Going into the 2021 NFL Draft, analysts and fans alike knew that Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots needed to find their quarterback of the future.
The year’s quarterback class had arguably the most hype of any in recent memory, and there was a wealth of options for the franchise to consider.
Trevor Lawrence was undoubtedly going to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the first pick in the draft. But, it was a who’s who after that, featuring big names like BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, North Dakota State standout Trey Lance, and Ohio State star Justin Fields.
Instead of making a big splash by trading up in the order, Belichick and company went with the most Patriots-esque route possible. They waited, let other teams make the first move, and worked with what fell into their lap.
In this case, it happened to be the quarterback that experts believed to be the most “NFL ready” of the bunch: Alabama quarterback Mac Jones.
He didn’t have the speed and playmaking ability that Lance and Fields possessed, or the crazy arm that Wilson showcased in the weeks leading up to the draft.
But, his physical build and his mental abilities reminded many of Tom Brady, the very man that Belichick and the Patriots’ front office were looking to replace after a year with Cam Newton under center.
Fast-forward a few months, and Jones has started his career in the most ideal way possible.
He won the starting job over Newton, and was so impressive throughout training camp and the team’s preseason that the Patriots cut the veteran QB before the start of the regular season.
He remained calm, cool, and collected during practices, games, and media availability, and showcased his commitment to getting better on a daily basis.
Throughout his first few weeks as a starter in the NFL, he proved experts and Belichick right about two things: he is NFL ready, and he is the answer the Patriots were looking for under center.
Even in his NFL debut against the Miami Dolphins, Jones looked stellar. He went 29-of-39 for 281 yards and a touchdown, with an early spike into the ground behind him representing the biggest rookie mistake of the day.
He put the Patriots in position to take a lead late in the fourth quarter, but a fumble from Damien Harris in field goal range thwarted the team’s comeback attempt en route to a 17-16 loss.
Even in a game where he didn’t throw any interceptions or lose any fumbles, Jones took the blame when talking to reporters.
“It starts with me,” Jones said after the Patriots’ first loss of 2021. “It doesn’t go all on Damien. There’s a lot of things I could have done to be better, to not even be in that situation.”
“Definitely wasn’t good enough, starting with me,” he added. “We lost, so it’s not good enough.”
His play on the field isn’t anything earth-shattering, but it’s very Belichick-friendly. It’s mistake-free football, and gives the Patriots’ offensive skill players the chance to make plays in open space.
That same Belichick-esque mindset was evident in his postgame press conference as a starter.
He’s focused on what he can do to get better, and understanding of the fact that any situation in the second quarter could have just as big of an impact as a mistake towards the end of a game.
It’s the ideal Belichick quarterback, which explains the Patriots head coach’s praise for the Alabama product.
“He learns every day,” Belichick said during a pregame interview before Jones’ Week 2 start against the New York Jets. “He gains experience and sees things that he hasn’t seen every day, and then learns from them and moves on to something else. So he’s a very hard worker, and smart, and really studies things well.”
That studying paid off a week later, as Jones earned his first win as an NFL quarterback in a 25-6 rout of the New York Jets.
The game was more of a defensive master class than any highlight reel-worthy performance from Jones, but was still the perfect showcase of what the rookie brings to the table.
On a 26-yard touchdown run from Damien Harris, Jones ran 30 yards downfield to help push his fellow Alabama alum into the end zone.
Postgame, he discussed a familiar philosophy that Patriots fans have heard Belichick preach over the years: Do your job.
“Everybody was down there pushing, and my job is to make sure nothing bad happens and just be by the ball, and maybe I should just stay back,” Jones said with a laugh when asked about Harris’ touchdown run. “But at the end of the day, just trying get the touchdown.”
Shortly after the Harris touchdown run, Jones was providing a key block in open field during a reverse run from Kendrick Bourne.
Again, he talked about his “job” on the play.
“My job was to get the guy on the line of scrimmage,” Jones said. “That’s what I was supposed to do. And KB did a good job getting around the edge.”
Throughout his second NFL start, Jones did his job offensively.
He didn’t force any throws, toss any interceptions, or make any major mental errors. He outplayed Jets rookie Zach Wilson, especially when factoring in the four interceptions that Wilson threw throughout the game.
Looking around the league, he even outplayed Jaguars rookie Trevor Lawrence, who threw two interceptions in Week 2 after a three-interception performance in Week 1.
But, even after an impressive win, Jones agreed with many that he and his teammates could’ve done more offensively with the opportunities the Patriots defense provided.
“It’s true what they say, it’s hard to win in the NFL,” Jones said. “The offense could play better and it will.”
Jones hasn’t set the world on fire offensively yet, but he’s very reminiscent of a young Brady with his “dink and dunk” throws.
Simultaneously, he has a stellar Patriots defense to rely on, similar to what Brady had during the infamous 2001 season that ended in the Patriots’ first Super Bowl win in franchise history.
It’s exactly what Belichick would ask for, considering the Patriots head coach’s consistent focus on “all three phases” of the game.
Out of the entire 2021 quarterback class, Jones seems to be in the best position to take his team to the playoffs, so long as he can follow the Brady blueprint throughout his rookie season.
If he can do that, he’ll further prove those things everyone was thinking after his first few weeks as a starter: he is the most NFL-ready quarterback of his class, and he is exactly what Belichick and the Patriots were looking for under center.