2021 NFL Draft: Can Mac Jones Be An NFL Starter?

Mac Jones’ level of play in the 2020 college football season has been one of the biggest storylines in the sport this year, as he has guided the Alabama Crimson Tide to a unanimous No. 1 ranking. Fresh off a 302 yard and five-touchdown performance in a 42-13 beatdown over Auburn in the Iron Bowl, Jones has reminded everyone why he has been a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender all season long. 

Okay, so we have established that Mac Jones has been one of the best quarterbacks in college football this year, and Alabama is poised for another run at a National Championship, but what does this all mean for Jones’ future in the NFL? He is eligible to declare for the NFL Draft after this year and it is hard to imagine his draft stock getting any higher than it is right now. With that in mind, it is never too early to start wondering how the Alabama star will transition to the NFL.

A fair criticism of Jones is he is surrounded by the best weapons in the country, with an impenetrable offensive line and DeVonta Smith, John Metchie, Najee Harris, and others getting wide-open left, right, and center. But Jones has been doing even better than people predicted coming into the season, and now he is doing it without Jaylen Waddle, so how fair of criticism is it really? 

Instead of talking about the only potential knock on Jones, let’s dive into what he does well. Clearly, he can throw the deep ball. He has shown that countless times this season, whether Smith or Waddle have had two feet or 200 feet of separation. When you look at the best quarterbacks in the NFL, Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers, they all can throw deep. So Jones checks the box there when you are talking about his prospect as an NFL quarterback.

To me, what has been most impressive about Mac Jones is his pocket presence and his ability to sense and avoid pressure. The tape from Saturday’s win over Auburn shows Jones stepping up in the pocket multiple times when the Tigers got to him. Just look at this dime he threw to Jahleel Billingsley. Now look at his second touchdown he tossed to Smith. Smith did everything after the catch, but Jones was still able to get him the ball with a defender right in his face. He has been doing this time and time again, even going back to last season when he stepped in for an injured Tua Tagovailoa. It is the little things like this that make Jones so mechanically sound, and that is why I feel confident he will be successful at the next level. 

We will see how many signal-callers are selected ahead of him. Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields are locks to be the first two off the board. Then there is North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and BYU’s Zach Wilson, who are both highly touted prospects as well. Jones could very well be the fifth quarterback selected next April, but that could also mean he goes to a much better situation than say, Lawrence with the Jets or Fields with the Jaguars. If the Saints or Steelers, two teams with aging quarterbacks with no real long term backup plan, draft Jones, he could go on to have a very successful NFL career. 

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