jones’s high school days.

New England Patriots new quarterback wasn’t initially ranked high

Unlike his counterparts in the College Football playoff and at the top of this year’s NFL Draft, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, Jones wasn’t a highly-touted quarterback recruit coming out of high school. A three-star recruit, 247 Sports ranked Jones as the 29th rated quarterback—and the 399th overall prospect—in the Class of 2017.

Of the 28 quarterbacks in the class who were ranked higher than Jones four years ago, just five have been drafted into the NFL.

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Of those five, just one—Jones’s former Alabama teammate Tua Tagovailoa—was selected in the first two rounds.

While several of these quarterbacks—such as Penn State’s Sean Clifford and Cal’s Chase Garbers—still have collegiate eligibility remaining and are on track to start for Power Five programs this fall, many others—such as Tate Martell and James Blackman—have failed to hold onto a starting job in college, much less attract the attention of any NFL scouts.

Jones was originally committed to play football at Kentucky. However, when Nick Saban called and offered him a scholarship to play for Alabama, it was, as Al Pacino would put it, “an offer that he couldn’t refuse.”

Jones held firm in his commitment to the Tide even after Jalen Hurts lead Alabama to the national championship game as a true freshman the year prior to Jones’s arrival on campus. Not even the commitment of Tagovailoa—a five-star recruit—in Jones’s recruiting class could deter him from heading to Tuscaloosa.

Many people called Jones crazy for sticking with Alabama when the Tide already had two future NFL quarterbacks on their roster. They told him that he would never play there; that he would spend his entire college career sitting behind Hurts, Tagovailoa, and whatever five-star quarterback Nick Saban brought in to succeed them a few years down the line.

New England Patriots QB Mac Jones already knows how to ignore the noise

However, Jones ignored the noise. While he knew that he wouldn’t play right away at Alabama, he believed that if he put his head down and worked hard, he would eventually have an opportunity to win the starting job.

After two years as Alabama’s third-string quarterback behind Tagovailoa and Hurts, that opportunity came late in the 2019 season. Hurts had transferred to Oklahoma by this point, so when Tagovailoa went down with a season-ending (and ultimately college career-ending, as he would depart Alabama for the NFL following the season) injury against Mississippi State, it was up to Jones to lead the Tide’s offense.

After leading Alabama to decisive wins in his first two collegiate starts, Jones and the Crimson Tide lost a heartbreaker on the road against arch-rival Auburn, knocking them out of the College Football Playoff race for the first time in the tournament’s existence. Despite the fact that the loss largely wasn’t Jones’s fault (case in point: this crazy pick six off of Naijee Harris’s back), many Alabama fans criticized Jones after the game, saying that he was not fit to be their starting quarterback.

But Jones ignored the critics. He bounced back in a big way in Alabama’s Citrus Bowl win over Michigan, throwing for 327 yards and three touchdowns in a dominant performance by the Tide.

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But even that performance was far from enough to lock him in as Alabama’s starting quarterback for 2020.

With five-star recruit Bryce Young—an alum of quarterback factory Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California—arriving on campus in time for the 2020 season, many Crimson Tide fans assumed that Young would start from day one, and that Jones would once again be relegated to a backup role.

But that never happened. Plain and simple, Jones just refused to give up the starting job. He did the same exact thing that he’d been doing for the prior three years at Alabama; put his head down and put in the work. And after three years, that work finally paid off, as he was named Alabama’s starting quarterback for the 2020 season.

Ultimately, Young proved to be far tougher competition than any opponent that Jones faced on the field in 2020. Once he was named the starter, Jones never looked back. He lead Alabama to the most dominant season in the history of a program that has seen countless dominant seasons.

Not only did the Crimson Tide go undefeated en route to their sixth national championship in 14 years under Nick Saban; all but one of their wins came by double digits. And in all but two of their wins, Alabama never trailed.

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Meanwhile, Jones was brilliant individually as well. He completed 77.4 percent of his passes, breaking the FBS record for that mark. He threw for 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns to just four interceptions. He won countless major awards. He was a consensus first-team All-American. And he was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, ultimately losing out to teammate DeVonta Smith.

When the New England Patriots selected Jones with the 15th overall pick in las week’s NFL Draft, it marked the culmination of one of the most improbable careers that we’ve ever seen by a college quarterback.

But for Jones, his journey is far from complete. In fact, it’s just getting started.

A new challenge now awaits Jones. And that challenge lies in none other than Foxboro, Massachusetts.