Mac Jones

Patriots-related takeaways from ESPN's ranking of NFL's top 10 QBs

It's not a good ranking for the Patriots, in more ways than one.

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The New England Patriots enjoyed the luxury of having the best quarterback in the NFL -- Tom Brady -- for almost two decades. It might be a while before they have another top 10 player at the position.

ESPN has been releasing a ranking of the top 10 players at each position over the last few weeks, based on votes from execs, coaches, scouts and players. The quarterback ranking was released Monday morning, and Patriots starter Mac Jones wasn't included.

Here's the full list:

  • No. 1: Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
  • No. 2: Joe Burrow, Bengals
  • No. 3: Josh Allen, Bills
  • No. 4: Aaron Rodgers, Jets
  • No. 5: Justin Herbert, Chargers
  • No. 6: Jalen Hurts, Eagles
  • No. 7: Lamar Jackson, Ravens
  • No. 8: Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars
  • No. 9: Dak Prescott, Cowboys
  • No. 10: Matthew Stafford, Rams

Here are three Patriots-related takeaways from the rankings.

Huge challenge awaits Patriots defense

The Patriots have one of the toughest regular season schedules in the league during the 2023 season. Perhaps the biggest reason why the schedule is considered so difficult is the fact that New England will play so many top-tier quarterbacks. Eight of the Patriots' 17 games are against quarterbacks who made ESPN's top 10 ranking (Mahomes, Hurts, Prescott, Herbert, Rodgers twice, Allen twice). Another three games are against QBs who received honorable mentions or votes in ESPN's ranking (Daniel Jones, Tua Tagovailoa twice).

Seven of the Patriots' first eight games are against the QBs mentioned in the paragraph above, and the other matchup is against Jimmy Garoppolo and the Las Vegas Raiders. He's not bad, either.

The Patriots defense was the team's strength in 2022. If that unit doesn't maintain or improve upon that level of success next season, it's going to be quite difficult for New England to make the playoffs because the AFC is loaded with high-powered passing attacks. The Patriots need first-round rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez to be effective from Day 1.

2021 NFL Draft class not well-represented

Five quarterbacks were selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Mac Jones was the last of the bunch to get selected at No. 15 overall.

No. 1: Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars

No. 2: Zach Wilson, Jets

No. 3: Trey Lance, 49ers

No. 11: Justin Fields, Bears

No. 15: Mac Jones, Patriots

Lawrence is the only QB from the class who ranked inside ESPN's top 10. He came in at No. 8. Lawrence benefited tremendously from a coaching change last season when the Jaguars replaced Urban Meyer with Doug Pederson as the head coach. Pederson is an offensive-minded coach who helped the Eagles win Super Bowl LII. He got Lawrence back on the right track in 2022 as the Clemson product threw for 4,113 yards with 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Jaguars made the playoffs as AFC South champions.

Patriots fans are hoping new offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien can achieve similar success with Jones next season.

The only other QB from the 2021 class who received votes in ESPN's ranking was Justin Fields of the Chicago Bears.

Mac Jones' stock has dropped quite a bit

Jones didn't receive a single vote for ESPN's top 10 list for the second straight year. That's not a huge surprise after his rocky sophomore season, but it's also not a great sign, either.

Jones didn't just fail to make a Year 2 leap, he actually regressed in 2022. Jones threw for 2,997 yards with 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 14 games. He missed three games due to an ankle injury suffered in Week 3. In his defense, the Patriots' offensive coaching setup last season -- Matt Patricia as the de facto OC and Joe Judge as the quarterbacks coach -- was brutal from the start and didn't do him any favors. Now that O'Brien is in the fold, coaching is no longer an excuse.

You could make a strong case that Jones has more pressure on him entering the 2023 campaign than any other quarterback in the AFC.

Not only is there pressure on Jones to lead his team back to the playoffs, he might have to play well just to keep his job. Bailey Zappe impressed in a limited sample as a rookie last season. If Jones struggles out of the gate in September, it's not conceivable to imagine Zappe could get another opportunity.

Jones has to show meaningful improvement next season or the debate over whether he's capable of being this franchise's long-term solution at quarterback will only get more intense.

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