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NFL Draft

How Far Can Mac Jones Rise Up Draft Boards?

  • The Draft Network
  • March 30, 2021
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The 2021 NFL Draft is said to start at pick No. 3. Trevor Lawrence is the consensus first-overall selection to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Zach Wilson is widely projected to be the second off the board and take the reins in New York for the Jets. The third-overall selection is now in the hands of San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. Shanahan will be at Alabama’s second Pro Day on Tuesday where quarterback Mac Jones will make one last pitch—on the gridiron, at least—to NFL teams.

Jones isn’t widely hailed as the No. 3 pick to the 49ers, who executed a late, blockbuster trade with the Miami Dolphins in order to move up the draft board. He’s not even a consensus top-10 pick. Justin Fields has been projected as QB3 and, in numerous mock drafts, Jones has been QB5, often going to the Chicago Bears at No. 20. It’s been a polarizing debate; one Jones happily lets play out without a second thought. The 49ers could send draft boards in disarray by selecting Jones at No. 3. Jones, however, barely had time to focus on meetings with NFL teams; he’s been busy preparing for Pro Day where he can couple the athleticism he showed last week with the technical abilities that allowed him to have one of the best seasons of any passer.

Jones doesn’t possess the same athleticism as other passers in this class, and in today’s NFL, where dual-threat quarterbacks are coveted, it’s affected his draft stock. He was able to thwart some of that criticism last week when he clocked a high 4.6-second 40-yard dash. Now, Jones will focus on what worked so well for him the past year; and it’s his awareness of both his strengths and weaknesses that help separate him from the rest of the field.

“All they want to see is how your feet move, how the ball comes out, and how you interact with your teammates, so I feel like I did that well,” Jones said Monday ahead of Tuesday’s activities. “This next Pro Day, there’s going to be some deep shots and things like that; the offense we have here is a lot of the stuff I’m basing it off of, and we did a lot of pro-style stuff, some under-center play-action, just show a little bit of everything and hopefully some of the teams can see what they do and envision what I’m doing out there and apply it to their offense. I’m doing a little bit of everything, even some things that I might not have even done here.”

Jones just needs one team to fall in love, as he described it, and there’s plenty to like. He doesn’t have the strongest arm, but Jones, when needed, can rip it down the field. He’s an extremely quick processor; as head coach Nick Saban described Monday, Jones “analyzes what’s going to happen before it happens in terms of what the expectation is” on any particular play. He has a good pocket presence and an impressive stat line when facing pressure. 

Last year, in his first full season as Alabama’s starting quarterback, Jones was 56-of-88 passing for 976 yards and 13 touchdowns with two interceptions when facing pressure, per Sports Info Solutions. This had led many to dub Jones as one of the most pro-ready passers in the 2021 class, a badge of honor he takes a lot of pride in.

“I always try to be a pro in whatever I do,” Jones said. “I think that a team that picks me is going to realize they don’t have to worry about me being the first guy in or the first guy out. I’m going to sit and watch as much film as I can and do all the right things.”

This late in the pre-draft process, there isn’t a lot left for Jones to show that isn’t already on film. What can be most influential are the meetings with NFL teams. Once Jones completes his final Pro Day, he’ll have a full schedule of Zoom meetings. He’s already met with about 20 teams outside of talking with all 32 teams at Senior Bowl and is often called to breakdown game film and show his football IQ. Luckily for Jones, he uses his self-diagnosed photographic memory. He can recall every detail of the 22 players on the field. Teams don’t even have to roll the tape and Jones will remember, regardless of whether it’s a good play or a bad one. His high level of preparation will be an attractive quality and, in part, what will make him successful at the next level.

Jones’ own unique journey to collegiate success was an uphill battle, playing behind the likes of Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. When Jones first arrived at Alabama, he was a scout team player and got a starting role in 2019 after Tagovailoa suffered his infamous hip injury. In three years with the Crimson Tide, Jones had to quickly mature and develop short-term memory. He wasn’t going to make every play, despite how badly he wanted to. His work on the field, and off, turned him into a very good manager; it’s a quality of a great quarterback, according to Saban. This, above all else, will translate well to the NFL—whether he’s taken third overall or 20th.

“He went out there and sort of calmly executed and took what the defense gave him and made the right choices and decisions based on what we had coached him to do; seldom did he force the ball. Seldom did he turn it over,” Saban said. “He really managed exactly what we expected him to manage, and I know that when you say a guy does that, everybody thinks he’s not a very good player; he’s not capable of anything else but managing but to me, to be a good quarterback, you’ve got to be a good manager and then your ability to make plays goes from there, and Mac has the ability to make plays.”

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