If numbers don't lie then Mac Jones is an elite quarterback prospect. Right? He completed 77.4% of his passes at a phenomenal 11.2 yards-per-attempt average with 41 touchdowns, four interceptions and just 10 sacks all season in Alabama's perfect 13-0 campaign.
Having watched his film, I can confidently tell you -- he's not an elite prospect. But before I explain the reasons why, let's not get anything twisted. I respect Jones for the job he did taking over for an injured Tua Tagovailoa in 2019, and there's no doubting he deserves praise for the season he compiled on the most explosive Alabama offense in the storied program's history en route to a national title.
He belongs somewhere relatively early in the 2021 draft. His film is littered with impressive, pinpoint accurate throws to all levels of the field, and every once in a while one of those throws happened after he navigated chaos well inside the pocket. Jones has accuracy and pocket-drifting skills going for him, and they're important traits to have in the toolbox as a quarterback enters the NFL.
The question with Jones is -- how early should he be picked? Top half of the first round? In the first round at all? Day 2? I'd lean toward the latter. Let me explain why.
Numbers can lie, and context is the polygraph test.
Of Jones' 424 attempts this season, 145 of them were thrown to pass-catchers at or behind the line of scrimmage, good for a rate of 34.1%. That's high. Really high.
Here's how first-round quarterbacks picked in the past two drafts compare in that statistical category:
- Joe Burrow (LSU '19) - 16.6%
- Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama '19) - 31.7%
- Justin Herbert (Oregon '19) - 28.9%
- Jordan Love (Utah State '19) - 28.5%
- Kyler Murray (Oklahoma '18) - 31.2%
- Daniel Jones (Duke '18) - 22.1%
- Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State '18) - 25.7%
It was impossible not to marvel at the skill-position talent at Alabama this season -- and really over the past five years or so -- skill-position talent that routinely took a two-yard drag route and morphed it into a 50-yard touchdown or blew past man coverage down the sideline for field-flipping gain.
Of Jones' 4,500 passing yards, more than half (53.5%) was via yards after the catch. And absolutely, YAC can sometimes be aided by a super-accurate pass or a quarterback throwing to the right receiver in rhythm. Jones did those things in 2020 for the Crimson Tide. But check how his YAC percentage of 53.5 compares to those same group of recent Round 1 passers:
- Joe Burrow (LSU '19) - 45.6%
- Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama '19) - 60.7%
- Justin Herbert (Oregon '19) - 52.7%
- Jordan Love (Utah State '19) - 43.7%
- Kyler Murray (Oklahoma '18) - 48.3%
- Daniel Jones (Duke '18) - 50.4%
- Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State '18) - 51.5%
The Alabama quarterbacks, Jones and Tagovailoa, having the highest rates, suggests it's a scheme thing. And it most certainly is. But I also don't feel nearly as good about Tagovailoa's future after what he showed as a rookie compared to how I felt before the 2020 draft. His perfect environment with the Crimson Tide, only slightly above-average athleticism and limited arm talent were my biggest concerns with Tagovailoa as a prospect, although I loved his accuracy, anticipation, and decision-making.
And who do a lot of those concerns describe?
Jones. I actually do believe he's put more high-caliber pocket drifts on film than Tagovailoa did before his injury last season, but he's not as athletic, and his arm talent isn't as impressive.
In 2020, only 11.3% of Jones pass attempts were made out of the pocket -- again, scheme -- but that low figure does hint at his lack of playmaking ability, a skill becoming increasingly important to the modern-day quarterback. For comparison, Justin Fields, who many rightfully criticize for some awkward improvisations, threw 21.5% of his passes outside of the friendly confines of the pocket this season.
Could Jones land on a good team late in Round 1, sit for a season, and ultimately become a successful passer? Yes. But he's going to need a lot of assets around him. Sturdy offensive line, deep and dynamic group of receivers, and an innovative offensive coordinator who's not going to ask Jones to make too many tight-window throws and will accentuate the screen and RPO games. Take any of those elements away, and Jones is likely to crumble because of his lack of supreme physical traits.
Now, to me, that doesn't describe a quarterback I want to pick in the first round. Round 2 or Round 3? That seems about right. But, after the season and career Jones had, there's a good chance he'll be selected within the first 32 picks in late April.
(All advanced stats courtesy of TruMedia unless otherwise noted*)