Mac Jones is on a trajectory to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, which is an unfair assessment of how good he’s been this year.
Why unfair? Well, it’s an overstatement of his value to the New England Patriots. Don’t get me wrong. Jones has been good — better than any other rookie quarterback in the 2021 draft. He has been perfect for the Patriots’ system. That said, he remains inexperienced and a developmental prospect who has his limitations. The Patriots have built a team designed to help him succeed — largely by deemphasizing his impact upon the game plan.
That’s why the idea that he’s the best rookie in the NFL is silly. Cincinnati Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase has 44 catches, 835 yards and seven touchdowns. After seven games, his 754 receiving yards were more than any other player in league history. That’s right: he had one of the best starts to a season ever by a receiver, let alone a rookie. Maybe he’ll slow down and maybe that will open the door for an argument for Jones. But Chase was one of the best receivers in the NFL for the first half of the season. Jones has been a middling quarterback by every estimation that doesn’t include Pro Football Focus, a digital scouting service, which has him graded as the ninth-best passer.
The chatter about Offensive Rookie of the Year is one of the many places where people are getting some of the fuel for Jones’ hype train. Between statistics like the ones on PFF and a handful of his highlights from the team’s 45-7 win over the Cleveland Browns, you’d think Jones was genuinely one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He isn’t.
Mac Jones wasn’t trendy enough for y’all at first huh now y’all love him…. Man, y’all funny!!! Day in and day out!!! Y’all should be on Comedy Central
— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) November 16, 2021
Jones is in the bottom of the league when it comes to passing downfield. He showed major improvement in that area on Sunday, completing 2 of 3 ondeep passes (a.k.a passes on balls traveling 20-plus yards beyond the line of scrimmage). That’s solid, considering he has completed 36.1% of deep passes on the season, which ranks him 30th among QBs with at least 10 deep attempts. What’s even more impressive is what those completions looked like, with a zippy touchdown pass to Kendrick Bourne in traffic and a pinpoint pass to tight end Hunter Henry on the sideline. Maybe his performance against the Browns is a signal he’s taking a jump forward. Maybe he’ll step into a spot where he’s an elite quarter in Year 1.
What is more likely, however, is that Jones will regress slightly in the coming weeks — before progressing in the weeks after that. That’s the natural progression of a young player who is as talented as Jones (and he’s very talented, very smart and very hardworking) when he’s playing for a staff that includes experienced and elite coaches like Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels.
— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) November 16, 2021
And that’s the biggest point of context for Jones’ rise. He’s playing under Belichick and McDaniels, who have a history of identifying and developing quarterback talent, from Tom Brady
to Tim Tebow (kidding) to Jimmy Garoppolo to Jacoby Brissett. Jones has a great group of teachers around him to cultivate his talents. Any discussion about whether Jones should have gone higher in the draft is predicated upon ignoring that context.
Then there’s the supporting cast, which Belichick spent big money to upgrade in 2021. The Patriots signed tight ends Jonnu Smith and Henry and receivers Nelson Agholor and Bourne and offensive lineman Ted Karras. New England also traded for tackle Trent Brown. And finally, Belichick drafted running back Rhamondre Stevenson. Those players are helping Jones play a position that’s as much a point guard role as it is a quarterback gig. Jones is distributing and helping his teammates shine. It’s impressive, but not at the level of quarterbacks who elevate the play of others.
That’s just the offense. The defense has also been sensational, with the Patriots offense playing backseat to insanely impressive performances from edge Matthew Judon, cornerback J.C. Jackson, defensive tackle Christian Barmore and safety Devin McCourty. They’ve allowed the second-fewest points per game, 17.7. It’s nice when the rookie feels like he doesn’t have to push the ball downfield to mount a comeback, especially when that’s his biggest weakness.
Put Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars’ pick at No. 1 this year, onto this team? He’s going to look damn good.
It all amounts to Belichick deserving the Coach of the Year award, if the Patriots keep this up. But Jones as the OROY? I don’t see it. I get that he probably will win it, because that’s just what happens with rookie quarterbacks on playoff teams. I just think the hype is going a little far with Jones. He’s a good rookie, but he’s far from the best. He’s a good quarterback but he’s really far from the best.