New England Patriots: Mac Jones proved a lot, but still has a lot to prove

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports /

Alright, I’ll give credit where credit is due. I wasn’t sure about the New England Patriots selecting Mac Jones 15th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. But 18 games and a playoff appearance later, I have to say one thing:

I believe Jones will be successful in the NFL. But we don’t know how successful Jones can be.

After the Patriots selected Jones, I expressed concerns about Jones being effective at the next level, specifically because he lacked desirable arm strength.

I respected everything else about Jones’ game. But I wondered, with better talent in the NFL, if Jones’ arm strength was adequate enough to be successful.

Mac Jones should have a successful career with the New England Patriots, but his ceiling is yet to be determined.

I’ll admit I wanted a dual-threat quarterback to be the new face of the franchise after Tom Brady left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I wanted the New England Patriots to draft North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, though I would had been happy with Ohio State’s Justin Fields as well.

Jones lacking similar athleticism wasn’t a concern. In the NFL, there’s more than one way to win. Pocket passers have won championships in this league for decades. The Patriots won six of them over 20 years with a pocket passer in Brady.

But a dual-threat QB has the ability to create opportunities pocket passers can’t. There’s no telling what offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels could do with a passer that’s dangerous in and out of the pocket.

To my surprise, Jones was more mobile than expected. No, he won’t explode for a 50-yard run. But he periodically escaped the pocket to extend plays and complete passes. Jones rushed for 129 yards, but picked up 22 first downs in the process, most of which were the result of QB sneaks.

But I wasn’t going to judge Jones on what he wasn’t. To be fair to Jones, I was going to evaluate him on what he can do.

And what Jones did, he did very well. He completed 67.6 percent of his passes. While I mocked his arm strength by saying all of Jones’ passes were touch passes, the reality is he made difficult passes regularly. There are plenty of fades or sideline passes dropped in spots where only the receiver could catch it.

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As for Jones’ lack of arm strength, I can’t think of any specific examples where his lack of arm strength led to a bad result. Jones throws a very catchable pass, which his receivers love. And out of Jones’ 13 interceptions, how many came off the hands of the intended receiver and into a defender’s mitts?

Mac Jones had a very productive rookie year. If Jones’ play didn’t slump after the bye week, he might had won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Despite the slump, Jones was easily the best rookie QB in the league. And Jones gets nothing but respect for being one of the few players to play well in the playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills.

So what’s next for Jones? First, he should take some time off. Jones played a lot over the past two years. It shouldn’t be a surprise if Jones suffers from some fatigue. Take some time away from the game. Get some rest, go have some fun.

Once Jones gets back to work, first on his goal should be to lose some weight. His shirtless photo after an Alabama win could become the equivalent of Brady’s shirtless photo from the 2000 NFL Draft.

Lose the dad bod, Mac. Change how you eat and drink, and embrace the new workouts that ultimately will help you shed some pounds. And hopefully, Jones makes a dramatic leap from his rookie to his sophomore season. Considering how good Jones was in his first year, imagine what he could do in his second year.

Jones’ progression isn’t just on him. Head coach Bill Belichick needs to get Jones a true number one receiver. One rumor is the Patriots could strike a deal for Atlanta Falcons’ Calvin Ridley.

If that doesn’t come to reality, the Patriots could sign a free agent or draft a receiver (preferably on day one or two of the draft). Whoever this new target for Jones is, hopefully he’s a legitimate deep threat, because Jones was tremendous throwing deep while at Alabama.

If Jones does everything right in the off-season and the New England Patriots get him the toys he needs to play his game, we should know for certain what he is capable of.

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As solid as Jones was last season, he didn’t conduct a game-winning drive this season. That’s not all Jones’ fault, as the defense failed to protect those late leads and the coaching staff sometimes over-protected Jones. But Mac needs a first one on his resume. In order for the Patriots to become a championship contender, Jones has to be able to win games.

Jones also has to show he can lead New England to come from behind wins. From my research, the Patriots came back from a 10 point deficit just once last season, and it was against the Houston Texans. A franchise quarterback gives his team a chance to win practically every game, even from way behind (remember 28-3?).

I’m confident that Jones will have a great career. The comparisons to Andy Dalton and Chad Pennington may have been insulting to Jones. But exactly how great of a career will Jones have?

Can the Patriots win with Jones? Yes. They won 10 games and reached the playoffs with Jones starting every game. But can Jones win games for the New England Patriots? That question is yet to be answered.