3 Changes Patriots Must Make in 2022 Offseason to Help Mac JonesJanuary 18, 2022
3 Changes Patriots Must Make in 2022 Offseason to Help Mac Jones
Mac Jones became the fifth quarterback taken in the 2021 NFL draft when he was selected by the New England Patriots with the No. 15 overall pick. Trevor Lawrence (No. 1 to the Jacksonville Jaguars), Zach Wilson (No. 2 to the New York Jets), Trey Lance (No. 3 to the San Francisco 49ers) and Justin Fields (No. 11 to the Chicago Bears) were all drafted ahead of Jones.
However, Jones had the most successful rookie season among that group. He was the only one of the five to get to the playoffs, as he helped guide the Patriots to a 10-7 regular-season record and an AFC wild-card berth. The former Alabama QB passed for 3,801 yards, 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while starting all 17 games.
But Jones' rookie year didn't have a great conclusion. New England lost 47-17 to the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night, with Jones passing for 232 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Still, there's optimism surrounding the 23-year-old and the Pats for the future.
"Mac helped us a lot, and we look forward to working with him next year," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said, per Mike Dussault of the team's official website. "We all have things we need to work on, and that goes for every player, and that'll be part of the conversation with every player and for the coaching staff, what we all individually and collectively need to improve on."
The Patriots will also need to do some things to put Jones in the best possible position to have long-term success. Here's a look at what New England can do to help Jones prior to his sophomore season in 2022.
Add a Top Wide Receiver Early in the 2022 NFL Draft
The Patriots' receiving corps in 2021 was a much better unit than it was in 2020. Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor had solid first seasons in New England, and they're both under contract for 2022. Jakobi Meyers was the team's leading receiver, and he could be back as a restricted free agent.
But the Pats could still use a big-time playmaker on offense, considering they had no wide receivers with more than 866 yards or five touchdowns this season. If Jones is going to take the next step and develop into a top-tier quarterback, then he needs a true No. 1 playmaker to throw to.
New England could explore free agency, but the top receivers set to hit the market may not be going anywhere. It's hard to see Davante Adams not returning to the Green Bay Packers, and it's possible Chris Godwin will re-sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
If that's the case, the Patriots should consider using their first-round draft pick on a wide receiver. Among the playmakers who could be in their range are Ohio State standouts Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. Or they could consider drafting Alabama's John Metchie III and reuniting him with Jones.
There should be plenty of talented wide receivers on the board when New England is on the clock for the first time in the draft. And it will likely be quite beneficial for Jones to have a young playmaker to establish a connection with and to play with for ideally a long time.
Fill the Holes on the Offensive Line to Keep It Strong
In 2021, the Patriots' offensive line did a good job of preventing Jones from getting hit. He was sacked only 28 times, which ranked tied for 24th most in the NFL. So New England needs to continue to do that in order for Jones and the offense to have success.
But the Pats have two starters on the O-line who are about to become free agents: left guard/center Ted Karras and right tackle Trent Brown. Both served key roles this past season, as Karras played all 17 games and made 13 starts while Brown made nine starts.
If New England is unable to re-sign Karras and/or Brown, its offensive line will not be nearly as strong. And it can't afford to have downgrades up front if it hopes to keep protecting Jones as well as it has been.
Although Karras and Brown are both solid players, perhaps the Patriots will decide to spend big and upgrade one or both positions. There could end up being even better linemen on the free-agent market, and New England is projected to have about $27 million in cap space, per Spotrac.
The Pats need to fortify their offensive line this offseason, whether it's by signing a top free agent or two or by bringing back Karras and/or Brown. If they have the money, it could be wise to bring in an elite lineman to fill one of those holes. But at the least, they need players at the level of Karras and Brown to keep the O-line strong.
Develop Plays to Get Smith More Involved in Offense
When New England went on a big spending spree last offseason, it brought in two of the top tight ends on the market. Hunter Henry emerged as a strong receiving option for the Pats in 2021, as he had 50 catches for 603 yards and a team-high nine receiving touchdowns. But Jonnu Smith didn't make nearly that big of an impact.
Smith never quite got going this past season, as he finished with 28 receptions for 294 yards and one touchdown in 16 games. But he's only 26 and still has three seasons remaining on his four-year, $50 million contract, so he isn't leaving anytime soon.
New England has had success getting two tight ends involved in its offense in the past, but that wasn't the case in 2021. However, if both Henry and Smith can be top receiving options in the future, it could take the Patriots' passing attack to another level.
This offseason, the Pats should try to develop plays that will do a better job of getting the ball into Smith's hands. He's been a strong receiving tight end in the past, as he had 448 yards and eight touchdowns (both career highs) for the Tennessee Titans in 2020.
If Jones has more opportunities to throw the ball to Smith, it could lead to bigger numbers for both in the future.