Some of the best first-round draft picks during Bill Belichick’s 21 years as the Patriots’ mastermind have been the least glamorous.
Logan Mankins, guard, Fresno State, 2005. Devin McCourty, cornerback, Rutgers, 2010. Nate Solder, tackle, Colorado, 2011. All excellent choices, even if they weren’t especially inspiring to the fan base at the moment.
By rule, his position and college pedigree make Mac Jones – quarterback, Alabama – a glamorous choice with the No. 15 overall pick Thursday night. So why did it seem so … boring? And why is that probably a good thing?
Any time a quarterback from a prominent program goes in the first round, it’s a big deal. It’s magnified even more when the Patriots – who got 104,228 passing yards and 707 touchdown passes in the regular season from Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady from 1993-2019 – are the team spending a first-round pick on that QB. They hadn’t taken one in Round 1 – and haven’t needed to — since going with Bledsoe over Rick Mirer (decent call) 28 years ago.
The Patriots’ need for a promising young quarterback has sustained sports radio (and more than a few columns here) for months. That they actually stayed in the No. 15 spot and took Jones – who some thought would go No. 3 to the Niners – is major news, and a potentially seismic decision for the franchise.
So it struck me as odd that the choice was greeted with a collective “Jones? Eh, all right, I guess.” I’ve been trying to figure out why, and I’ve narrowed it down to a couple of details and developments that blunted what should have been a happy effect of the pick.
One: When Ohio State’s Justin Fields began to slip, fans got their hopes up that he would plummet to the Patriots, or perhaps Belichick would even trade up to snatch him. Fields ended up with the Bears at No. 11. That he didn’t get to New England – or New England didn’t try to get to him – felt like a letdown.
(The Jets will regret not taking Fields at No. 2. They instead took Brigham Young’s Zach Wilson, a bust-to-be who I guarantee you will be an analyst on mid-major college football games on ESPN in no fewer than six years.)
Another development: Jones’s two top receivers this season – when he threw for 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns, and just 4 interceptions – both were drafted before he was. Jaylen Waddle went sixth to the Dolphins, and Heisman-winning road-runner DeVonta Smith was chosen 10th by the Eagles.
Jones’s weaponry at Alabama was such that it was difficult to gauge how good he was because his targets were so often running like the wind into open space. I’m not big on this-college-team-is-better-than-that-pro-team nonsense, but the Crimson Tide had a far better receiver room than the Patriots last season.
It’s amusing that the Patriots ended up with the quarterback from the most glamorous program in college football and it felt like a bit of a disappointment. I’ll tell you, though, I don’t think it is. I’m not going to make the comparison to Tom Brady just because he is tall and toothy and has an unflattering shirtless photo circumnavigating Twitter forever. No one will ever achieve what Brady has in the NFL, anyone who might someday threaten to come within two or three Super Bowl victories of him will not have a matching backstory as a late-round draft pick, OK?
But this we know: Jones has attributes that the Patriots covet in a quarterback: He makes quick and correct decisions. He’s a leader. He worked hard for his opportunity. He’s accurate. He’s savvy in the pocket. He’s hypercompetitive. He can helm the type of offense Josh McDaniels desires. He’s not Brady, because – I believe I mentioned this — no one is or ever will be. But he can run his playbook.
I do have some questions about him. Is he still hot-tempered, and if so, which Patriots receiver will be his Joey Galloway? Were the Niners, who traded up to that No. 3 spot, genuinely serious about taking him, as was the presumption, before they turned to North Dakota State’s Trey Lance? And what did he whisper into Roger Goodell’s ear that made the commissioner, normally as charismatic as corrugated cardboard, guffaw with delight? People that make Goodell laugh are immediately suspect.
The more I thought about it Thursday night, the more convinced I became that Belichick got the player he wanted all along. If they weren’t certain he was the right choice, they would have traded down from that No. 15 spot. We’ll never know how Belichick rated the Trevor Lawrence/Wilson/Lance/Fields/Jones group of quarterbacks that went in the first round. But I’m certain now that he had Jones higher ranked than at least a couple of the quarterbacks that went before him.
Just about everyone has a podcast nowadays. And just about everyone has a mock draft. It’s funny, it turns out those expert mock drafts months ago that had the Patriots linked to Jones were correct in the first place. That was before the prolonged silly season of rumors, potential trades, and speculation misdirected us from such a logical choice.
The Patriots drafted Mac Jones, quarterback, Alabama. It was a perfectly reasonable pick at a perfectly reasonable spot. Even though Jones is already well past famous, the choice didn’t seem exciting, inspiring, or glamorous. So what? If Belichick was right Thursday night, the pick will look good in the only place that matters — on the field.
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