2021 NFL Draft QB Rankings: #4, Mac Jones

People have gotten into this mindset where if a quarterback is perceived as “unathletic” then he’s got no shot in today’s NFL. It’s true that QB mobility is more important than ever in today’s NFL. But let’s not jump the gun and act like arm talent is not still the single most important factor for quarterbacks.

Admittedly, Jones didn’t look very fast during his 40 yard dash. But he ran between a 4.79 and a 4.83! That is not slow by any means. Patrick Mahomes ran a 4.8. So technically Mac Jones is just as fast as Patrick Mahomes, and yet people still think he’s going to be an oak tree back there in the pocket. It’s not like the guy is Drew Bledsoe.

He’s definitely the least athletic of the top 5 QB prospects in this draft. That’s established. But that does not mean he is unathletic in general.

Just because Mac Jones isn’t Lamar Jackson doesn’t mean he can’t play in the NFL. What I care about with quarterbacks is this: can the guy spin it? Can he sling it? Does he have the arm? I care so much more about the arm than the legs.

I don’t care if he’s not as athletic as Russell Wilson or DeShaun Watson. 

I care if he can throw like those guys.

That’s why those guys are so good. Because they have golden arms that have been sculpted by God himself. 

All I care about is Mac Jones’ arm. And obviously the head on his shoulders that sends commands to that arm and tells it where to throw the ball.

Pocket passers are still king in the NFL. And they probably always will be. Aaron Rodgers is mobile and can roll out of the pocket, but ultimately he’s still a pocket passer. Tom Brady is a pure pocket passer and he’s won 4 of the last 7 Super Bowls and has appeared in an additional one. Now, Brady is great at moving up and around in the pocket and avoiding the rush. That’s part of what makes him such a great quarterback. That, to me, is more important than a guy’s ability to scramble and beat you with his legs. As long as he can evade pressure–because there will be pressure in the NFL, no offensive line can provide complete protection at all times–then I don’t really care how he does it.

And we saw with Mahomes in the Super Bowl that mobility and athleticism doesn’t amount to jack if you are constantly under pressure and getting hit.

Over the long-term, if a QB cannot consistently beat teams with his arm, NFL history shows that is not a QB you will see hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. There’s just no way around the fact that arm talent is the single most important factor in evaluating an NFL QB.

And so the sudden hype over Mac Jones–he’s now -250 on FanDuel to go #3 to the 49ers–is centered mostly on his arm talent.

But do we really know how good Jones’ arm is? The knock on him is that “his wide receivers were wide open on every play!” That’s what people say.

And it is a legitimate concern with Mac Jones, that he had the easiest job of any quarterback in America last season–potentially in the history of college football. 

He had the best receivers, the best offensive line, the best defense and the best coach imaginable. 

Did they just make him look good? Or is he actually good?

Well, when I watch him throw, I see a guy who has great ball placement and accuracy and can drop the ball into a bucket. He hits his receivers in stride, he can thread needles. He’s got an arm, for sure. Contrary to popular belief, his wide receivers were not running wide open on “every play” last season. Watch for yourself:

Sure, there are a lot of plays where his wide receivers are wide open. But there are also plays where he throws them open. It’s all there in the video. I saw plays where he fires it to a guy who isn’t open at the moment he throws it, but Jones expects that his guy will be open when the ball gets there. That’s the hallmark of an NFL quarterback right there.

He moves around in the pocket, has great awareness and ability to sense pressure. He’s got NFL traits.

He looks a lot like Matt Ryan, honestly. I was getting big Matt Ryan vibes watching his highlights.

When it comes to evaluating college quarterbacks, one of the most important things to remember is the talent of both these guys’ teams and the teams they play against. A guy like Trey Lance, who plays for North Dakota State, obviously didn’t play against anywhere near the level of competition as guys like Lawrence, Fields and Mac Jones. But Lance also wasn’t surrounded with anywhere near the talent level on his own team as those three had. Yes, Mac Jones was fortunate to play at Alabama with the best receivers, the best offensive line, and the best coaches. But he also played in the SEC against the toughest competition in America. A lot of the defenders Mac Jones played against in college are going to be NFL starters.

Then there’s also the fact that Nick Saban’s Alabama QBs historically haven’t done well in the NFL.

Well, I think he’s the best QB prospect to come out of Alabama since Saban got there in 2007. He’s way better than AJ McCarron, and I think he’s even better than Tua. He’s not your typical Alabama QB where he’s just asked to game-manage and simply not do anything that hurts the team. Mac Jones consistently did things that helped the team–he was a net asset for Alabama, and that’s a rarity with Saban QBs because historically they’re not asked to be assets. Tua was an asset, but Mac Jones was an even greater asset at Alabama.

So why do I have him at #4? Because I don’t think his ceiling is as high as the three guys I have in front of him–Lawrence, Fields and Wilson.

I think Jones’ floor is high, though. He’s the least likely of the 5 to be a complete bust. He’s going to play in the NFL for a long time, more than likely. I could see him as a 10-12 year starting NFL QB, and it’s really not that hard to fathom. Other than Trevor Lawrence, I’d say Jones is the most likely to make at least one Pro Bowl in his career, although I’d say he’s probably less likely than guys like Wilson and Fields to become a perennial Pro Bowler. That’s the best way I can sum it up.

Can he be as great as the other guys? Trevor Lawrence as we all know has Hall of Fame upside (although I’m starting to have doubts there). Justin Fields is a prospect unlike any we’ve ever seen in a very long time, because he has the rocket arm and the 4.4 40 yard dash–he’s almost like a bigger, stronger Michael Vick with a better arm. I honestly don’t have a comp for Justin Fields; he’s that unique of a talent. And with Zach Wilson, I think a lot of people see him as the next Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes, at least in terms of potential. To me, that’s doubtful, but I get where people are coming from. If Wilson pans out, he’s going to be really, really good.

And then when we get to Mac Jones, the comp is Matt Ryan. Now, it must be said: not a single team looking for a QB in this draft would be upset if the guy they draft turns into the next Matt Ryan. The guy has had a long career, many playoff appearances, an MVP, and he should’ve won a Super Bowl in 2016 if he could’ve just held on to a 28-3 lead.

If Mac Jones becomes the next Matt Ryan, the 49ers will not be disappointed at all. But I just think Lawrence, Fields and Wilson have higher ceilings. Maybe not by a lot, but you have to assume these guys aren’t going to fully live up to their potential and are going to turn out at some degree below their ceiling. And if Mac Jones doesn’t hit his Matt Ryan ceiling, then he turns into, who, Kirk Cousins? Derek Carr? Andy Dalton even?

Don’t get me wrong–those are rock solid QBs that basically all but about 7-8 NFL teams would be thrilled to have. (With Dalton I’m talking about when he was in his prime.)

But when you’re talking about the #3 overall pick in the draft, is that acceptable for you? Is that the return you’d hoped to get based on what you gave up?

It seems like Kyle Shanahan feels like he can win a Super Bowl with Mac Jones because the 49ers’ roster is so good right now. He feels like he doesn’t have to swing for the fences with a guy like Justin Fields, who could turn into this incredible, perennial Pro Bowl QB who can run for 60 yard TDs and throw them just as easily, with MVP-level upside. I get where Shanahan is coming from: Fields is definitely the riskier pick. He’s got higher upside for sure, but he’s also got a lower floor, in my opinion.

But if you’re Kyle Shanahan, wouldn’t you want to take that risk? Don’t you have the confidence in yourself as a coach and a playcaller and a “QB whisperer” that you can turn Justin Fields into an elite NFL quarterback?

I get that the 49ers are in “win now” mode with that roster. But is Mac Jones really the missing piece? As in the 49ers are a Mac Jones away from winning a Super Bowl?

Really? Mac Jones is going to win the Super Bowl as a rookie, or a second-year QB?

What if he doesn’t? Then what? I just think the 49ers would be better long-term with Justin Fields. I think Kyle Shanahan could mentor and develop Fields into a guy that can play at a very high level for years to come. With Jones, on the other hand, if you don’t win that Super Bowl in the next 2-3 years, then what?

I don’t like the idea of going to the draft to find a QB to “win now.” Generally that’s something teams do in free agency, like when Tom Brady went to the Bucs and won a Super Bowl his first season in Tampa. Or Peyton Manning going to the Broncos and immediately turning them into Super Bowl contenders.

The Rams getting Matthew Stafford was a “win now” move. The Colts getting Philip Rivers last year was a “win now” kind of move–they felt they had a Super Bowl roster and just needed a good QB, so they went out and got one in free agency. It doesn’t always work out how you planned it, but nothing is certain in the NFL.

I just don’t think a rookie quarterback is your best option to “win now.” That’s a lot to ask of a rookie. We’ve never seen a rookie QB lead his team to a Super Bowl. The closest we’ve ever seen a rookie QB get, to my knowledge, was Big Ben leading the Steelers to a 15-1 record as a rookie in 2004. He actually then quarterbacked the Steelers to a Super Bowl win in 2005. And Russell Wilson won a Super Bowl in his second season as a QB. In both those situations, those guys had phenomenal defenses and running games to lean on. They more or less “game-managed” their way to Super Bowls. Now, later in their careers they became elite passers, but I don’t think anyone would say Big Ben and Russell Wilson were elite quarterbacks when they won Super Bowls in their second years as pros.

Is the 49ers’ roster really that good where they can win a Super Bowl with first or second-year QB? I don’t know about that, honestly. They’ve got a lot of good players, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think their defense is on the same level as say the 2013 Seahawks (“Legion of Boom”) or the 2005 Steelers.

And, most importantly, I also don’t think Mac Jones is on the same level as Big Ben and Russell Wilson.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I like Mac Jones as a prospect. I really do. But I don’t like the idea that the 49ers are going to win a Super Bowl with him in the next 1-3 years. I just don’t think it’s realistic.

Can you really see him beating Brady or Rodgers in the playoffs? Or the Rams with Matt Stafford?

I think the 49ers missed out on Stafford, and now DeShaun Watson isn’t really an option, and so they convinced themselves they could find a “win now” QB in the draft by trading up because it was basically the only option left for them.

I have my doubts, but I hope for Shanahan and Lynch’s sake they’re right and I’m wrong.

Octavian

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