Curran: Jones' beautiful mind lets Patriots put it all on him in '22 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
When the Patriots selected Mac Jones with the 15th overall pick last April, it was an announcement that he was to become THE GUY. He would be their leader, their big toe, the player the rest of the offense would draft off and be dragged along by.
Ideally, he would be able to shoulder the leadership and workload while also, ya know, being good at playing the position.
To be Patriot "good" at playing quarterback isn’t just "big arm/makes all the throws." It means being able to think the position. Pre-snap. During the drop. With option-route variables and all manner of situationally vital intel coursing through the brain. Do that. Then throw a ball accurately to some of the planet’s fastest humans who are being covered by equally fast humans. All while the planet’s biggest humans try to squash you.
Jones did all that, beating out a former NFL MVP in Cam Newton to win the job in camp and then playing well enough to help lead the Patriots to the playoffs and get to the Pro Bowl.
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"Mac Jones as a rookie, they f---ing put everything on him," said NBC Sports analyst Chris Simms when he unveiled his 2022 quarterback rankings. “It was as much pressure as far as a system and a team and a city and a fanbase can be on a quarterback.
"... [He’s] maybe the best rookie decision-maker that I’ve ever seen."
The dominant offseason story for the Patriots has been how Bill Belichick’s chosen to replace longtime offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Joe Judge, who’s never coached quarterbacks, is the team’s quarterbacks coach. Matt Patricia, who’s never been an offensive playcaller or coordinated offense, appears on track to do both of those things.
How can the Patriots put tender, second-year Mac’s fate in the hands of coaches who -- to put it simply -- did not come up as offensive coaches? Maybe it’s because they feel Jones can handle it. Because he’s handled everything else so far.
During the Patriots’ two minicamp practices this week, Jones’ absurd accuracy was on display. Not just on simple pitch-and-catch throws but repeatedly on downfield contested throws into tiny windows.
Virtually every player makes a jump in his second season. He’s settled in. His nutrition has improved. Expectations are understood. The jump Jones will make comes from a higher platform. He already showed an astonishing degree of mastery for the most difficult stuff.
Simms, who has Jones 18th on his list, marvels at Mac’s mind.
"He had to play a real system without being managed or massaged," said Simms. "(The demand was) ‘You gotta really be a pro quarterback Week 1. Gotta be able to run two-minute and we need to depend on you on third-and-4 that you’ll throw a pinpoint pass for 5 yards like Brady did in Year 15.’ That’s basically what he was asked to do. With no down-the-field threat to scare people.
"When I went back and watched it was better than I even remembered. Incredible accuracy. Incredible touch. Incredible anticipation. Do I wish his arm was a little more strong and explosive? Sure. But going back and watching all his throws I went, ‘Hmmm. His arm is better than I pictured in my mind at times.’ Made a lot of big-time throws down the field with not necessarily big-time players. Had a lot of big-time throws dropped and balls where you go, ‘Man, the ball is on the f---ing money here … and they didn’t make the play to help him out."
Simms ranked Jones directly ahead of Carson Wentz and two ahead of Brady’s would-be successor, Jimmy Garoppolo. Jones was the highest-ranked quarterback from the 2021 class with the Jets' Zach Wilson at 22 and Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence following right behind. Tua Tagovailoa, Jared Goff and Trey Lance were 29, 30 and 31.
Simms allowed that Lawrence, for instance, could get better and leapfrog Jones. But, Simms added, "I think this guy’s gonna get better too. This guy’s smart. I hear what he says. He realizes he has to throw the ball with a little more power and strength and be a little more explosive. I wouldn’t be shocked if we didn’t see a jump like Joe Burrow from (Year 1 to Year 2)."
I asked Bill Belichick this week about Jones’ role in helping to shape the Patriots' newly streamlined offense. Is Jones a collaborator to some extent?
"We’ll do everything we can really, to make it as good for him as we can -- he’s our quarterback. Lot of components to that, I don’t know," said Belichick.
It will be interesting to see how the Patriots offense morphs this year. Jones goes from McDaniels, the most experienced and accomplished offensive coordinator in the league, to a pair of coaches who -- despite their age -- have never been as fully immersed in offense at the NFL level as Jones was in 2021.
McDaniels empowered Jones to drive fast and take chances. Which still leaves Simms gobsmacked.
"The Patriots trusted Mac Jones more than the 49ers trusted Garoppolo or the Colts trusted Wentz," said Simms. "There’s no doubt about it. The way they called plays in certain situations. The plays they called in those situations just told me they trusted Mac Jones.
“Too many times with Garoppolo they’d have two shaky plays in a row and then just say, ‘It’s third-and-5, let’s just throw a f---ing screen and if we get it, great. If we don’t we punt it away.’ Same thing with Wentz, ‘Let’s just block it up and send somebody deep and let him throw it over there.’
"And then it’s Mac Jones," Simms continued. "Third-and-4, and they’re like, ‘Let’s call that f---ing play where on the left side we fake a slant and the guy goes back out and there’ll be a guy running an out route over the top. Tell him to read that. And if he doesn’t like it, he can come back to the middle of the field and we’ll have another two or three guys coming into a tight area there and we want him to make that throw.
"To me, that’s where the difference is between him and Wentz," said Simms. "His talent’s not as good as Wentz right now but he’s way more trustworthy with the ball, he’s more accurate. With Garoppolo I think he’s more talented and smarter already."
When the Patriots took Jones 15th, it was clear they would one day hitch their wagon to him. That’s already happened. And now he’s in tow mode. The Patriots aren’t likely to be propelled by defense in 2022. They don’t have any transcendent players at the skill positions. They will go as far as Jones’ accurate arm and beautiful mind can take them. And they seem real comfortable with that.