As we move through college pro days, I continue my in-depth study of the quarterback position related to the 2021 NFL Draft. For this second edition of breaking down this year’s top passers, I’ll begin with an explanation of my evaluation process followed by a film analysis of Alabama QB Mac Jones.
In 2020, Jones completed 77.4% of his pass attempts for exactly 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns. On 402 attempts, he threw just 4 interceptions and led all Division-I quarterbacks with a 203.1 rating. For his career, Jones participated in 30 total games throwing for 6,126 yards and 56 touchdowns.
Although Jones started just 17 games in his collegiate career, leading the Crimson Tide to its 18th national championship has him in the first-round discussion come April 29th. How legitimate are those conversations? That’s what I hope to find out.
Mac Jones Film: Introduction to the process
When it comes to evaluating young quarterbacks, there are five major characteristics I’m looking for. They are awareness, competitiveness, arm talent, mechanics, and arm strength. And with each major attribute, I will be looking for several sub-traits therein.
Measurables do play a role, but they’re my “cherry on top” following film analysis. Therefore, I’ll discuss Mac Jones’ size, athleticism (or lack of), and production in a limited capacity — especially with much of that information being unofficial at this time.
With that said, let’s get this Mac Jones film analysis started with a list of the games I used for the evaluation process. I began by watching 2019’s Citrus Bowl against the Michigan Wolverines. From there, I studied four games from the 2020 season, which includes contests against Mississipi State, Georgia, the SEC Championship versus Flordia, and College Football Playoff Semifinal with Notre Dame.
The Five Major Characteristics
First, and most importantly, I need to see mental awareness. How football savvy is he? Regarding football intelligence, I want to see some semblance of identifying coverage, solid decision-making, and poise when things amp up or break down. Why do I hold awareness so high in my evaluation? High football intellect can mask a multitude of physical shortfalls. See Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.
Despite playing a little over one season at Alabama, Mac Jones put many throws on film for my analysis. His intelligence level puts him on par with the rest of the quarterback class. From just a few plays on the above clip, you’ll see plenty of instances of solid decision-making, throwing with anticipation, and doing so at a high processing speed.
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. While Jones has many examples of patience and poise, there are some concerning moments where you feel Alabama has spoiled him. He’s constantly targeting elite receivers and given ample time to assess the field. But when receivers do not create immediate separation or the pocket collapses, Jones can sometimes revert to a panicky, inaccurate thrower of the football.
Secondly, my desired quarterback must ooze unwavering competitiveness. Within that, I’m looking for leadership traits exuded by actions and performance through both preparation and gameplay. Is this kid clutch? How does he handle getting hit or making mistakes? If I’m running an offense, I need to know the signal-caller takes charge, is mentally and physically tough, and loves to play football.
When previous Alabama starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was lost for the 2019 season, Mac Jones stepped in to start the final four games of the year. Not only did he step in, but he filled the role admirably.
As a redshirt sophomore, Jones completed nearly 70% of his throws for 14 scores and 3 interceptions. The fact he found immediate success after being thrust under center shows me the guy prepares well. Anyone can get ready to play. But who gets ready when they probably won’t?
And while Jones was mostly upright in his time in Tuscaloosa (save the Citrus Bowl), the guy is endearingly tough. He’s only 22 years old but emits a maturity beyond his years. Sure, his teammates have nothing but good things to say with the draft upcoming, but it echoes the same sentiment shared throughout the 2020 season. Jones is a great leader and teammate, and should be a consummate pro.
My third most important trait for the quarterback position is natural accuracy. I’m not talking about completion percentages here. While throws are being completed, the manner in which a ball is located can significantly alter a play’s result — for better or worse.
When watching Mac Jones’ film, do his throws leave yards on the field with off-target passes? In other words, I have to know that my quarterback has sufficient arm talent to lead his receivers and add proper touch when necessary to optimize play execution.
Jones’ accuracy is definitely tied to his preparation. The reason his ball location is so good up to 15 yards, especially in the screen game, comes from repetition. Sure, there’s natural talent sprinkled within that, but the more Jones can rely on timing and route consistency, the better.
At the NFL level, I can see Jones thriving in a quick-throw system with plenty of play-action. We already know he has the smarts to determine a mismatch and deliver the quick hitter. That’s where I’d take advantage. Of course, he’ll need a few teammates who are dangerous in space to make a living off of it.
And as far as touch goes, he does a decent job of using it when necessary. However, he also uses it when it’s not necessary. I’ll talk more about that later.
The fourth characteristic to review is a player’s position-centric movements. When it comes to quarterbacks, I’ll be looking at their drop, setup, and release.
A passer’s footwork and throwing motion play a pivotal role in timing, accuracy, and pocket mobility. We’ll also touch on athleticism and escapability in this section. But let it be known, being athletic doesn’t always mean fewer sacks — and vice versa. See Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger.
For the most part, Mac Jones’ film is clean from a footwork perspective. There are some shuffling and panicky movements here and there, but overall, he moves well while keeping his eyes downfield.
Where he gets into trouble is when he changes the pitch. It’s as if there’s too much reliance on the upper body for added velocity when it’s, in fact, the lower portion of the trunk that gives throws some sauce. I’m sure he’s already on a fast track toward making his rotation more consistent.
And like most less athletic passers, Jones relies on subtle movements to avoid pass rushers and remain tall in the pocket. In the five games studied, he shows me he can get the job done despite the noise around him. There are moments where he extends plays similar to Philip Rivers. And like Rivers, he displays an innate internal clock.
The fifth and final main attribute to consider is throwing with velocity. As discussed with accuracy, catchable throws off-platform don’t necessarily require a strong arm. In general, arm strength makes all throws easier. And with the added speed of players at the next level, quarterbacks are often asked to throw into tight windows that close as quickly as they unfold.
We’ll dissect Mac Jones’ deep ball for this portion of the film analysis, zip on passes outside the numbers, and tight-window throws.
To piggyback from previous breakdowns, Mac Jones’ accuracy fades as his throw’s velocity increases. While this is typical for many quarterbacks, Jones’ optimal strength isn’t all that impressive to begin with. So don’t expect him to throw across his body or deep downfield with any consistency in the NFL.
If Jones can clean up some of his mechanics and get physically stronger, I imagine 40-50-yard tosses could become a new reality. However, Jones already has ample experience throwing to NFL talent, and he often struggled to hit them in stride.
Conclusion on Mac Jones’ film study
With only one full college season under center, Mac Jones led his team to the college football playoffs and a subsequent national championship. One thing is for sure — the guy is a proven winner.
Sure, make every excuse as to why any quarterback in his position could’ve won, but that’s no real argument. Both NFL QBs Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts failed to put together an entire championship run at Alabama despite their talent levels and supporting casts.
According to information online, Jones stands at a respectable 6-feet-3 and 214 pounds. And while he carries himself like a three-year starter who just turned 24, he won’t be 23 until the 2021 NFL season is already underway, which is a big positive considering his lack of collegiate experience.
But there are unfortunate limits to his game. While I’m yet to scout several big-name prospects, Jones’ ceiling may be as low as any of them. The good news? Well, the good news is I don’t believe his floor is that far removed from his potential. As long as his new offensive coordinator takes advantage of his decisiveness and accuracy within the quick game, I could see him helping a middle-of-the-road team improve their record from a year ago.
Based on my film analysis of Mac Jones, there are some nuances to his physical game that need attention. Mentally, he’s done well, but playing more will only further benefit him in that area. While I can see someone snagging him late in the first round, I’d feel more comfortable taking him early on Day 2.
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