Perry: Joe Burrow's trajectory gives hope to what Mac Jones could become originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
When Joe Burrow and the Bengals take on the Titans this weekend, Patriots fans should be paying attention. Cincinnati, believe it or not, can offer them a measure of hope.
First, what the Bengals have done to build around Burrow is an indication of just how much it can help a quarterback's development to hit on the right kind of explosive passing-game weapon. The right player on the outside can change everything.
Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, Burrow has broken the mold of what was once perceived as the only way to succeed as a young passer. He's not built like a superhero -- sound familiar? -- yet he's now regarded as one of the best at his position in his second year as a pro.
We were all guilty of it. Yours truly included. When discussing the Patriots succession plan at quarterback, the assumption was they may have to get a player who operates much differently than Tom Brady did for two decades. That was just the way the game seemed to be going. Particularly for young players.
That conversation hovered around Mac Jones prior to last year's draft as prognosticators wondered whether he was worthy of a high-end pick. He wasn't going to function the same way that young star quarterbacks -- Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott, Lamar Jackson -- could.
Brady could do it, of course. So could Drew Brees. But other than those two it was hard to find a pocket passer succeeding at a high level. And those two are Hall of Famers. If that's what Jones had to become to experience real success, it was an impossible standard for him to reach. For some, it made real success seem almost unattainable.
But now there's Burrow. He doesn't have a huge arm. He's not an elite athlete. He's smart. He's accurate. He's already taken hold of his locker room with natural leadership traits. He's proven you don't need to be built in a quarterback lab in order to be included in the conversation as among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL.
And that should serve as a source of encouragement for Patriots fans looking for some after the 2021 season ended the way it did.
The similarities between Burrow and Jones are many. Both were one-year wonders on star-studded college teams that went on to win national championships. Both are accurate. Both throw with anticipation. Neither has an upper-tier arm. "Below-average arm strength and average release quickness ... Saw nose of ball dive on some throws field-side," Lance Zierlein wrote for his scouting profile on Burrow ahead of the 2020 draft.
Burrow looks like a more dynamic athlete in the pocket, but he and Jones aren't on different planets in that regard. They both ran for almost the exact same number of yards on almost the exact same number of carries this season, for whatever that's worth. (Burrow had 118 yards on 40 carries; Jones had 129 yards on 44 carries.) But the better indicator of their functional athleticism seems to be their work extending plays when under pressure.
In his second season, Burrow has become arguably the best quarterback under duress in football. No one averaged more yards per attempt when under pressure (8.6) and no one had a higher rating (92.4) in those situations, per Pro Football Focus. Jones, meanwhile, was right in the middle of the pack in terms of his yards-per-attempt figure under pressure (5.9, 16th in the NFL), and he was slightly above average in terms of rating (74.2, 13th) in those moments.
Jones isn't on Burrow's level in that area, but Burrow wasn't a play-extending phenom as a rookie. Quite the opposite, actually. Of 27 qualifying quarterbacks, Burrow was 26th in 2020 -- ahead of only Drew Lock -- in terms of his yards-per-attempt number under pressure (4.2). He was 21st in rating (52.3).
Comparing Burrow and Jones as rookies, there are plenty of similarities in terms of their overall efficiency levels through the air. (Burrow played just 10 games before tearing his ACL so volume stats like total yards and touchdowns aren't applicable.)
Jones in 2021: 67.6 completion percentage, 7.3 yards per attempt, 92.5 rating, 4.2 touchdown percentage, 2.5 interception percentage, 5.1 sack percentage
Burrow in 2020: 65.3 completion percentage, 6.7 yards per attempt, 89.8 rating, 3.2 touchdown percentage, 1.2 interception percentage, 7.3 sack percentage
Some of those numbers may be skewed by the offensive line play both were provided as rookies. The Patriots have a better group now than the Bengals did last year. And had Burrow remained healthy, becoming more comfortable with his offense and the pro game in general, his rate stats likely would've improved. But they weren't all that dissimilar.
Even the advanced stats paint a similar picture, as Tucker Boynton points out here.
The Patriots don't have the draft capital to take a top-five talent like Ja'Marr Chase at receiver to see if Jones can blossom into one of the game's best quarterbacks as Burrow has. But this year's draft looks like another that's deep with receiving talent. And there are other options to add to their complement of weapons this offseason.
No matter what avenue they choose, if they can improve Jones' situation, they will have a better shot at determining his ceiling. He may never get to the level Burrow has reached in Year 2, but at least now there's a recent example of a young quarterback who isn't a superhuman athlete with a howitzer for an arm having monster success.
As recently as a year ago, those weren't all that easy to find.