The college quarterback who completed 77.4 percent of his passes for 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns (against just four interceptions) while leading the 14-0 national champions that averaged 48.5 points a game was drafted 15th overall and fifth among his position group.
Yeah, it doesn’t make much sense now. It probably shouldn’t have then, either.
Mac Jones tried to tell the NFL, or show the NFL, but the NFL didn’t think things like 19-for-23 for 198 yards and three touchdowns were all that likely out of him.
Not in a few years, certainly not 10 weeks into his rookie year, as he showed Sunday as the team that was smart enough to pick him, the New England Patriots, improved to 6-4 via a 45-7 humiliation of one-time Super Bowl contender Cleveland.
Jones was brilliant. Accurate. Commanding. Patient when needed, aggressive when possible. He controlled the offense. He looked off cornerbacks. He threw bullets and soft fades.
One drive went 99 yards. Another 92. The game got so out of hand, Jones spent the fourth quarter on the bench.
The Patriots’ onslaught wasn’t all Jones, of course. The offensive line won the point of attack. Fellow rookie Rhamondre Stevenson (a fourth-rounder out of Oklahoma) delivered 100 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. The defense was exceptional.
“You couldn’t single anybody out,” Bill Belichick said, of course.
Well, quarterbacks are always singled out whether things are going well or not so well. Right now, it’s all good as New England has won four consecutive games and looks like a legit contender in an AFC that, increasingly, looks wide open.
“That was really a great day for us today on so many different levels,” Belichick said. “Long touchdown drives. Turnovers. Competitive plays in the kicking game. Big plays after big plays by so many different people.”
And that means the idea that Jones went 15th overall and fifth among quarterbacks in the 2021 draft looks more and more ridiculous.
He should have gone second overall. Maybe first.
Too early to make that call? Maybe, but Jones is the leader for Offensive Rookie of the Year and there may be only one or perhaps two teams who needed and/or still need a quarterback that aren’t wishing for a do-over from last April.
Belichick isn’t one of them. He went through a one-season “rebuild” (7-9) and then let the incompetence of half the league hand him what looks like the Patriots’ next star.
Detroit (seventh overall), Carolina (eighth), Denver (ninth) and Philadelphia (10th) – each of whom is desperate for a franchise quarterback – made disastrous choices in not taking Jones. Miami, with the sixth pick, decided to stick with Tua Tagovailoa, which has to be a decision it now regrets. The Dolphins spent much of the fall trying to get Deshaun Watson despite his serious legal issues.
As for the teams that selected a quarterback yet misjudged Jones’ acumen? Chicago can still hold out hope that Justin Fields, who went 11th, will develop into something special. He has shown enough for that to remain possible.
Jacksonville has no reason to not still believe in Trevor Lawrence, the top overall choice. He took over a one-win team with a rookie NFL head coach. Jones, meanwhile, has been able to learn from Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who can make the game easy.
“I think it’s just practice,” Jones said. “Doing the little things right. Here we do a very good job at practice … When we practice well, we play well … My job is to get it to the person who is supposed to get the ball.”
San Francisco had the third overall draft pick. It traded two first-round selections and a third to move up from No. 12 to No. 3 where it grabbed Trey Lance, who played one game in 2020 for North Dakota State. He remains enough of a project that he’s barely seen the field this year, even though he needs to beat out only Jimmy Garoppolo.
In an alternate world, the Niners keep all their picks, trade Jimmy G back to New England – probably for a second-round pick – and then just take Jones at No. 12.
In other words, Trey Lance better turn out great.
Then there are the New York Jets, who went with Zach Wilson out of BYU at No. 2. The Jets were a tough situation to walk into and Wilson has been hurt of late, but he certainly hasn’t done anything to suggest he’s better than Jones.
Just about every other team in the league that needed a QB could have traded up to get in front of the Pats and select Jones. None did. Why? Maybe it’s his lack of running ability. Maybe it’s a belief he was a product of all that talent around him in Alabama. Maybe no one knows what they are doing.
Jones, to his credit, doesn’t care. It’s not when you are drafted, it’s where you are drafted and even on draft night he was smiling at the thought of joining the Belichick machine.
“At the end of the day, you want to just get the right fit,” Jones said. “And I feel like, secretly, I really wanted to go to the Patriots all along. So I’m actually really happy that it happened.”
If this is what Mac Jones already is – let alone what he will become – then no one else is going to be too happy that it happened. Not the two AFC East rivals who didn’t take him. Not the quarterback-desperate franchises who didn’t want him. Not the 49ers, who gave up a ransom to ignore him.
And certainly not the rest of the NFL that has to look at New England on the rise again – this time with a 23-year-old running the offense – with a sense of dread.