What Will It Take for Mac Jones to Restart the New England Patriots Dynasty?April 30, 2021
The New England Patriots were one of the most fortunate teams in the first round of the NFL draft. The club had a potential franchise quarterback land on its doorstep without having to move up the board, securing Alabama's Mac Jones with the No. 15 overall pick.
Now that Jones is with New England, he'll be tasked with returning the franchise to prominence in the post-Tom Brady era. The Pats notably struggled without the future Hall of Famer under center, getting disappointing production out of both Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham last year. They needed a player of Jones' caliber to elevate the team.
While New England still won seven games last year, the team missed the playoffs for just the fourth time since Bill Belichick took the reins in 2000 and the first since 2008. The losing campaign—the first since Belichick's initial season with the club—clearly weighed heavily on the head coach, as he splurged in free agency to overhaul the roster.
The Patriots picked up a slew of talent on the open market, signing impact veterans such as Matt Judon, Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry and Jalen Mills to give the roster a much-needed injection of talent. While these pickups were widely praised, the organization was still missing a legitimate weapon at the most important position on the field. The Patriots appear to have one in Jones, who will compete with Newton—who re-upped for another year in March—for the starting job in camp.
It's unclear who will earn the starting nod in Week 1, even with Belichick stating that Newton is the team's quarterback, but it's obvious that Jones will get his chance to be the guy in New England. Jones possesses the upside that a soon-to-be 32-year-old Newton lacks as he fades into the twilight of his career and a ceiling that would result in the Pats getting a bona fide star under center again.
Many were speculating that the signal-caller would go as high as No. 3 to the San Francisco 49ers, but the Crimson Tide product tumbled on draft night. It worked out for Jones, as he landed in arguably the best situation of any quarterback taken in the first round.
Not only is New England loaded with battle-tested veterans with plenty of postseason experience, it also has part of the same coaching staff in place that helped develop Brady into an all-time great. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels should have little trouble maximizing his new QB's abilities and should run a similar offense with Jones as he did with Brady.
The Pats got away from their aerial attack last year with Newton, rushing at a higher clip (51.28 percent) than every team besides the Baltimore Ravens. That number was significantly higher than in 2019—Brady's last season in New England—when the team dialed up passes on 59.36 percent of its offensive snaps. This change in philosophy clearly didn't work out for the team, as it averaged a meager 20.4 points per game, the sixth-fewest in the NFL and down from 26.3 the season prior.
When Jones takes over the starting role, New England can feel comfortable airing it out at will once again. He was a dominant passer during his tenure in Tuscaloosa, setting a single-season school record with 4,500 yards in 2020. He completed an absurd 77.4 percent of his throws and connected on 41 touchdowns against a mere four interceptions in 13 games. Getting back to their preferred offense will immediately make the Patriots more dangerous than they were in 2020.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban said during ESPN's broadcast that he felt Jones was a great fit in New England, stating that the Patriots use a similar system to the one that the Crimson Tide run.
Although Jones isn't much of an athlete—he finished his junior season having rushed 35 times for 14 yards and a score—and doesn't possess the prototypical size of Brady—standing at 6'3", 217 pounds compared to his predecessor's 6'4", 225-pound frame—he should still be able to make all the throws in the NFL.
His pocket presence is unmatched in this class, which allows Jones mask his lack of elite arm strength. His accuracy, decision-making and ability to make reads at the line is Brady-esque, qualities that should have fans in New England excited for the Jones era to get underway.
Before the team can start competing for Super Bowls again, however, it will need to surround Jones with some quality wideouts. New England's receiving corps leaves quite a bit to be desired, a group that includes N'Keal Harry—a first-round pick in 2019 who has had a disappointing start to his career—and a pair of free-agent signings in Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor. While these players are not terrible by any means, none are the type of game-breaking playmakers who can make Jones' transition to the NFL an easy one.
The Patriots should address this issue on Day 2 of the draft. There are still plenty of great wideout prospects on the board, and scooping up someone like UNC's Dyami Brown would be a wise move if he's available when New England is back on the clock with the 14th pick in Round 2.
Brown represents an incredible complement to the team's quarterback of the future and properly developing the battery in tandem would help the Pats become a contender for years to come.
Regardless of whether the club scores a marquee wideout prospect, it will still have two quality tight ends for Jones to lean on. The team inked both Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry in free agency, both of whom are massive upgrades over last year's options. Ryan Izzo paced the team with a paltry 13 catches for 199 yards and zero touchdowns, a far cry from the output this squad used to get from the position.
New England hasn't had a pair of tight ends this talented since it deployed Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez together nearly a decade ago. Those two were transcendent in 2011 when they combined for an incredible 169 receptions, 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns. Although it is unlikely the Smith-Henry combination will replicate those eye-popping numbers, Jones will likely be looking their way often and leaning on the pair heavily when he gets on the field.
It's an exciting time for Patriots fans. The biggest piece of the puzzle is in place, and all that remains to be seen is how far Jones can take the club once he becomes the starter. Expectations will be lofty, but Jones is a proven winner—he went undefeated in his only full collegiate season as a starter, guiding 'Bama to a national title—who appears to be the perfect heir to Brady in New England.
Although it's happening a year later than fans may have hoped, getting a quarterback of Jones' caliber on the roster means the Patriots have a real shot at continuing their dynasty well into the future. It may not happen right away, but if Jones develops as projected, he will have New England competing for Super Bowls regularly within a few short years.