Patriots

Mac Jones’s biggest advantage over his fellow rookie quarterbacks? Playing for the Patriots

While Jones has had his up-and-down moments as a rookie, the Patriots' system has helped him overcome them. His 2021 draft classmates haven't been so lucky.

Mac Jones Patriots
Mac Jones celebrates as the Patriots scored their second touchdown during the second quarter. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)

One could understand peoples’ desire to pump the brakes before the season on suggestions that Mac Jones was walking into a far better situation than his fellow rookie quarterbacks simply by virtue of playing for the New England Patriots.

After 16 regular-season games, though, is there really any debate about it?

Jones, the No. 15 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, utterly outshined No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence in the Patriots’ 50-10 walloping of the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, punctuating the former Alabama quarterback’s supremacy over his draft peers.

His three-touchdown performance also gave him 21 scoring throws on the season, breaking Jim Plunkett’s previous franchise record for passing touchdowns in a season by a rookie (19).

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More importantly, the Patriots clinched a playoff spot with Jones at the helm for every start, which no other rookie can say. (Trey Lance might go to the playoffs with the San Francisco 49ers, but Jimmy Garoppolo has started most of the season.)

The difference between the rookie’s reliability and the painful Cam Newton experience from a year ago has been undeniable.

“He’s just a really great person to coach because he’s so responsive to trying to do everything the way that you want to do it,” Belichick said of the “super consistent” Jones after Sunday’s game. “Josh [McDaniels] has done a fantastic job with him, and Mac has really, I think, embraced the wisdom that Josh has transmitted to him, and he played extremely well today.”

While Jones has been steadily on the positive side of the ledger this season, Lawrence has been stuck on the opposite end of the spectrum. Last spring’s top draft pick reclaimed the league lead in interceptions with three against the Patriots, including a ghastly one to Kyle Dugger that felt surprising for a quarterback with almost a full season worth of starts under his belt. He now has 17 picks on the year to go with just 10 touchdowns.

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Jones’s doesn’t just have the edge on Lawrence when comparing first-year quarterbacks, though. For all the rookie quarterbacks who played in 10 games or more (which excludes No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance), Jones leads the way in yards, touchdown passes, passer rating, PFF grade and whatever positive stat you want to put forward. He also owns the lowest turnover-worthy play percentage, illustrating his avoidance of crippling mistakes that lose games.

More than that, though, he’s simply looked better—not always more spectacular, just obviously more proficient at the basics of his job. Fields, Wilson and Lance (finally) have shown flashes of brilliance, while Mills has outperformed expectations for an awful Texans team. But at no point have any of Jones’s fellow rookies consistently thrown with his anticipation and accuracy or commanded an offensive system with his aplomb this year.

The former Crimson Tide star hasn’t been perfect by any means. In fact, his rough two-game stretch against the Colts and Bills showed exactly how teams will try to beat the Patriots’ offense: cutting off the run game and forcing Jones to push the limits of his (for now) average arm talent.

But he’s also repeatedly demonstrated he can bounce back from bad throws or games with good performances. Rookie quarterback development is rarely, if ever, linear. But he finds ways to improve whenever he experiences a setback, and the Patriots have benefited from that.

Jones may not end up the best of these quarterbacks when it’s all said and done. Both Lawrence and Fields, for example, will get new coaches and a few new weapons around them for next year, which could begin to unlock their potential.

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But that’s the whole point: Jones landed on a team with the most established coach and offensive system in football, fit it like a glove from Day 1 and thrived. The Patriots also didn’t demand he carry the team, endure the ineptitude of bad play-calling and talent around him, or play like a quarterback he wasn’t.

The Patriots also complemented the young passer with a top-10 rushing attack, led by Damien Harris and rumbling rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, and the best scoring defense in the NFL. Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and company couldn’t have drawn it up any better.

The result: Jones is taking the Patriots to the playoffs as a rookie while most, if not all, of his 2021 draft peers watch from home. If his own play takes a leap in 2022, perhaps he can re-write the history of this highly touted draft class for real.

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