The highest-echelon quarterbacks are ultimately the ones who see teams clamor for their services in April each year, but there exists a stable market for signal-callers in the tier below as well. Quarterbacks graded from rounds two to four have NFL utility, either as developmental starters or quality security blankets. Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, a fast-rising NFL Draft prospect, has traits that fit in both categories.
Mac Jones NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 214 pounds
Current Year: Redshirt Junior
Few can say they quarterbacked the legendary Alabama Crimson Tide, but that’s a distinction Mac Jones can boast with pride. Interestingly enough, he wasn’t one of the most coveted quarterback prospects in his recruiting class. Still, a solid player, Jones was only the 17th-best quarterback in the 2017 class, behind other less appealing college passers such as Hunter Johnson, Sean Clifford, Jack Sears, Dylan McCaffrey, Tommy Devito, and Chase Brice.
Arriving on campus
Jones would ultimately redshirt his first season with the Crimson Tide, and in 2018, he saw minimal action, throwing just 13 passes, of which he completed five for 123 yards and a touchdown. The emergence of Tua Tagovailoa prevented Jones from challenging for the starting role. Still, in 2019, after Tagovailoa suffered a season-ending hip injury, Jones was thrust into the spotlight, suddenly taking on the helm of one of college football’s elite offensive units.
Jones only threw more than ten passes in five games with the Crimson Tide in 2019, but he did enough to earn some notoriety nationwide, completing 97 of his 141 pass attempts for 1,503 yards, 14 scores, and just three interceptions. After Tagovailoa entered the 2020 NFL Draft, Jones retained the full confidence of head coach Nick Saban and entered the 2020 season as the unquestioned starter.
The performance of Jones down the stretch in 2019 earned him respect in college football scouting circles. Still, he wasn’t legitimately considered an ascending 2021 NFL Draft prospect until he carried over his success into the 2020 season. Jones has somehow taken his efficiency numbers to new heights in 2020. His level of play has scouts diving deeper into his physical pallet of traits to assess whether or not he can be a viable passer at the NFL level as a backup or as a starter.
Mac Jones dominates in national championship game, but draft questions remain
The Alabama Crimson Tide defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes 52-24 in the national championship. Mac Jones was one of the driving forces for the blowout. On the day, Jones completed 36 of 45 passes for 464 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions. We didn’t see anything new from Jones, but he again proved his upside as a high-level distributor. He was smart, decisive, quick with his processing, and when in rhythm, he delivered passes with velocity and accuracy.
Jones’ placement was especially impressive against Ohio State. On short RAC throws, he delivered passes that allowed receivers to catch in stride, without sacrificing any momentum. And throwing down the field, Jones passed with good touch and pace. Jones also showed a bit of craftiness in his game. On one play in the first half, Jones started to run into open field, then dished it off to a receiver on a nearby drag route once he had the linebackers’ attention.
What questions remain for Jones after a dominant campaign?
Jones is smart, competitive, and has adequate throwing tools. The questions remain surrounding his athleticism and elevation ability, however. He received stellar protection from his line over the entire season. He also had the best supporting cast in college football by far. When he has to evade rushers and keep plays alive, Jones’ ability ends with his pocket awareness. Once the pocket breaks, Jones doesn’t have the athleticism to extend consistently, and that lack of creation ability is a cap on his upside.
Nevertheless, the distributor mold at quarterback is still alive and well, even if it’s fading. Jones has potential within that prototype. The Alabama quarterback completed 311 of 402 passes for 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns, and just four picks in the 2020 season. With the depth of the 2021 quarterback class in question, Jones has by far the best chance to be QB5. And depending on how teams view his upside, he could be a first-round pick.
Mac Jones’ accuracy stands out in SEC Championship victory
Mac Jones keeps passing tests. Saturday’s SEC Championship game might have been his best performance yet, and his NFL upside was most visible in this contest.
Jones tore apart the Florida defense. He completed 33 of 43 passes for 418 yards, five touchdowns, and one interception. In the process, he outdueled fellow 2021 NFL Draft prospect Kyle Trask, and proved on a shared stage that he owns the stronger NFL Draft profile.
Appreciating both the pros and cons from the all-important game
Jones’ athleticism still concerns me a bit. As a distributor, however, he’s no doubt improved over the course of the season. As he continues to get more and more comfortable, Jones looks smoother and more confident. By extension, he’s putting a lot of heat on his throws, and he’s passing with impressive natural accuracy.
Jones had the confidence to take risks on Saturday, and several times, he fit the ball into a closing window between defenders. On several instances, Jones looped the ball perfectly over underneath defenders, hitting receivers in stride to maximize run-after-catch potential. A few throws were behind their intended targets, including Jones’ interception, but his accuracy is undoubtedly a massive strength when he’s in rhythm.
I still have some qualms with Jones. He can be a bit clunky with his footwork, and there are times where he can give away his intentions by locking his shoulders toward his target area. But Jones can be a starter in the NFL. And for a team with a solid offensive line and supporting cast, he could be productive.
Mac Jones has an easy day at work in the win against Arkansas
The Week 15 Alabama-Arkansas game won’t contain any major citation for teams when evaluating Mac Jones. It was a relatively inconsequential day for the quarterback. He contributed no touchdowns to the team’s 52-point outburst and logged just 208 yards on 24 completions and 29 attempts.
Can scouts glean anything from the performance?
Much of the preconceived truths about Jones were visible in his contributions on Saturday. When he did pass the ball, Jones showed off some intriguing traits. As a rhythm passer, he’s proficient, and he’s able to generate solid velocity to the short and intermediate ranges. I’d like to see more elasticity and trajectory manipulation on downfield throws that require more touch, but there are some tools to work with, even if Jones isn’t the best athlete.
Jones’ Arkansas game might serve as the calm before the storm. His closing stretch in the 2020 season will be much more important for his 2021 NFL Draft stock. First, Jones has a battle with fellow quarterback prospect Kyle Trask in the SEC Championship Game, and pending the results of that game, he’ll have a playoff appearance, in which he’ll be under increased scrutiny.
Jones has superior traits to Trask as a passer (although that’s a low bar to clear), but his head-to-head performance against the Florida passer will be of great interest. Can Jones outduel the Gators’ record-breaking signal-caller and show off elevation potential in the ensuing playoff run? If Jones finishes strong, he could get more Round 1 buzz. He’s the closest to being QB5. It’s just a matter of selling himself.
Mac Jones deals in decisive victory over the LSU Tigers
I’ve been harsh on Mac Jones this season. The paradigm shift at quarterback is valuable to me. Teams will start to look for quarterbacks who can proactively create plays.
Mac Jones doesn’t fit that profile. But he does show some flashes that make you pause and wonder about his potential as a high-level distributor, as he did this past week against the LSU Tigers.
Jones shows off several NFL-quality traits under center
Against LSU, Jones was sensational. While DeVonta Smith deserves a lot of credit for the explosive day that Alabama’s passing offense had, Jones was doing his part by being extremely accurate down the field and hitting targets with velocity in the short and intermediate ranges.
In the past, I’ve lamented at Jones’ moments of inconsistency in the intermediate and deep ranges. There are times where he underthrows his target and forces them to come back on the play. But on Saturday, Jones put almost a half dozen throws on film that showed him accurately dropping the pass into his target’s lane and showed him delivering the ball with nice touch and speed.
When at his best, Jones gives off shades of an underrated NFL passer
There’s not much one can do about Jones’ middling athleticism. Still, if he can continue to perfect the mental part of his game and continue to time his throws effectively while maintaining good mechanics, he could have a future as a starter. It’s not a perfect comparison, but certain habits of Jones’ remind me of current Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Both quarterbacks are 6-foot-3 and a little on the lean side for the position, and both are average to below-average athletes who don’t often create for themselves in off-script situations. But like Cousins, Jones has a crisp plant of his back foot, and he’s very reliable in pocket mechanics and pocket poise. Both Cousins and Jones fit the facilitator mold at quarterback, but Cousins and many others have shown that facilitators, while not the preferred mold in the modern NFL, can be productive starters.
When Jones has to force throws downfield off-platform, that’s when he’ll see those throws fall short. But when his base is set, and his upper body is loose, he can crank throws downfield with pace. Much of that is the same with Cousins, who can generate surprising velocity when he’s in rhythm while not equipped with elite tools.
The similarities to Cousins might seem underwhelming at first. Still, Cousins is currently Pro Football Network’s second-ranked quarterback by the Offensive Value Metric. Despite poor game scripts and inconsistent defense, he’s rebounded from a slow start and helped Minnesota return to playoff relevance. Mac Jones will have more to prove once as he approaches the 2021 NFL Draft, but there’s a path to success for him.
Mac Jones has season-best outing against Auburn Tigers, inching closer towards NFL Draft
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones had his season-best performance against the Auburn Tigers on Saturday, completing 18 of 26 passes for 302 yards and five touchdowns.
Arm talent vs. athleticism
At this point, we’ve established that Jones is a bad athlete, and he only has a good arm. Those two facts were again evident last weekend. Jones underthrew his receivers at times. On one particular play at the start of the second half, he scrambled for a first down but looked incredibly stiff, stopping his forward momentum.
There are two types of quarterbacks: those who create and those who don’t. The modern NFL is quickening its pace as it trends toward the former. Jones is not a quarterback who can create. But as we saw on Saturday, when he’s on, he does have fringe starting potential as a high-level distributor.
Jones and navigating the pocket
Some of Jones’ best traits are his field-reading ability and his poise in the pocket when under pressure. He’s able to stand tall and follow his progressions, and when he’s on platform, his mechanically-fluid throwing motion allows him to fit the ball into some tight windows and baskets with pace and touch.
His throws will rarely be quantified as elite in terms of velocity, but Jones has enough natural accuracy to be a viable passer. Things will have to go right more often than not, but on an individual level, Jones has some traits to like as a potential high-floor, low-ceiling starter with long-term backup potential. Quarterbacks like Jones can find long-term roles in the NFL, even if those roles aren’t the most lucrative.
Mac Jones again magnifies polarizing traits in easy Kentucky win
The Mac Jones experience is proving to be a repetitive one as the redshirt junior grows closer to a first-round run at the 2021 NFL Draft. Statistically, Jones has been excellent this year. He’s completing 77.1 percent of his passes and averaging 12.1 yards per attempt. Through seven games, he’s thrown 18 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
But the story is essentially the same for Jones almost every week. As efficient as he’s been, he hasn’t had to do much on his own this season, and there’s rarely been a situation where he’s had to will the talented Alabama roster to a win. The closest such scenario would be the team’s game against Ole Miss, a contest they still won by fifteen points. In contrast with other passers, Alabama is not dependent on Jones to succeed, both by lack of necessity and design. Jones’ profile gives credence to this fact.
Alabama’s most recent clash with the Kentucky Wildcats followed the script, in this sense; Alabama won 63-3, scoring 56 unanswered points to close out the game. Jones only completed 16 of 24 passes for 230 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception despite the waterfall of scoring. Jones helped the Crimson Tide get ahead early, but he didn’t have to do much beyond that.
Of course, Jones did have his good moments. Perhaps his best one was his red zone touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith. Jones rolled out to his left after surveying the end zone for a moment, then set his feet near the left boundary, squared his shoulders, and delivered a tight-window dart to Smith, who was blanketed. Jones fit the ball right where it needed to be, showing that when he’s in rhythm and when he checks all the mechanical boxes, he can pass with relative velocity and accuracy.
But Jones’ day was also marred by his clear limitations, particularly evident in his interception. Jones pushed the ball downfield on that turnover, trying to give Smith a one-on-one chance deep down the sideline. However, Jones failed as he drastically under-threw the ball, leading the cornerback back into the play and actively taking away Smith’s leverage. Smith tried to contort backward to corral the pass, but the defender blocked him out and picked it off.
With the college football season entering its twilight stages, the book on Jones hasn’t changed much. He has a decent arm, and he’s clearly a smart passer with some appealing mental traits. Even in structure, he has limitations with his athleticism and pure arm strength that will put a cap on his NFL potential. The college football playoffs may provide Jones with an opportunity to put his team on his back for the first time this year. The context may not change very much beyond this point.
Mac Jones’ four-touchdown Week 10 performance accentuates polarizing profile
The box score shows four passing touchdowns for Mac Jones against the Mississippi State Bulldogs. It’s an accurate barometer of his performance, in a sense. Jones again had an excellent outing, leading his team to a 41-0 win over Mike Leach’s squad. Diagnostically, however, the same positive and negative caveats were there for Jones, and Jones’ game accentuated the potentially polarizing nature of his draft profile. Scouts will have to separate his stats from his skills when finalizing his round projection in 2021.
When he has time to set his feet, Jones can make some impressive throws, such as the dropped touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith in the first quarter, where Jones dropped it into a bucket in the corner of the end zone. But in the NFL, where Jones will face direct adversity at a higher frequency, he may not fare as well. His off-script traits are lacking; he has below-average mobility outside the pocket, and inside the pocket, while serviceable, he’s not particularly elusive. Additionally, he doesn’t have the arm elasticity to generate velocity off-platform and many of his under-throws result from pressure.
With that being said, just as Jones’ limitations were visible, so were his strengths. He’s decisive and sees the field well, and shows the ability to adjust his ball placement to attune to the receiver when he controls the play. But the Alabama offense clearly does a good job of masking Jones’ limitations, and in the NFL, he may not have that luxury.
Mac Jones conducts Alabama offense with efficiency through five games
Questions were surrounding whether or not Mac Jones would keep up his production ahead of the NFL Draft. So far in 2020, he’s done just that. Through five games against SEC opponents, Jones has completed 115 of his 146 pass attempts (78.8%) for 1,887 yards, 12 touchdowns, and two interceptions.
Jones has clearly exceeded expectations for the Crimson Tide, and his hot start has some analysts pondering whether or not he should be in the first-round conversation at quarterback. There exists a fairly well-established group at the top consisting of Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and Trey Lance, and Brigham Young signal-caller Zach Wilson is quickly rising to that level. But behind those four, the last spot in the top five is up for grabs, and Jones looks to be one of the top candidates for that position.
Traits in spades
Jones clearly has some appealing traits as a quarterback. He’s smart, he generally makes good decisions, and he has good rhythm in the pocket. Much of the questions surrounding his profile will be oriented more toward his physical skill set, however.
Jones’ arm is good-not-great, and he has impressive accuracy in the short range. He shows flashes of touch and push, but he under-throws intermediate and deep balls at a high enough clip to warrant concern, at least if he’s being viewed as a potential Round 1 quarterback. He has enough torque to generate good velocity, but there’s a clear cap on his arm strength, nonetheless.
There’s also the issue of Jones’ supporting cast; while he himself is having an outstanding season, he’s also the beneficiary of one of college football’s best offensive units. When the offseason comes around, scouts will have to decipher how much of Jones’ success can be attributed to him alone. It’s not to take credit away from Jones. It’s instead to accurately quantify his potential because limited QBs have been over-drafted after flourishing in favorable circumstances.
Mac Jones’ best NFL Draft fits
It’s important not to scout the helmet; every passer is different. But it is a known fact that sometimes, talent at a school can disguise a quarterback’s shortcomings. Jones might not be the best example, as he does have some redeeming traits. His problems are exacerbated by added pressure in the NFL. Thus, Mac Jones’ NFL Draft projection becomes a little more complicated.
For now, I see Jones as a solid mid-round quarterback, who will probably end up being a Day 2 pick. With that being said, I could see an NFL team convincing themselves to pick him late in round 1, and if he keeps up his current trajectory, more teams will be comfortable banking on his high floor. But Jones’ athletic limitations and off-script inconsistencies collectively cap his upside, and he’ll never challenge the top four quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft.
As mentioned above, I could see a team like the Bears go for Jones at the tail end of round 1, or the Jaguars with their later first-round pick if they can’t get a quarterback in the top ten. But those aren’t the best fits. The best fit for Jones might be with a potentially quarterback-needy team with a relatively strong supporting cast. The Steelers, Buccaneers, or Saints come to mind. Reasonably, he’d be a better target in round 2 or round 3. Jones offers potential starting capability. He’ll have to go to a team that provides him consistent support, just as Alabama does now.