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Mac Jones - 2021 NFL Draft Prospect Profile

The NFL Draft Prospect Profile Series features prominent 2021 NFL Draft prospects with film analysis and scouting insights. I have experience working in college football and have been studying the NFL Draft for over 15 years. My analysis is based on film study and analytics.

A common misconception about the NFL Draft is that the college and pro games are very similar. They are not. Besides the obvious difference in speed and skill level, a college field has different hash mark distances and different rules. There are specific schemes and plays that NFL teams copy from college and vice versa. But the differences between the two are understated in NFL Draft coverage. There's a reason many highly-productive college players are not considered legitimate professionals.

To that end, scouting prospects is not about evaluating college performance, it’s about projecting traits that translate to the next level. This is not limited to just physical traits. There are certain football traits that are evident in college film and will translate to the pro game. For example, a wide receiver being able to get in and out of breaks efficiently will not change from college to pro. On the flip side, an edge rusher who got most of his sacks due to hustle or missed offensive line assignments may not have shown translatable traits on film. We will continue our draft coverage this year with another special QB in Alabama's Mac Jones.

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Mac Jones: Profile

Mac Jones is a fascinating QB prospect and the only traditional pocket passer of the top-five signal-callers in this draft class.  Jones just put together one of the most impressive college seasons of all time, leading his Alabama Crimson Tide to an undefeated record and National Championship, while also helping his stud No. 1 WR DeVonta Smith win the Heisman. Jones put up insane numbers, throwing for 4500 yards and 41 touchdowns on an incredible 77.4 completion percentage. Smart and accurate, Jones makes up for his lack of elite athleticism with an impressive internal clock and ball placement skills few other college QBs have ever shown on film.


The Point Guard

Any evaluation of Mac Jones needs to start with an understanding of Steve Sarkisian's offense. The Alabama offense was based around the run game and RPOs, which will make for a steep learning curve in Jones' transition to a pro offense. Many passing concepts were run from run-action, which means he'll need to learn drop footwork and timing while adjusting to the speed of the NFL. Successfully reading an RPO is a positive in terms of college performance, but won't wow pro scouts. Jones' film showcases his smarts and internal clock, but it's fair to wonder about his adjustment. Tua Tagovailoa's rookie-year struggles will surely give scouts some pause when projecting Jones.

Another common criticism about Jones is that his stock may be inflated due to an amazing supporting cast. Fair or not, there's no question his situation was ideal. He absolutely deserves credit for utilizing his weapons, offensive line, and coaching at a master level. But when translating traits for a player without elite physical gifts, it's important to be critical. The good news for Jones is that he absolutely possesses certain traits NFL teams will covet regardless of the circumstances surrounding him.

Point guards don't always have to be the most athletic players on the basketball court. They just need to be good passers with smarts and an understanding of timing. Jones has that innate ability. In the clip below, Jones escapes left and places an accurate ball along the boundary on a broken play. His internal clock and passing instincts are special.

His most impressive trait is his ball placement, which is showcased on the clip above as he rolls to his left. It's not the easiest throw in the world with two blitzers coming free in the B gap.

So while it's fair to wonder if Mike Evans "made" Johnny Manziel, I believe the Alabama receivers became better players thanks to Mac Jones. His rhythm, smarts, and ball placement were outstanding.

Point guards also must know how to pass the ball in different ways. Jones has excellent touch and throws different types of passes depending on the route. His innate feel as a passer is sensational. The clip below is a simple bubble screen, but notice that the ball is placed on the upfield shoulder, which allows his receiver to not break stride.

Jones throws some very pretty touch passes as well. In the clip below, he recognizes man coverage pre-snap, changes the route combo, and signals his No. 2 receiver to run a slot fade. The ball is dropped in the bucket perfectly.

I don't care who your teammates are - a 77.4 completion percentage is outrageous for a college QB. Mac Jones' smarts, instincts, accuracy, and placement give him a chance to be a successful traditional pocket passer - a rarity in today's pro game.


Translation Questions

The positives are easy to see with Jones. But scouting college QBs is more about projecting translatable traits than evaluating college performance. Jones simply does not have a huge arm by NFL standards.

The clip below shows an easy read for a 1-on-1 vertical route to the field with no safety threat. Jones' play-action footwork and big hitch up in the pocket seem fine, but the ball is misplaced short and dies on its way down.

The clip below shows him nearly get picked off because he puts too much air on a ball that doesn't have energy on the backend.

Sometimes when Jones doesn't like what he sees, his feet get buzzy and his arm is exposed. In the clip below, he sees pressure in his face and is unable to hit an open receiver on a field out-breaking route.

In the same game, Jones' feet take him left when he should step up in the pocket. He tries to zip in a crosser, but it's behind his receiver.

It's worth noting that Jones may have saved Alabama's season in that game by diving on a bad snap inside the five-yard line.  However, there were similar bad reps in the Georgia game too. It's a reminder that QBs with mobility can create second-reaction plays even when coverage is good. Jones won't have that type of margin for error and will need to have teammates get open within the structure of the offense.  Such is life for the pocket passer in 2021.


NFL Outlook

Mac Jones is a prospect that the more film you watch of him, the more he grows on you. His accuracy, placement, touch, and passing instincts are special. Do those traits offset the lack of athleticism and steep learning curve? Given the state of the position in the NFL, I have no doubt Jones will be a coveted player on draft night, with a top-10 selection in his range of outcomes.

Ultimately, his NFL fate will be heavily influenced by the talent around him, as his ability to create on his own is somewhat limited. Even after signing Cam Newton, the Bill Belichick-Nick Saban connection is hard to ignore when considering the Patriots as a potential fit. Carolina also makes sense considering the Panthers' coaching staff coached Jones at the Senior Bowl. The top-five QBs in this draft class all have the potential to shift the power in the league in the coming years.  It's arguably the best 1-through-5 QB group in modern NFL Draft history.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more prospect profiles and other NFL Draft content.

Read past Prospect Profiles here:

Trevor Lawrence - QB, Clemson

Trey Lance - QB, North Dakota State

Justin Fields - QB, Ohio State

Zach Wilson - QB, BYU

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