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We don’t need to make excuses why Mac Jones is good.
Praise for Mac Jones always seems to be couched in caveats. Ever present justifications why he’s really not that good, or that his success is due to the Patriots’ scheme rather than his own talent. This analysis is partially true, but bending over backwards to come up with reasons to disparage Jones during a successful rookie campaign simply isn’t helpful. At worst, it’s a disingenuous attempt to protect preconceived notions from before the draft.
What makes Jones’ situation so interesting is that he was drafted by the perfect team to complement the skills he has. It’s not dissimilar to Kyler Murray, who benefitted beyond measure from being selected to pilot Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense. So why is the perception of these two players so different? What is Mac Jones doing that no other rookie in the 2021 class could have? Let’s get into it.
What the Patriots are doing to help Mac Jones
There are a lot of factors into why Jones is thriving, but the biggest difference between Jones and the rest of the rookie class is protection. The NFL has a serious protection problem right now that’s not really being discussed.
In recent years stalwart offensive tackles and guards retired from the league, and despite numerous high-profile prospects entering the fray, few actually panned out. As a result the line play as a whole in the league is pretty poor, making it a feeding frenzy for pass rushers. The Patriots, unlike the Jaguars, Jets or Bears, all of whom are starting rookie QBs, is that New England had a line to help Jones build some confidence. That doesn’t mean he’s not getting sacked, in fact, he’s been brought down 24 times this season — but there hasn’t been nearly the amount of pressure others have faced.
Rookie QB pressure rate
Zach Wilson: 26.2%
Trevor Lawrence: 21.8%
Justin Fields: 20.7%
Mac Jones: 17.7%
This equates to roughly 20-25 less pressures for Jones this season than the nearest rookie. That’s almost a full game of fewer pressures. That matters a lot.
The other major aspect to Jones thriving is is how the Patriots aren’t asking him to throw too far downfield. Jones has 5.4 completed air yards per throw, 28th in the NFL. This means his passes only travel on average 5.4 yards through the air before the catch, but before you think this means Jones can’t throw deep, consider that Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes both have lower air yards ratings this season, and Tom Brady is just 0.3 yards more.
So in short, good protection, not asking too much — but that isn’t a reason to denigrate Jones, because some of the league’s best QBs are doing it.
What Mac Jones is doing to help the Patriots
Executing a vision is critically important too, and despite the misconception being that more air yards equals more skill, it actually takes a lot of processing and understanding at the point of attack to excel.
Jones has been simply brilliant at processing the field after the snap and finding soft spots in the defense. Despite his low air yards, the yards-after-catch he’s helped create are excellent as a rookie. He’s averaging 5.3 yards YAC this season, which is first among rookies and puts him in the same ballpark as Brady (5.4), Kyler Murray (5.6) and Matthew Stafford (5.6).
There are intangibles too. Jones is carrying himself like a veteran on the field and inspiring faith from the teammates around him. Clearly he’s done enough to have teammates buy in, and that’s of critical importance to making a playoff run this season.
How far can this take New England in 2021?
There’s little doubt that the Patriots are one of the hottest teams in the NFL now. After their huge win over Tennessee this week, the Patriots are quickly becoming favorites in the AFC — much to the chagrin of everyone else.
This was not supposed to happen, at least not yet. Mac Jones was a rookie QB entering a team as a project and expected to sit for a year and prepare to be the player of the future. So far he’s done enough not only to put the team on his back, but become regarded as one of the best young quarterbacks in the league in his first season.
Jones and the Patriots were made for each other. The scary part: This is only the beginning. So, it’ll be easier if everyone just accepts that Mac Jones really is that damn good, instead of trying to justify why he’s actually bad, then have to play catchup later.