The most polarizing QB prospect of the 2021 NFL Draft class, Alabama’s Mac Jones also has one of the broadest draft projections of the top quarterbacks. From potentially a top-three overall pick to a late first-round selection, several teams could be vying to bring in Jones to lead their franchise.
Mac Jones’ 2021 NFL Draft projection
As 50 cent once said, “love him or hate him the underdogs on top.” That is precisely where Mac Jones finds himself. An underdog at Alabama as he took over the reins from a Heisman Trophy winner in Tua Tagovailoa, Jones knew he would be under a spotlight only reserved for the QB of Alabama.
Jones played well, but he also dominated at times as he led the Crimson Tide to a national championship. The Alabama signal-caller completed 311 of 402 passes for 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns, and just 4 picks in his 2020 campaign.
The lone knock on Jones and what is keeping his draft projection influx is his lack of athleticism. While the awareness in the pocket can help him keep plays alive, once it breaks down, that’s where it is likely to end at the next level. Nevertheless, it has not stopped Jones’ stock from rising as high as potentially the No. 3 overall pick.
Best landing spots for Jones
Realistically, Jones is the QB5 of this class and is graded as such by PFN’s Chief Draft Analyst and NFL Insider Tony Pauline with a first-round draft projection as the No. 23 overall prospect on his big board.
San Francisco 49ers
No point in burying the lead here as this landing spot has garnered the most criticism. Following their trade with the Miami Dolphins for the No. 3 selection, the 49ers have their eyes set on a particular QB to run Kyle Shanahan‘s offense. The early front-runner, if you believed the speculations, was Jones. From a scheme fit, it does make sense. In a recent report, Pauline indicated that the 49ers appeared to have narrowed down their choice to either Jones or NDSU QB Trey Lance.
Jones is as accurate as any QB in this class and can make split-second decisions even in tight windows. Shanahan’s offense is predicated on getting playmakers in space and moving the ball with yards after the catch. Once again, that fits Jones’ strengths to a T. The issue is Jones lacks the ceiling of other QBs in that range, and if they wanted Jones, a move as drastic as the one they pulled off likely wouldn’t have been necessary.
With that being said, the quarterback is the most vital position in sports. If they believe Jones is the best player to run their offense, that’s all that matters. At the end of the day, what we think does not influence front offices no matter how many times you tag them on Twitter and forget to turn off caps lock.
Washington Football Team
We all love Ryan Fitzpatrick, but Washington knows he is not the long-term answer. They are a team we expect to be heavily involved in the QB market come draft day. However, Washington will likely need to make a trade up to land one of the big five. Should Jones still be on the board past pick No. 7, Washington may pounce at the chance.
They have a defense that carried them to the playoffs and almost knocked off the eventual Super Bowl champions with Taylor Heinicke under center and just one wide receiver. Not only did Washington bolster their secondary, but they also signed Curtis Samuel to pair with Terry McLaurin. Teams will struggle to score against them, and Jones could be the piece they need to take the next step as they continue to re-write the organization’s culture.
How do the Broncos feel about Drew Lock? That is the million-dollar question.
Are two partial seasons enough to make this decision, or are they willing to give Lock another year? No one is certain, but should they look elsewhere, Jones might fall into their laps at pick No. 9. They’re in the perfect spot to address any of their needs and are a team full of young talent. Pauline indicated in a recent report that the Broncos were not looking to trade up for a QB, and would be willing to take Jones if he fell into their lap with the ninth overall selection.
Jerry Jeudy and Noah Fant have the potential to be stars in this league. Let’s not forget Courtland Sutton will be making his return from a torn ACL in 2021. Despite not having the arm strength of Lock, Jones throws with precision, pace, and shows a great sense of timing. Jones is willing to take deep shots but won’t make the unnecessary turnovers that have plagued Lock’s young career.
Name the quarterback and the Steelers need to be in the conversation for them in the NFL Draft. Ben Roethlisberger‘s return bailed out the team, and they currently do not have a QB under contract beyond 2021. For as great of a coach as Mike Tomlin is, his biggest flaw has been finding the eventual successor to Roethlisberger. After all, he was on the roster before Tomlin even got there, thanks to Bill Cowher.
Although JuJu Smith-Schuster is back for the 2021 season, it’s hard to see him playing beyond this season. Still, the Steelers are in great shape at the receiver position as Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool appear ready to take the next step in their progression.
Jones would have the ability to sit for a year under Roethlisberger and then become the starter. Yet, to make this a reality, the Steelers would need to make a massive move up the draft boards. Given the vast amount of needs, a trade of that proportion may be out of the question.
New England Patriots
The Patriots made massive waves during free agency as they tried to add playmakers to their offense. They also re-signed Cam Newton to a one-year deal as the tumultuous 2020 season makes it difficult to judge his fit with the organization.
The question is if Bill Belichick believes Jones has the tools to run their offense for the foreseeable future. Given his noticeable reactions while at Alabama’s Pro Day, he did not seem overly thrilled, but when has he ever?
If there is anything Belichick hates more than sleeves on hoodies, it is turnovers and inconsistent play. That wouldn’t be an issue with Jones, who completed 77% of his passes and had an interception rate of just 0.9%, second only to Trey Lance among the top five QBs in 2020. Reports on Monday of draft week discussed the Patriots as one of the teams who had been calling about a potential move inside the top 10.
With Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, the Patriots will presumably run a league-high rate of 12 personnel. New England changed their offensive philosophy to fit Newton’s skill set and would do the same thing for Jones, making this possibly his best landing spot.
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Tommy Garrett is a writer for Pro Football Network covering the NFL and fantasy football. You can read more of his work here and follow him at @TommygarrettPFN on Twitter.