Corey Seeley: Mac Jones has a higher ceiling than we thought

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The Mac Jones era in New England is creeping closer and closer. 

The former Alabama quarterback made his NFL preseason debut Thursday night in a 22-13 Patriots victory over the Washington Football Team. Jones entered the game late in the first quarter and he received quite a loud pop from crowd.

The first-round rookie looked poised, confident, and about as accurate as advertised. 

Jones made several nice throws on his first drive, ending with a field goal to put New England ahead 6-0. 

To me, the most impressive throw of the night from the rookie was when he showcased his arm strength and deep-ball accuracy by firing a dime to Wilkerson in the end zone. Jones placed the ball right where it needed to be with exceptional timing and anticipation, but Wilkerson couldn’t hold on as the ball slipped through his hands. 

Jones played all of the second and third quarters before being taken out for veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer. Jones’ final stat-line doesn’t jump off the page as he ended the night 13 of 19 for 87 total yards. But if you watched this game and knew nothing about Mac Jones, you should’ve walked away saying that he most certainly looked the part of a first-round quarterback. 

Jones consistently displayed a composure and certainty that you don’t typically see in rookies – let alone rookie quarterbacks. 

On the Patriots first possession of the second half, Belichick presumably wanted to see Jones in various new situations as they upped the tempo calling numerous quick-hitters resembling a no-huddle, two-minute drill-like rhythm. Jones held his own throughout the possession as he led the Patriots down the field on a 13-play drive which ended with a field goal. 

After the game, Belichick was asked about that very possession:

“We would have gone two-minute at the end of the second quarter, but we didn’t have one, so we just went two-minute at the start of the third quarter.”

Jones adapted to the faster pace remarkably well and from what I’ve seen from Jones in training camp, it’s something he’s excelling at even in practice. His quick trigger release has been one of the most impressive elements to Jones’ game, and in fast pace no-huddle situations, he looks every bit the part of what the Patriots like to do there.

I’ve spent a lot of time the past two weeks watching the Patriots practice at their training camp in Foxborough. And of course, Mac Jones is a player I’ve been meticulously watching. Prior to the Patriots selecting Mac Jones 15th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, I watched a lot of his Alabama tape. The consensus among scouts, analysts, and fans was that Jones might be the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft, but also the quarterback with the lowest ceiling. 

It’s tough to contend that Jones has a higher ceiling than Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, or Justin Fields. 

So, I won’t. For now.

When rumors were spinning that the 49ers had traded up to No. 3 overall to select Mac Jones, I’ll admit that I was not a fan of that move for them. I personally felt that Justin Fields was the second-best quarterback in the draft, and he should be the guy Shanahan and the 49ers staff draft at No. 3. 

Fast forward to today, and out of all the things I’ve taken away from watching Jones in practice and now one preseason game, his confidence and poise are what stand out to me the most. 

For example, Jones is not an elite athlete like quarterbacks drafted ahead of him. Yet, earlier in the week during practice in 11-on-11’s, I watched on as Jones rolled out of the pocket to his left to elude pressure, contorted his body to the angle he needed and delivered a strike to Kendrick Bourne down the middle of the field for a first down. 

Bourne was noticeably animated after he made the catch, and many Patriots teammates applauded the play. 

Zero reaction out of Jones as he walked on signaling to the coaching staff for the next play call. 

After last week’s preseason win over Washington, Cam Newton commented on Mac Jones’ performance, and also gave us a glimpse into Jones’ work ethic behind the scenes:

“He wants to be so perfect, and I see his preparation is always pristine, that's what I admire about him, being at such a young age he knows how to prepare and knows when Josh (McDaniels) asks quick questions or when a person asks quick questions, he knows how to kind of have answers for it.”

Coming out of Alabama, a popular NFL comp for Jones was Kirk Cousins. I watch a lot of football, as we all do; I’ve never seen Cousins even attempt a throw like the one I witnessed Jones make. 

Now folks, do not get me wrong here – I am not saying that Mac Jones is an athletic mobile quarterback. I am however, saying that Jones is not afraid to do what is necessary to make a play for his football team. 

And you cannot say the same thing for every NFL quarterback.

Tom Brady has never been the most talented quarterback in the league. 

He just wants it more. 

If Mac Jones wants it, his ceiling is much higher than we think.