Mac Jones was a three star recruit coming out of high school. He was originally committed to Kentucky, where he likely could have battled for the starting quarterback position earlier in his college career. However, Jones flipped to Alabama before signing day. He was buried down the depth chart, behind Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa and Taulia Tagovailoa. The commitment of 5-star QB Bryce Young in 2019 did not bode well for Mac Jones’ chances of cracking the starting lineup. Jones did, however, get an opportunity late in the 2019 season. With Hurts transferring to Oklahoma and Tua fracturing his hip, Mac Jones became the starter for the Crimson Tide in week 11 against Western Carolina. His first true test would come the next week against Auburn, where he threw a key pick-six that led to a 48-45 loss for Alabama. Jones seemed destined to be the backup to Bryce Young this past season, with no real hopes of being an NFL quarterback. However, he quickly changed that narrative.
Jones threw for 4500 yards, 41 touchdowns, and only 4 interceptions in the 2020 season. He led the nation in passing yards, completion percentage (77.4%), and was second in passing touchdowns. Most importantly, Mac Jones brought Alabama to a National Championship victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes in dominant fashion. Alabama went undefeated and never truly had any challenges this season, in large part due to the play of Mac Jones.
Deep ball accuracy was what helped create one of the most effective offenses in college football history. Mac Jones was able to beat any defense over the top with relative ease. Jones can deliver passes to receivers down the field regardless of how tight the coverage is. He can also increase the velocity on his shorter passes to fit them into tighter windows. He has a great ability to anticipate when his receivers find soft spots in the defense and can put the ball in a spot where the receiver has the best chance to catch it.
Jones also has excellent pocket presence. While he is not as mobile as other quarterbacks in this draft class, such as Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields, Jones is very good at feeling pressure and moving in the pocket. This ability to extend the play is extremely valuable to quarterbacks, as this means they won’t be sacked at the first sign of pressure. Jones can slide to either side in the pocket and sometimes will run the ball himself if he can’t find a receiver down the field. Mobility in the pocket is a great asset to a quarterback at the NFL level.
Jones, however, does have some weaknesses. If he is drafted to a team with a weak offensive line, he may struggle. His accuracy regresses when he throws on the run. When there is nowhere to escape within the pocket, Jones fades away from the defensive pressure and loses his fundamentals. He ends up throwing off his back foot or from a different arm slot, which not many quarterbacks can get away with at the next level. He cannot make this a habit, as it looks very similar to how former Washington Football Team QB Dwayne Haskins plays. Haskins, the 15th overall pick in 2015, was benched and subsequently cut by the WFT due to his poor play. Jones will not succeed if he cannot improve while under pressure.
This leads me to another weakness that many analysts believe is a major issue for Mac Jones’ transition to the NFL: the amount of talent that surrounded him at Alabama. Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith, Henry Ruggs, Najee Harris, Jaylen Waddle, Jedrick Wills are only the first round picks Jones played with in the last two seasons at Alabama. Many more have been and will be drafted in later rounds. The 2020 Alabama offensive line won the Joe Moore award, which is given to the most outstanding line in college football each season. At its skill positions, the offense had Alabama’s all-time leading rusher, the 2020 Biletnikoff award winner and one of the best punt returners in the nation. If Jones were to be drafted to a team with a weak offensive line and few weapons, he could struggle mightily early in his career.
I believe that Mac Jones can have success at the next level. His skillset is equal to that of Tua Tagovailoa, who was drafted 5th overall by the Miami Dolphins last season. However, many analysts have him ranked as the fifth best quarterback in this class. Some don’t think Mac Jones will be drafted in the first round and that teams will opt to select BYU QB Zach Wilson or North Dakota State QB Trey Lance. There is no reason why Trey Lance should be picked higher than Mac Jones. Lance played one game this season due to COVID-19 cancellations and threw for only 149 yards. He has never faced the level of competition that Mac Jones has practiced with and against for the last four seasons.
In my eyes, Mac Jones has an argument to be the third quarterback taken in the draft, even ahead of QB Zach Wilson, who some argue is the second best quarterback in the class. Jones would fit perfectly with the Carolina Panthers, who have a dynamic running back in Christian McCaffrey and speedy wide receivers. Jones also worked with the Panthers coaching staff during Senior Bowl practices. The Panthers have been aggressive in their quarterback search so far this offseason, as they reportedly offered their current quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, to both the Texans and Lions. Jones could be the answer for the Panthers and allows them to keep their draft capital instead of trading Bridgewater + picks for a veteran quarterback. I believe that the Panthers can and will select Mac Jones with the 8th overall pick.