NFL analytics expert ranks Patriots’ Mac Jones 5th among rookie QBs in 2021's Cynthia Frelund talked about Jones's execution in the Alabama offense but suggested other rookies would have bigger years.

Mac Jones Patriots
Mac Jones. Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

The news that the Patriots will likely hold a “legit” quarterback competition between Cam Newton and Mac Jones this summer is running like fire in the NFL circles.

Though a number of prominent NFL voices still maintain Newton will be the team’s Week 1 starter, the hype around Jones has only grown stronger after his solid spring.

It seems certain that Jones will get his chance to prove he can lead the team sooner rather than later. Even if he doesn’t start Week 1, history suggests highly drafted rookie quarterbacks tend to see the field early in their careers.

The question: what will he do with his (likely) eventual opportunity in 2021?

Advertisement: analytics expert Cynthia Frelund suggested in a Monday column Jones could fit into the Patriots’ offense quickly. She even suggests the rookie could shore up some of the issues with the team’s quarterback play from last year, especially when under pressure.

“Patriots passers were under pressure on 28.7 percent of dropbacks last season, which was the sixth-highest rate in the NFL,” she wrote. “Sometimes being under pressure is more of a function of O-line play, and other times, it shows a quarterback held onto the ball for too long. At Alabama last season, Jones had a whopping 84.9 completion percentage on quick passes, which was the highest rate in FBS, along with 9.4 yards per attempt, which ranked second-best.”

Jones’s offense at Alabama featured a lot of quick throws, like screens and RPOs, designed to get the ball to his elite playmakers. He certainly made the most of those throws as well as showing off good touch and accuracy down the field.

The Patriots’ offense struggled mightily through the air at many points last season, partly due to Newton and partly because of a depleted receiving corps that lacked any top-end options.

The team addressed that this offseason, bringing the likes of Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, and deep threat Nelson Agholor into the fold. While those players could certainly benefit Newton greatly this season, Frelund argues those Jones’s precision from the pocket will help him maximize those players just as well.


“Jones excelled against man coverage, posting the best yards-per-throw mark (12.6) and completion percentage (71.8%) against man in FBS, per PFF,” she explained. “But Jones was no slouch against zone, logging the most touchdown throws (15) and the top completion rate (79.3%) vs. zone, according to PFF. And no one threw more touchdown passes on attempts of 10-plus yard than the Crimson Tide product (29), who had the second-highest completion rate on such throws (66.9).”

Those strengths could work strongly in Jones’s favor in such a competition as the Patriots look to have in training camp.

But Frelund curiously ranked Jones fifth among the five first-round rookies taken in the draft in terms of “their projected ability to hit the ground running.”

That’s not just because he was the last of the five quarterbacks to be taken in the draft either. She ranked Justin Fields, the No. 11 pick and the fourth of the five first-rounders taken, above Trey Lance, who went third overall to the San Francisco 49ers.

Perhaps it’s his lack of outstanding mobility or elite arm strength. Maybe it’s a belief that Newton will hold him off longer than expected.

Whatever the reason for his lagging “projections” for 2021, Jones will have a chance to prove the doubters wrong in about a month.


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