Can Mac Jones, a 'getting-replaced-all-the-time-starter,' be saved?
Our Bob McGinn busts out the notebook to see how NFL scouts view the quarterback out of Alabama, and where the benched 2021 first-rounder possibly goes from here.
This is the eighth part of a series from our Bob McGinn looking at active players and their current situation vis a vis what it was entering the NFL draft. The comments from personnel men were made in the months leading up to the draft for my NFL Draft Series, which dates to 1985. Scouting football prospects is an inexact science, especially when it comes to off-the-field considerations. It has been said that no two evaluators view a player exactly the same way.
The blame for the New England Patriots’ dismal season largely has been directed at coach Bill Belichick, his assistant coaches and the roster he assembled.
On Sunday, it appears as if the onus will fall specifically on quarterback Mac Jones, who for the first time in his three-year career probably will watch a game from the bench while someone else starts ahead of him.
Bailey Zappe, drafted in the fourth round in 2022 one year and three rounds after the Patriots selected Jones, will get a shot at extricating the once luxury liner of a franchise that has run aground. Going nowhere at 2-9, Belichick and his people seem to have seen enough of Jones and figure what have they got to lose trying Zappe against the Chargers in Foxborough.
Jones, the last of five quarterbacks taken among the first 15 choices in 2021, can’t yet be lumped with failures Zach Wilson and Trey Lance. He led the Patriots to a 10-7 record and the wild-card playoffs while making the all-rookie team.
But at this point he isn’t Trevor Lawrence and maybe not even Justin Fields, who has yet to fall completely from favor in Chicago.
Not long before the draft in 2021, an AFC executive in personnel weighed the class of five quarterbacks and said, “There’s no perfect prospects. You just have to decide where you’re OK with their weaknesses and their deficiencies. There’s Andrew Luck every 10 years or so. Lawrence is pretty much in that category.”
Later in this story, you’ll read how 16 personnel people assessed Jones in interviews with me in the weeks leading up to that draft. Jones’ many deficiencies — average athlete, below-average strength, average arm, below-average movement skills — show up repeatedly in those evaluations.
In fall 2022, an NFL executive in pro scouting assessed Jones after 1 ½ seasons: “This is a young, ascending, low-end starter with sufficient size who has good intelligence and manages the offense well when given a clean pocket. His struggles have come when under pressure (because) he has very limited ability to extend and escape. Will make very bad decisions with the football. His accuracy also takes a hit when facing pressure. Will run if he has a lane but has marginal speed. Limited starter whose accuracy has been disappointing.”
Jones was benched four times in the last eight games, although Belichick would quibble with that characterization of the first after removing him late in the third quarter Oct. 1 of a 38-3 setback in Dallas.
On Oct. 8, Jones was benched early in the fourth quarter after throwing two interceptions in a 34-0 home loss to the Saints. On Nov. 12, he was benched in the final minutes after throwing an awful interception at the Indianapolis 1 in a 10-6 loss to the Colts in Frankfurt, Germany. And last Sunday he was benched at halftime after throwing two interceptions and fumbling once in a 10-7 loss to the Giants at MetLife Stadium.
Greg Bedard, my erstwhile Packers beat colleague in Milwaukee, talked to five league executives in the last few weeks trying to get a handle on Jones. Writing for his Boston Sports Journal, Bedard found that experts faulted Jones’ performance as well as many others for the decline of the Patriots.
“I just think the whole thing has led to Mac having no confidence,” one executive told Bedard. “Mac’s footwork is awful. His eye level is awful. His accuracy … that interception he threw the other day (against the Colts) was just ridiculous. He’s not playing worth a shit. But I think that there’s so much that goes into having good quarterback play in this league.”
Here’s Bob McGinn’s full column on Mac Jones, how a slew of NFL scouts view the quarterback and where his career possibly goes from here…