NFL Draft: The case against selecting Mac Jones early

NFL, NFL Draft

Alabama’s Mac Jones set records for the Crimson Tide in 2020. All that said, teams should be wary of drafting him early. 

There’s a saying in the scouting world when looking at NFL prospects.

“Scout the talent, not the school” is how the old motto goes. Sometimes it’s easy to do both when looking at wide receiver talent from Clemson or defensive backs from Ohio State.

Alabama quarterbacks are a weird conundrum. Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler would suggest the Crimson Tide is known for steady pocket-passers. AJ McCarron and Greg McElroy would say otherwise. Only one year in the NFL and fans are already calling can’t-miss prospect Tua Tagovailoa a bust.

So, where does Mac Jones lie in all this?

If just talking production alone, the numbers would say he’s an elite prospect. In one season as Alabama’s starter, Jones went off on his way to a perfect 13-0 campaign. He set a school record in passing yards with 4,500. He threw for 41 touchdowns against four interceptions and completed nearly 78% of his passes.

So, yes, the numbers would play in his favor. However, numbers can be deceiving, meaning NFL franchises will have to be cautious when they’re on the clock looking at Jones to be their franchise guy.

Just how good is Jones as a prospect?

There’s no denying Alabama was the best team in the country for 2020. Their average win differential was a +19 on the season, meaning they’d score early, score often and defeat opponents by over three possessions.

Jones’ pinpoint accurate passes certainly boosts his status as a potential franchise guy. However, while his pass per play averaged 11.2 yards per throw, a majority of his yards came after the catch from his receiving targets. Those numbers were only boosted by having a talent like Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith as a security blanket downfield.

There’s also the fact of massive protection behind a stout offensive line. Jones was only sacked 10 times behind the wall of Alabama offensive linemen. His window allotted him ample time to evade the pressure and work past his first progression to keep drives alive

Against one of the SEC’s top defenses in Arkansas, Jones only threw for 208 yards and averaged a season-low 7.2 yards per play. He also failed to find the end zone for the second time all season.

In cases like Jones, one has to scout both the team and player. Three of his five top targets all are expected to be first-round picks and one was granted the most coveted award in College Football. His starting offensive line also will likely have two early selections this spring and two more in 2022.

That’s not to say Jones can’t be successful at the next level. He can in a similar element to that of his time in college. Teams with good offensive lines and bonafide weapons that win after the catch will help the Crimson Tide signal-caller achieve greatness throughout his career.

If drafted by a team with offensive tragedy, Jones could crumble under the pressure.

Of course there’s upside with Jones should he land with a franchise that’s a quarterback away. Any other team is playing a game of risk in the first round, hoping Jones’ lack of eye-popping attributes won’t deteriorate against top-notched pass rushers at the next level.

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