Mac Jones Rookie Review

April 3, 2022
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Just how well did Mac Jones fare in his first season in the NFL?

Bursting Onto the Scene

If we flashback to the 2021 NFL Draft there was a lot of attention surrounding incoming rookies – stud QB prospects Trevor Lawrence and Trey Lance. Several high-profile pass-catchers like Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, and Devonta Smith. Kyle Pitts is an uber-athletic receiver listed as a Tight End. A known bell-cow back in Najee Harris.

One name that constantly flew under the radar: Mac Jones. Maybe everyone expected the Patriots would select him if available at #15. But all eyes were on the other stars as Jones ended up being the fifth quarterback selected.

Jones not only proved that he belonged, but that he belonged in the star conversation as well. The Patriots’ rookie signal-caller went above and beyond what was asked of him upon arriving in New England. He recorded 3801 passing yards, 22 TDs, 13 Ints, and a QBR (Quarterback Rating) of 50.9.

Perhaps more important than the numbers was that Jones was able to lead the team back to the postseason, just two years after the departure of  Patriot legend Tom Brady. Many fans were worried about the short-term future. However, Mac Jones helped bring his team back to the playoff stage in just his rookie season.

Jones’ ability to lead the team and make smart plays on the field was clearly evident during the season. But let’s dive into what made Mac so successful last year and where he stacked up among the league’s best.

Taking Care of the Ball

Although Jones threw 13 interceptions during his rookie season, he still did a great job taking care of the ball compared to his rookie counterparts.  Everyone knows Trevor Lawrence struggled in his inaugural season with the Jaguars. He threw 17 Ints which tied him with Matt Stafford for the most in the league. However, a similar story unfolds when going down the list at the rookies who did not play or start in all 17 games. Zach Wilson threw 11 Ints in his 13 games. Justin Fields and Davis Mills both threw 10, while only starting 10 and 11 games respectively (though both played parts of two other games). 

Having more pass attempts undoubtedly increases the chance of more interceptions. But INT percentage backs up Jones’ incredible first year. Though Mac’s 13 interceptions sound like a lot, looking at his INT% is telling. He came in at 2.5%, a lower rate than all other first-round rookie QBs (Trey Lance DNQ).

Compared with the rest of the league, his 2.5% was better than numerous notable names such as Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, and recent Super Bowl winner Matt Stafford. Looking at the film, all of this is clear. He showed off his accuracy countless times, did not hold the ball too long, and seemed to make the best or most correct read almost every snap.

Mac Attack!

Jones went from the reigning National Championship Alabama team to one that was on the verge of a rebuild. All one year removed from losing the greatest quarterback of all time. You might think those would be too big of shoes for Jones to fill – but my man wears a size 10.

As expected for the rookie, the season did not go as smooth as many of the years preceding. But time and time again throughout the season, Jones showed off the talent and leadership abilities that he previously displayed at Alabama.

Jones’ 22 touchdown passes put him at #14 in the league. That gave him more than other notable QBs such as Matt Ryan, Ryan Tannehill, and Jimmy Garropolo. His 4.2% Touchdown Percentage also put him right at #14 on the list. This once again beat out veterans like Derek Carr and Ben Roethlisberger. The Patriots tried their best to surround Mac with talent prior to his first year. They brought in several players at both wide receiver and tight end to bolster up the passing attack.

Although he did not have a 1,000-yard receiver, both Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne cracked the 800-yard mark. Hunter Henry quickly became his go-to Red Zone target – his 9 touchdowns easily led the team. Henry also became a regular staple of the offense when needing to get to the sticks – an amazing 34 out of his 50 receptions on the season went for first downs!

Numbers Don’t Lie

Now let’s look beyond just the touchdowns and interceptions. Sure, his numbers in those categories rank him the best out of all first-year QBs. But how do some of those other numbers look? Do they tell the same tale?

A key metric for quarterbacks in understanding their play is their Yards per Pass Attempt. A problem seen with all of the other first-year QBs was their inability to push the ball down the field. They are new and are still adjusting to the speed of the NFL. They want to get the ball out of their hands quickly, even at the cost of making a more effective or explosive play. While all other rookies ranked in the 20s, Mac led the pack with 7.3 yards per attempt. None of the other rookies even hit the 7.0 Y/A mark. Furthermore, that mark is higher than Josh Allen’s in 3 out of 4 seasons (besides his 2020 MVP caliber campaign).

Playing in New England, specifically under Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels (2 of football’s best), definitely helped the rookie. It put the structure in place allowing him to not only make an impact right away but beat out veteran QB Cam Newton for the starting job.

Some of Mac Jones’ Best Throws

WAR!

Next, let’s look at WAR. Simply put, WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement, or the number of additional wins the team has achieved above the number of expected team wins if that player were substituted with a replacement-level player. It is a number calculated by PFF (Pro Football Focus) in hopes to take how well a player performed in relation to how valuable the performance was.

To read more about WAR check https://www.pff.com/war. According to PFF, Mac Jones severely outplayed the other rookie QBs when looking at WAR, at 2.88. No other rookie passer hit even 1.00, with Lawrence coming the closest at 0.88.

Looking at PFF’s passing and overall grades, Mac is once again the leader of the rookie pack, with grades that are at least 30% higher than every other first-year signal-caller. No matter what metrics, stats, game film, or analytics one uses, Mac Jones had a successful first year in the league and all signs point to improvements as he gets more comfortable on the biggest stage.

Closing Thoughts on Mac Jones

The Patriots haven’t rushed to spend the money they had last summer.

However, the team has made some moves like acquiring Ty Montgomery – a veteran RB/WR hybrid that should help offset the losses of Brandon Bolden and Gunner Olszewski. Just because Jones was able to have success last year with the weapons he currently has, does not mean the team should settle.

It seems the team was ready to make such a move, as they acquired Devante Parker via trade from the Miami Dolphins early Saturday. A strong receiver on the outside, Parker helps fill a need the Patriots were looking for badly. At times, especially during his breakout 2019 season. He proved that he can be the primary target in an offense. Adding him to the wide receiving room give the team a downfield, contested-catch option that they have previously lacked.

Still, bringing in another reliable pass-catcher whether through the draft, will only allow Jones to grow. And who knows? Mac Jones has every possibility of becoming an elite and accurate signal-caller in an era filled with mobile, ‘Cheat Code’ Quarterbacks.

This brings me to one point I wanted to highlight before ending: Mac Jones’ mobility. While not known as an athletic, joystick-like runner such as Lance or Fields, he possesses some of that ability. Though he only rushed for 129 yards his rookie season, that was more than 3x the amount he had in college – in three seasons combined.

Whether it was scrambling out of the pocket and picking up the first down with his legs, or his Griddy-dance after a 65-yard rushing TD in the Pro Bowl, Mac can and should use his rushing ability more as he adjusts to the NFL. Doing so would vastly improve the team’s unpredictability and aid him when the play breaks down.

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