Patriots

Mac Jones, Patriots have 8th-best future outlook according to ESPN analysis

ESPN analysts say Jones's development will ultimately determine how much success the Patriots have in the next three seasons.

Mac Jones Patriots
Mac Jones. Steven Senne/AP
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We’ll soon find out what the 2021 New England Patriots are made of when training camp begins next week.

But it’s also not too early to start thinking about what the future holds in Foxboro, especially with a new face in town at quarterback.

A group of ESPN analysts suggest that future looks pretty bright, ranking the Patriots eighth out of 32 teams in terms of their projected outlook over the next three seasons. The “grades” for each team’s three-year plan were a composite score based on roster, quarterback, drafting, the team’s front office and coaching.

New England earned a “very good” grade of 81.4, one spot behind the Los Angeles Rams (81.9) and one place ahead of the Indianapolis Colts (81.1). The Kansas City Chiefs, led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, topped the list with a grade of 88.5.

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Like the Chiefs and several other teams in the top 10, the Patriots’ projection ranked among the league’s best at quarterback because of the excitement around their future at the position thanks to first-round rookie Mac Jones.

“It’s already easy to forecast a defensive resurgence in New England, with a mix of familiar and new faces that should be ready to feast in 2021 and beyond,” wrote ESPN reporter Field Yates. “On offense, the arc of quarterback Mac Jones will likely dictate the ceiling of this team for the next handful of years. Suffice it to say that he’ll have great infrastructure around him, as the best head coach in football in Bill Belichick and an offensive mastermind in offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are always people to bet on.”

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Though Cam Newton remains the team’s starting quarterback for now, Jones will undoubtedly be the front-runner to start next season even if he didn’t take over the job this year.

Whenever he takes the field, he’ll have a dynamic tight-end duo of Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith to throw to, something ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler listed as a major strength going forward.

“Henry’s game is not built on speed, so he should age well,” Fowler explainded. “And Smith is only 25, so his multifaceted blocking and receiving game will hold up. The Patriots believe they beat the system by spending big money while the free-agent market was down due to the pandemic, thus receiving a discount on premier players. New England is still scheduled to have $57 million and $137 million in cap space in 2022 and 2023, respectively.”

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Those solid salary cap numbers give the Patriots even more flexibility to build around Jones while the young quarterback remains on his rookie contract.

But if there’s one area the Patriots could still use work at, according to ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, it’s at wide receiver.

New England did add to the position group this spring by signing Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne after a brutal 2020 for the squad’s receiving corps. “That being said,” Riddick wrote, “the explosive play component outside the numbers on the offensive side of the ball is concerning. Can receiver Nelson Agholor duplicate or exceed what was a career season in 2020 in terms of yards per catch? Will Jones be the same deep-ball thrower he was for Alabama?”

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Agholor’s somewhat quiet spring camp won’t satistfactorily answer those queries just yet. Meanwhile, Jones, who was still digesting the offense for much of OTAs and mandatory minicamp, didn’t push the ball downfield frequently and didn’t have much to show for it when he did.

But ESPN’s Seth Walder offered some reasons to be encouraged about Jones’s game translating to the NFL.

“Any Patriots fan looking for hope in the numbers needn’t look too far: He recorded the highest college QBR season in the history of the metric last year!” Walder said. “His 96.1 beat out Kyler Murray’s and Joe Burrow’s amazing seasons for the top spot.”

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That’s a pretty solid feat for a No. 15 overall pick to outduel the last two No. 1 picks in the draft. Furthermore, Murray is a rising star, and Burrow looked like an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate before tearing his ACL last season.

If Jones brings that type of success to the Patriots, the team’s outlook could get much rosier over the next few years.

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