Mac Jones Makes Surprising Appearance on Patriots Depth Chart

Getty Julio Jones

The 2021 New England Patriots starting quarterback will be Cam Newton, at least at the beginning of the season. How long will that remain?

It could be for the entirety of the season, but head coach Bill Belichick has seemingly placed rookie Mac Jones firmly in Newton’s rear-view mirror. During the first two sessions of OTAs, Jones, who was just drafted in the first round with the No. 15 pick overall, appeared to be No. 2 on the depth chart.

He went immediately after Newton in every drill and 7-on-7 rep, usually the spot designated for the backup QB. The Athletic’s Jeff Howe shared his early observations of Jones, who appeared to be just as accurate as he had been in college. 

Then again, it’s just the first few days of OTAs.

Mac Jones worked as the No. 2 quarterback for the majority of practice. While this might seem obvious or a foregone conclusion, look at it from this angle: This was the first practice in front of the media, with seven of 10 OTAs behind closed doors. Belichick could have put Jones third or fourth in the pecking order to portray the first-rounder’s long climb up the depth chart, just two weeks after rookie camp, to stymie the Jones hype train in the media. Or Belichick could have used Jones as the No. 2 QB in the seven closed practices and rotated him from the bottom in the three open workouts to deliver the same message to anyone outside the team. Instead, this is a public portrayal that Jones is already the second-best quarterback on the roster. And while Jones absolutely should be, at minimum, the second-best QB on the roster, this indicates he’s off to a nice start in the coaches’ eyes, and there’s no need for semantics with the depth chart.

Is This All a Part of Belichick’s Masterplan?

Belichick knew what he was doing placing Jones in that spot, and he’s been doing this too long not to know that having the rookie at No. 2 would cause a stir with the media.

Belichick is likely looking to ensure Newton knows a formidable contender for the starting job is working hard to replace him if the opportunity presents itself. In 2020, Jarrett Stidham nor Brian Hoyer were serious threats to take Newton’s job.

As feeble as the Patriots offense was at times in 2020, Belichick never made a move because he knew neither Stidham nor Hoyer would give his team a better chance to win.

Jones may be a more attractive option in the event the offense needs a spark.

Newton’s Career Could Be on the Line

If Newton gives way to Jones for any reason besides injury, it would be a devastating blow to his career. While Jones is no slouch as a prospect, if a 32-year-old Newton cannot beat out a rookie quarterback for a starting spot, there is an issue.

A former No. 1 overall pick who is just six years removed from an NFL MVP expects to dwarf the presence of an upstart quarterback. It will be a surprise if Newton doesn’t show a ton of improvement from 2020, especially with the pressure to improve over last year’s performance and hold off a hungry rookie.

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