In the grand scheme of things, New England Patriots second-year quarterback Mac Jones landed in the healthiest situation of all five rookie signal-callers selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Unfortunately for Jones, it appears things have changed.
The Jacksonville Jaguars were a mess for Trevor Lawrence. The New York Jets were a team devoid of talent and ravaged by injuries around Zach Wilson. The San Francisco 49ers were still committed to Jimmy Garoppolo, and we don’t know if Trey Lance was actually ready to play starter snaps last season. The Chicago Bears lacked weapons and a competent play-caller to help Justin Fields.
Jones, whom the Patriots selected with the No. 15 pick in the draft, found himself a part of a team with a winning tradition, a strong coaching staff under one of the winningest coaches in the history of professional sport in Bill Belichick, one of the most experienced and successful offensive coordinators of the past 15 years in Josh McDaniels, and a veteran mentor backup in Brian Hoyer who wasn’t dedicating himself to taking the rookie’s job.
Jones even outlasted Cam Newton, the charismatic former MVP who had been the team’s starting quarterback the year before. While Jones didn’t have many weapons on offense, the foundation was strong, and he helped lead the Patriots to the playoffs with a 10-7 record.
Fast forward to this season, and things are very different. McDaniels is with the Las Vegas Raiders giving a second effort at being a head coach. Jones is now faced with learning a different offense which is being run by a committee of coaches whose areas of specialty aren’t on the offensive side of the ball.
Needless to say, the preseason and training camp has been a struggle for Jones and the offense, and the entire dynamic is getting a ton of attention in the media and throughout Patriots Nation.
Is Mac Jones Set to Make the Year 2 Leap?
In a recent post from the Boston Herald, veteran Patriots beat writers Andrew Callahan and Karen Guregian debated Jones’ ability to experience what is described as the second-year “leap” that most good quarterbacks are expected to experience after their rookie seasons.
While Callahan acknowledges the struggles and some of the deficiencies the Patriots’ offense has in Jones’ path, he believes New England’s franchise quarterback will hit the statistical benchmarks associated with the second-year leap. Guregian is not convinced. In fact, she argues Jones is more likely headed for a “step backwards.”
“Based on what, two quarters of preseason games?,” Callahan argues. “No question the offense hasn’t been a well-oiled machine, but Agholor and Jonnu Smith have shown inarguable improvement. Throw in DeVante Parker and [Tyquan] Thornton, when he’s healthy, and you really don’t think Jones, who will improve himself, can manage an extra 300 yards and five touchdowns? Not to mention a midseason slate versus the [Detroit] Lions, [Chicago] Bears and the Jets twice, with three of those games at home. Even if the Patriots miss the playoffs, it won’t be because Jones failed to make a statistical Year 2 leap.”
The Patriots have what looks to be a soft mid-season schedule on paper. After a tough first four games against the Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, and the Green Bay Packers, the Patriots could easily be 1-3, if not 0-4. However, from Week 5-12, the Patriots have nothing but winnable games against the Lions, Cleveland Browns (without Deshaun Watson), Bears, Jets, Indianapolis Colts, the Jets, and the Minnesota Vikings. Four of those seven games are at home. If Jones and the Patriots maximize their opportunities during this stretch, he and the team could put up strong passing numbers and stockpile wins.
Yeah, what’s an extra 300 yards, and another five touchdowns between friends?,” Guregian responded. “No big deal. And I’d agree, if Josh McDaniels was still his mentor, quarterback coach, and the guy in his ear calling plays on game day. I’d agree, if he was running the same offense as last year. Instead, Jones has to deal with new coaches who haven’t coached offense before, a new scheme, and an offensive line that looks a mess. All of those elements don’t spell an extra 300 yards, and another five touchdowns. All of those suggest Jones is going to regress. That’s certainly the way it looks now, and by the time they fix it, if they fix it, Jones will already be behind in those statistical categories. So forget about a leap. More like a step backwards.”
Will Jones Overcome the Lack of Cohesion on Offense?
There are a ton of moving parts right now for Jones and the Patriots, and Guregian is correct, that’s not usually a good situation for a young quarterback. Also, it’s not as if Jones has an abundance of physical gifts that provide him opportunities to simply make a play with his legs or a cannon of an arm.
Jones is the kind of quarterback who needs things to work around him, and there are several reasons to believe those “elements” aren’t in the right place.