Mac Jones' shortcomings don't fit into today's NFL. Yet, he could be QB outlier worthy of 49ers' draft gamble.

Dan Wetzel
·Columnist
·5-min read

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Last month, Richard Sherman, the five-time All-Pro cornerback, stated that NFL draft skepticism surrounding Alabama quarterback Mac Jones stemmed from “recency bias.”

Namely, a couple decades ago (or even half a decade ago) no one blinked at the concept of using a top draft pick on a 6-foot-3, 215-pound quarterback who just completed 77.4 percent(!!) of his passes and tossed 41 touchdowns against just four picks for an unbeaten national champion.

For years Jones would have been hailed as a “prototype” quarterback, or a “pro-style” quarterback or a “pocket passer” or whatever. Everyone would want him.

Now, all of a sudden, he’s considered a risk because, by modern quarterbacking standards, he’s slow.

Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, pictured running past Notre Dame defensive lineman Ovie Oghoufo in a CFP semifinal on Jan. 1, isn't known for his rushing skills. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, pictured running past Notre Dame defensive lineman Ovie Oghoufo in a CFP semifinal on Jan. 1, isn't known for his rushing skills. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

“I think it’s the lack of mobility for Mac Jones that’s killing him,” Sherman said on the Pro Football Focus podcast. “Because they think the way of the old quarterback – even though Tom Brady, who’s not moving outside of those hashes, period point-blank, just won another Super Bowl – people still think the league is trending toward mobile quarterbacks.

“The pocket passer is the way of [the past],” Sherman continued. “Even though Mac Jones is making all the throws, very accurate, hitting in tight windows, playing in a pro-style offense, I think they are punishing him for the lack of mobility due to recency bias.”

Essentially, is the old box now considered out of the box?

Let’s not throw a pity party for Jones. Even at his most doubted, mock drafts pegged him as a first-round selection, perhaps even as high as 15th to New England. That's high regard by any standard other than the meat grinder, find-a-flaw, rake-over-the-coals debates that fuel interest in the draft (a year ago Joe Burrow’s “small hands” were a “concern”).

Yet the stakes went even higher when San Francisco sent Miami the No. 12 overall pick this year, along with a first- and third-round pick in 2022 and another first-rounder in 2023, in exchange for the Dolphins' slot at No. 3 in 2021.

Speculation has zeroed in on the Niners taking Jones. If so, San Francisco wouldn’t just be taking a shot on him, it would be dealing away a considerable chunk of future assets to take a shot on him. That would mean coach Kyle Shanahan would be zigging when the rest of the league is zagging by passing up very mobile options in Ohio State’s Justin Fields and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. You only do this if you think the guy you're going to get is a sure thing.

Jones’ game is one of size, accuracy, arm strength and production. It lacks the run-pass combination that has come to define the game these days.

While Brady does, indeed, win the Super Bowl just about every other year, the NFL is otherwise dominated by dual-threat quarterbacks who, to varying degrees, can not only read defenses and hit open receivers but run when needed — Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson and so on.

Brady is Brady, the ultimate NFL outlier. He has proven you can win a Super Bowl at age 43, but that doesn’t mean it’s a viable blueprint for other teams.

Not every quarterback needs to be the kind of open-field running threat of Jackson, for instance. Few possess that kind of athleticism. Mahomes can’t just run away from defensive backs; his game is more point guard than track star. Still, it's there.

Just about everybody can move these days in ways that Jones hasn’t shown, including Burrow and Trevor Lawrence, the 2020 No. 1 overall pick and the presumptive 2021 No. 1 overall selection.

Lawrence rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and scored 18 touchdowns on the ground in his three years at Clemson. Burrow ran for 767 yards and 12 TDs in two seasons at LSU. Jones had just 42 yards and two scores at Alabama. He had three or fewer rushing attempts in eight games this year.

He isn’t leaving the pocket unless he’s running for his life.

Can you still win that way?

Brady shows that you can. He’s not alone. Jared Goff, Matt Ryan and Jimmy Garoppolo all reached recent Super Bowls without much running ability. If not for Brady, perhaps Ryan and Goff would be champions.

Reading coverage and making accurate throws, quickly, limits the need to tuck and run. While the threat of a running game can help with passing, most coaches will take turnover avoidance above everything.

The thing scouts point to when it comes to Jones is accuracy on passes that traveled more than 20 yards — 60 percent completed, 18 of them for touchdowns. Certainly some of that is because of incredible separation by Alabama’s incredible wide receivers, but clearly Jones can throw.

This is all about whether the 49ers, or whomever winds up with him, think they can still win with a QB who will sit in the pocket and try to pick apart a defense, rather than make the defense worry about him slaloming through it.

The answer will play itself out, perhaps in San Francisco, perhaps somewhere else. Essentially, can old school be new school in the NFL?

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