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Mac Jones Should Be Patriots' Week 1 Starting Quarterback in 2021

Alex KayContributor IMay 7, 2021

Alabama quarterback Mac Jones holds a team jersey after he was by the New England Patriots during the first round of the NFL football draft, Thursday April 29, 2021, in Cleveland. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)
Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

The New England Patriots scored one of the biggest steals of the 2021 NFL draft when they selected Mac Jones at No. 15 overall.

Now that the organization has acquired its quarterback of the future without having to give up anything to get him, it needs to get the Alabama product ready to run the offense sooner than later.

Jones was the first quarterback that head coach Bill Belichick has ever taken in the first round, having never done so during his 26 previous drafts with the Cleveland Browns and the Patriots. Despite finally spending an early pick on a signal-caller, Belichick doesn't appear to be in a hurry to install Jones as the Patriots' No. 1 QB, at least publicly.

Belichick has indicated that Cam Newton is the team's 2021 starter as of now. Per Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal, after the draft, the longtime coach said, "Cam's our quarterback. Whatever time Jarrett [Stidham] or Mac are ready to challenge and compete, we'll see how that goes. But right now for Mac, he's just got a lot of learning in front of him."

Newton's first year at Gillette Stadium didn't go too well, as the Patriots went just 7-9 with the former Carolina Panther at the helm. The team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and suffered through a losing campaign for the first time since Belichick first joined the club in 2000.

While some of the blame can be attributed to New England having the most opt-outs in the league—12 percent of the total players (eight of 67) who chose not to suit up in 2020 were under contract with the Patriots—it didn't help that the offense underwent a significant shift to accommodate a QB change from Tom Brady to Newton.

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In 2019, the Patriots attempted passes on over 56 percent of their offensive snaps. In 2020, the team passed approximately 45 percent of the time. Only the Baltimore Ravens, who led the league in rushing yards by a mile, and Tennessee Titans ran the ball more last season. It would be tough to argue that these scheme changes were worthwhile, given New England had one of the most impotent offenses in the league last year. The squad averaged just 327.3 yards and 20.4 points per game, ranking them near the bottom of the league. Even the 2019 Patriots, who were known more for their defense than anything else, averaged a much more respectable 354.0 yards and 26.3 points per game.

Instead of going back to what didn't work—a rushing offense that leaned heavily on Newton as a ball-carrier, evidenced by his 137 totes for 592 yards and 12 scores—the Patriots must get Jones ready for Week 1 so they can return to their roots.

This offense needs to be helmed by a QB who can make quick, precise throws and convert on third downs to complement a smashmouth running game.

Given Jones completed a scorching 77.4 percent of his passes while guiding Alabama to a national title this past season, he certainly fits the bill for this system. Jones rarely makes mistakes, either, amassing 41 touchdown passes while being intercepted just four times on 402 passing attempts in 2020.

Last season, Newton connected on only eight touchdown throws against 10 interceptions.

The Patriots shouldn't stray too far from their run-pass balance in 2021, though, as the team still boasts one of the best offensive lines in football and just signed a pair of quality tight ends in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. These prized free-agency acquisitions will let New England effectively deploy two-tight end sets again after using the formation just 23 times last year, which will keep defenses guessing and allow the Patriots to pound the rock or dink and dunk down the field.

Jones has a bit of an advantage when it comes to getting brought up to speed too. Nick Saban's program utilizes similar Ron Erhardt/Ray Perkins concepts, so many of these will be quite recognizable to the signal-caller now that he is in New England.

The rookie QB raved about what Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has been able to accomplish, per NESN.com's Zack Cox.

"I think he's obviously a great offensive play-caller," Jones said. "He tailors it to the quarterback, and he does a great job of preparing everybody, it seems like. I just really enjoyed watching New England on tape when I was in this [draft] process because they do it right."

McDaniels may not have to work too hard to get the offense ready for Jones, as he can theoretically execute the same system the team used with Brady. While Jones still has a long way to go to get to Brady's level of sustained excellence, he landed in an ideal situation to maximize his talent.

Instead of running two versions of the offense this season—one for Newton as the starter and one for Jones when he eventually takes over—the Patriots should be doing their best to get Jones ready to go in Week 1.

With Jones considered by many experts to be the most pro-ready of any in this loaded class of signal-callers, he should be taking snaps with the first-team offense sooner than later.

Newton may have the strongest arm, and he is far more athletic than any other quarterback on the New England roster, including Jones, but the flaws in his game outweighed the unique qualities he brought to the table last year. 

When asked what it would take for Newton to be usurped as the team's top QB, Belichick answered, per Daniels: "I don't know. Somebody will have to play better than he does."

Given Newton's pedestrian performance last year combined with Jones' immense promise and skill set that fits with the offense that the Patriots have traditionally succeeded with, it shouldn't take long for the rookie to become the top signal-caller in New England.

If the Patriots dynasty is going to continue, it needs to make the switch to Jones as soon as possible and let him shine. 

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