Stop acting like you know if Mac Jones is 'the guy' or not. You don't.


The first time I saw Josh Allen play in person changed the way I felt about him immediately.

Of course, I wasn't a stranger to Allen, having watched all of his college starts as a senior at Wyoming while working as a data analyst at STATS five years ago. Back then, his tape made me laugh. I thought he was bound to fail in the NFL.

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Sure, he could probably throw a football out of the stadium while sitting on his knees at midfield and connected on some throws I didn't know quarterbacks could (or should) attempt with hope, not to mention that he was built like a tight end (and could run like one). But the dude also couldn't hit grass if he spiked a ball into the turf as hard as he could and laughably airmailed targets at the Senior Bowl from 10 yards away.

So even when he was hurdling people in his first ever NFL game against the Vikings, I still wasn't sold. How can you take a quarterback with a 52.8 percent completion percentage seriously?

That's how I felt about him throughout his second season when he'd have a couple respectable games in row then drop a three-interception game like he did to the Patriots at home in Week 4 of 2019.

But that Week 16 game in Foxborough was different.

He still turfed a throw or two and needed to take a mile or two off the fastball. He also took four sacks in that game as the Patriots successfully made him hold onto the football longer than he wanted.

But Allen didn't turn the ball over. He played with a sense of control I hadn't felt from him before. And the 53-yard touchdown throw he laid in perfectly to John Brown while getting laid out by Lawrence Guy hit me like brass knuckles. That was just…different.

Did I see him going supernova the next three seasons and perhaps turning himself into the best quarterback in football at this current moment? No. But that was the point I told myself I'd never assume I knew what a second-year quarterback would be ever again.

Yes, the numbers do suggest the second-year leap is real for quarterbacks, and there's no reason to deny it's true. But no two quarterbacks or two leaps are exactly the same, nor do they have to be. And the process by which they get there doesn't have to be linear -- something we often forget in our mad scramble to be the "first" to know if a player is any good or not.

So you'll forgive me if I find the constant discussion about whether or not *insert second-year quarterback here* is "the guy" for their respective franchises just two games into their second season is maddening.

Though we could touch on any of the top six second-year quarterbacks that saw playing time last year, let's keep this focused on Mac Jones.

I haven't been shy about saying I'm not thrilled with how Jones has played through two regular season games and much of the preseason. His fundamentals have been less-than-polished at times, and his decision-making has skewed toward "f--k it, my guy's down there somewhere" too often for my comfort.

As Evan Lazar of put it on "1st and Foxborough" this week, someone might need to remember that he's Mac Jones and not all these other quarterbacks with bazookas attached to their arms that people want to compare him to.

That said, some of those mistakes are a product of Jones trying to be more aggressive than he was in 2021, to test the boundaries of what he can do as a quarterback -- things he couldn't do last year as a rookie with Josh McDaniels tightly holding the reins. In other words, he's still learning what he is at the NFL level.

But somehow, even as Jones continues exploring new facets of his game just 20 starts into this NFL career, like running a bit more often (which has been a welcome change), pundits on both sides of his career projections feel the need to declare whether he is or isn't the Patriots' quarterback for the next decade already.

Those who saw flashes of Tom Brady in Jones' game during his impressive rookie season or love how fully bought-in he is to the "Patriot Way" are inking him in to at least one more contract in New England and projecting a Super Bowl or two once he reaches his full might.

Conversely, those who look at Jones compared to the likes of Allen, Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert and see nothing but Dollar Tree Matt Ryan in blue and red are quick to say the Patriots should chuck Jones out the window and draft the next star quarterback that comes around.

Both sides of this suffer from the same problem: not enough evidence.

Jones has already proven he's a starting-caliber NFL quarterback. That much doesn't need to be debated. The question now is whether he can become more. And 20 starts isn't enough to do that for most guys not named Mahomes, Herbert or Andrew Luck.

For a position everyone claims is the toughest in professional sports, people seem to think quarterback is quick and easy to evaluate and that you can just toss aside your old model and trade it in for a new one like you would a car. (That's how you get to be the Cleveland Browns or New York Jets.)

Even if you want to say Allen is a historical outlier in his insane Year 3 improvement -- which he probably is, to be honest -- what say you of Jones' Alabama predecessors Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa, who both have hit startling new highs at the start of their third seasons? Plenty of off-season talk was devoted to whether or not the Eagles and Dolphins should move on from both players via the draft or trade before the season. Instead, their teams invested in them, and now they're taking off.

It's almost as if Year 3 is becoming what everyone thinks Year 2 is for young quarterbacks who aren't already in perfectly ideal situations to begin with (like Mahomes was).

If that's true, the Patriots are right on schedule with Jones. Even if this year is a wash, New England has about $60 million in projected cap space to play with already in 2023 to reload even as Buffalo and Miami start to feel the constraints of the big money they've invested. Though the Bills will still have Allen, there's a chance the gap could close a bit if Jones can thrive with new weapons.

Again, though, that line of thinking means you have to accept a simple truth: you don't know if Mac Jones is "the guy" or not right now. You won't know after next week, whether Jones goes supernova on the hapless Ravens pass defense or has another slog-fest of a game. And you probably won't know at the end of this season either.

I get that we're going to have to talk about it because that's the nature of the business. We have to debate everything. We have to get our takes out there so we can point back to them and say we were right for the clout. (By the way, I did tell you before the season that the Patriots were going to beat the Mitchell Trubisky-led Steelers.)

But if we're going to keep it real, it's a waste of time. You can believe whatever you want about Jones' career outlook with the Patriots -- good or ill. That doesn't mean you know how it will turn out at this point, which, as I remind everyone, is just two starts into his second NFL season.

If Mac Jones is still playing hopscotch in the pocket or trying to YOLO it into DeVante Parker's hands through two defenders this time next year, I'll probably tell you Jones ain't it.

For now, though, I'm just going to watch the way he develops through 2022 and see how he responds to the challenges that await him with this new offense and "meh" receiving corps.

I've already learned my lesson.

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1st & Foxborough
Bonus: Can we stop freaking out about second-year QBs being "the guy" right now?
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