How should we evaluate Mac Jones?
The New England Patriots quarterback has ridden a roller-coaster over two-plus NFL seasons, establishing himself as one of the top 15 quarterbacks in football as a rookie in 2021 before regressing significantly in 2022. Jones showed promised during the Patriots' 2023 season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles but hit rock bottom this past Sunday, committing three turnovers -- two of which were returned for touchdowns -- before being benched in a 38-3 blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
So, what's causing Jones' poor play, and how can he rediscover the success he found both as a rookie and at Alabama, where he threw 41 touchdown passes in 13 games to lead the Crimson Tide to a national championship?
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A "top (NFL) executive" from a team that faced the Patriots this year (so, either the Eagles, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets or Cowboys), summed up the Mac Jones Experience well to Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer.
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“It does look hard for him [physically],” the executive told Breer. “Mac came from Alabama—they ran the ball, they had the weapons outside, they had the play-action pass game, the anticipation, all those things. And the Patriots aren’t doing that with him because they don’t have the personnel.
"They’ve run some three tight-end stuff, and most people just run the ball from there, but they’re doing it looking for matchups, and throwing the ball with it, and that should tell you something."
Jones is an excellent decision-maker and is very accurate on short throws -- which are good traits to have if you're surrounded by explosive playmakers who can create yards after the catch. But New England's current offense lacks those playmakers.
“He’s a quick-trigger, efficient, rhythm-and-timing passer," the exec added. "If you’re playing a quick game and play-action with him, that’s great. If you have him sitting there processing, and throwing into tight spots, that’s not great.
"… And New England hasn’t drafted great. The offensive line is ehhhh. The receivers are ehhhh. And now they’re expecting a miracle from someone who needs good things around him. You can win with him. He won’t be the reason you win.”
Jones had a ridiculous complement of weapons at Alabama -- DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and John Metchie at wide receiver and Najee Harris at running back -- and made the most of them, completing 77.4 percent of his passes for 346 yards per game.
The 2021 Patriots weren't as star-studded, but Jones still benefited from a solid offensive line and a reliable security blanket in Jakobi Meyers, who led the team with 83 catches for 866 receiving yards. In 2023, Jones is dealing with a patchwork offensive line and a cobbled-together receiving corps led by Kendrick Bourne, JuJu Smith-Schuster and DeVante Parker, who have caught just 37 of their combined 64 targets through four games.
That a quarterback will perform better with a better offensive line and better receivers is stating the obvious. But the point here is that Jones needs talent around him to succeed, and is more reliant on scheme and personnel than many of his fellow NFL quarterbacks.
The Patriots simply don't have the personnel to run the scheme that plays to Jones' strengths, and the results are obvious: Jones' 80.8 passer rating ranks 25th in the NFL through four games, and New England sits at 1-3 entering a Week 5 matchup with the New Orleans Saints.