Though it ended in disappointing fashion with an ugly loss to the Bills in Saturday’s AFC Wild Card game, most were impressed by what they saw from Mac Jones in his debut season, leading New England back to the playoffs after a down 2020. While not as physically gifted as others in his class, Jones appeared to be the most NFL-ready of this year’s rookie quarterbacks, registering a higher completion percentage (67.6) than even Tom Brady (67.5).
Unlike his predecessor Cam Newton, Jones looks like he could be the Patriots’ starter for a long time. But in a league where quarterbacks are increasingly treated as disposable parts, Jones’ ceiling is worth debating. As a rookie, Jones was largely used as a game manager with only six teams—Philadelphia, Tennessee, New Orleans, San Francisco and Cleveland—running on a higher percentage of their plays than New England in 2021. Jones proved capable in that role, but some are concerned the 23-year-old will max out as only a mid-tier starter.
“He’s cerebral, but his arm is weak, which will hurt him in that division in cold-weather games,” an anonymous AFC executive expressed to ProFootballFocus. “Good rookie year but [he] needs a lot of things around him.”
Jones’ lack of athleticism doesn’t necessarily preclude him from being a star—the greatest quarterback of all-time, Tom Brady, is slower than most of his offensive linemen and has been for the better part of his career. But it does make his path harder. Fortunately, Jones seems to have all the intangibles, with teammates, including receiver Jakobi Meyers, marveling at his work ethic.
“He always came in ready to work,” said Meyers, the Patriots’ leading receiver with 83 catches for 866 yards during the regular season. “I think if all the guys get that mindset and all get together this offseason and just work, and work and keep our head down and keep attacking every day the best way we can, I feel like we’ll have a really good offensive unit.”
While Jones’ talent may not jump off the page, the advanced analytics community loves him. He graded as PFF’s sixth-best rookie quarterback since 2006, ahead of both Justin Herbert (seventh) and Joe Burrow (10th). Former beat reporter Doug Kyed was told by members of the Patriots’ organization that Jones is “well-liked” in the locker room, gaining teammates’ trust with his confidence—even after making mistakes—and rare poise.
Jones’ rookie season was hardly perfect, but those growing pains are to be expected of a player still early in his NFL development. With a year of experience to draw on and a better supporting cast around him (the Patriots have been floated as a potential suitor for Calvin Ridley, should the Falcons trade him this offseason), expect Jones to make another leap in 2022.