Futures: Alabama QB Mac Jones

Alabama Crimson Tide QB Mac Jones
Alabama Crimson Tide QB Mac Jones
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

No matter how any analyst ranks Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Zach Wilson, the overwhelming sentiment is that all four players have tantalizing arm talent, good-to-great athletic ability, and an exciting play style. They are all the kind of quarterback you create in Madden. Alabama's Mac Jones is nothing of the sort.

Jones' arm talent does not pop off the screen, nor does he have the kind of athletic ability that strikes fear in the hearts of a defense. Seldom does he do anything, for better or worse, that gets you to jump out of your seat. Jones is strictly a pocket passer whose game revolves more around touch and finesse than "wow" plays.

Arm strength is the natural starting point for any discussion about Jones. His lackluster arm strength is particularly off-putting when juxtaposed against the other four first-round quarterbacks in this class. Wilson arguably has the worst arm of the top four quarterbacks this year, yet he should still rank comfortably in the top half of the league in that category the moment he becomes a pro.

Jones' arm is not even in the same stratosphere. Jones' arm is weak enough that it is worth questioning whether or not it will have enough juice to work in the NFL.

At times, Jones' arm strength looks functional in the same way Teddy Bridgewater or old-man Philip Rivers' arms do. Jones, like Rivers, can generate just enough velocity on his throws to complement the wonderful touch he displays.

The catch is that Jones must throw on time, if not early, and has zero margin for error with respect to ball placement since his passes are not traveling too fast. To his credit, Jones regularly met that criteria at Alabama, like in the throw above. It is not like Jones' film is completely devoid of any throws requiring some degree of arm talent. Throws such as this one at least keep the door open on the possibility that Jones may have enough arm talent to survive in the NFL. He is not clearly below the NFL baseline, but it is hard to make the argument that he is comfortably above it.

This is not a horrible pass. The ball flies about 45 yards (granted, from the near hash) from where Jones lets it go and still arrives in a decent spot for the receiver to work back for it. In the NFL, however, Jones is more often going to have to drive on this ball and place it more out in front of the wide receiver. There is plenty of space between where the receiver catches this on the inside of the painted numbers and the sideline. A quarterback with good, NFL-level arm strength should be able to deliver this ball more towards the sideline without forcing the receiver to work back to it this way.

While Jones has enough arm strength to get the ball in the general area of a first-round wide receiver with three steps over a linebacker, he does not have the power to deliver more of a line drive without the ball nose-diving 5 yards short of the target. Jones can only really deliver passes that hang. That worked out for him far more often than not at Alabama, but in the NFL, those windows will not be as forgiving and Jones will miss out on these explosive opportunities more regularly than he did in college. Trying to gauge Jones' ceiling while knowing throws like this will become tougher for him in the NFL has to make you a little uneasy.

To Jones' fortune, the Alabama offense regularly provided him with easier throws and a comfortable pocket to work with. His arm strength was not regularly put under a microscope like on the previous play. Jones' work when things break down can be shaky, which we will get to, but he is a smooth operator in structure—in Alabama's structure, at least. His timing, anticipation, and accuracy when playing clean and on schedule is fantastic.

This is a vertical throw, but it is not really a display of arm strength. Every single NFL starter can throw 35 yards to a slot fade, even from the far college hashes. This throw is instead a good look at how picture-perfect Jones' ball placement can be when throwing in rhythm. Jones loads to throw as soon as he hits the top of his drop and places the ball right in stride for a touchdown. The ball is in comfortable reach out in front of the wide receiver, neither forcing him to slow down nor speed up to make the catch. It does not get prettier than that.

Jones also proved himself capable of working through his progressions when provided a comfy pocket. The NFL will provide fewer of those opportunities, yes, but a good quarterback must still take full advantage of those chances when they present themselves. There should be little worry about Jones making good on those plays.

Jones peeks DeVonta Smith (6) at the bottom of the screen at the snap. Smith is just an "alert" rather than part of the actual progression, but because the play-side concept takes some time to develop, Jones is free to take the time to see if Smith can beat the press immediately. He does not, which prompts Jones to return play-side as he finishes his dropback. Jones catches Missouri's nickel defender (over the innermost wide receiver) turning and getting vertical to run the pole, giving the Tigers a Cover-2 look with the nickel and linebacker swapping responsibilities post-snap (likely as a means to have a defensive back instead of a linebacker covering Jaylen Waddle as the "speed" No. 3). In any event, Jones knows the pole runner taking No. 3 vertical leaves a window between the two other middle-of-the-field defenders and fires in an accurate pass right between them. That is a tough, necessary throw on a third-and-12 like this.

The Crimson Tide's historic signal-caller also shredded the competition thanks to his pristine timing. Jones knows that his arm strength is lacking, and he has a good understanding of how to best work around that. Jones, at least at the college level, often circumvented his middling arm strength by anticipating when routes would become open and throwing early. That leaves him ripe for some Rivers-esque interceptions, but if done right, it can be the reason Jones finds success now and in the future.

Teams such as the Rams and 49ers like these deep stop routes near the hashes. Though the route and read themselves are simple, ripping the ball 20 or so yards down the field is not exactly a "free" throw. Jones does not have the raw arm strength to wait on this and see the route about to snap off, though. If he wants to get it there on time, Jones has to throw terribly early.

Image 1


Image 2

Here is a better look at Jones' release compared to the receiver's route. Jones' arm is about to come forward as the wide receiver is at the opposing 48-yard line. The wide receiver does not settle and turn back for the ball until he gets to the opposing 44-yard line. That is as early a delivery as it gets, and the ball arrives right when and where it needs to.

Oddly enough, Jones already being advanced in the timing and anticipation department makes his profile tricky to unravel. It raises the question as to whether Jones is maxed out as a player right now. If we assume, generally, that timing and functioning in structure is the area where quarterback prospects can show the most growth going from college to pros, then where is the untapped potential for Jones within the structure of an offense? He has already maxed out what his arm allows him to do. What Jones offers right now is good, not great, and it is difficult to find what potential is left for Jones to untap.

We can also assume Jones' ways for working around his arm strength will not translate to the NFL quite the same way they functioned in college, unless you make the leap to believing Jones can be Drew Brees. That is not a leap I am willing to make. It is far more likely Jones functions along the lines of Bridgewater or Chad Pennington, which is serviceable to good, than in elite territory such as Brees. That sentiment is only exacerbated by how uncomfortable Jones often looked when forced off his rhythm.

To be clear, Jones is not scared of pass-rushers. That is not the issue. Jones will take a hit if need be, and he has shown flashes of resetting in the pocket to make a throw. However, if Jones' rhythm within the concept is disrupted, either via pass-rushers or cloudy coverage, his mechanics can become out-of-sorts and lead to some real head-scratching throws.


Neither of these plays are particularly contested. The pockets are clean, though slightly less so in the second example. The receivers are not smothered. Both passes should be easy completions. And yet, because Jones is not ripping it off the top of his drop or after his first hitch, his mechanics become wonky and both passes hit the dirt without the receiver getting a reasonable chance at them. Jones did not often end up desynced from the concept because of how machine-like Alabama's offense operated, but the results were less than flattering when he ended up in those spots.

Jones is not the flashiest playmaker outside of the pocket either. To his credit, Jones is not a completely cement-footed athlete and he can actually move a bit in the open field. There is no explosiveness to his game, but he does have enough speed in the open field to function on rollout stuff and occasionally extend the play if given an easy avenue to do so, similar to Kirk Cousins. Jones does not have the dynamic arm strength or daring mentality to make splash plays on the move, though. He may salvage broken plays here and there for a short completion, but game-changing plays outside the pocket are not in Jones' arsenal. That is an even larger issue when Jones' ability to deliver game-changing passes from the pocket is also limited due to arm talent.

Jones is a decent but ultimately uninspiring quarterback prospect. For the most part, Jones is accurate and capable in working through his progressions, and he will not put the ball at risk. His play within the structure of an offense is reliable, but it stops there. The lack of any dynamic physical trait puts a low ceiling on his game, barring the off chance he develops the finer parts of his game to Brees or Tom Brady levels. It is far more reasonable to expect Jones to deliver play along the Andy Dalton-Jared Goff-Cousins spectrum than to develop into the increasingly rare elite pocket passer. Developing quarterbacks to be elite pocket-only passers in the post-2011 CBA era just does not exist.

With that in mind, there should be no way the 49ers (or any other team) burn a top-five pick on Jones. Draft picks in that range should be for players who have a franchise-changing potential rather than players who can just be solid starters, which is especially true for quarterbacks. Jones is more along the lines of a second-round talent who could get a value bump into the mid-/late first round by virtue of being a quarterback.


54 comments, Last at 29 Apr 2021, 2:19pm

#1 by theslothook // Apr 14, 2021 - 11:29am

"The lack of any dynamic physical trait puts a low ceiling on his game, barring the off chance he develops the finer parts of his game to Brees or Tom Brady levels."

I think Derrik's bar for success is a bit high. If he turns into Philip Rivers or a healthy Chad Pennington, it will also be worth the price. 

I also find this new shift in thinking quite fascinating. Its not as if scrambling QBs or big armed thrower haven't existed in the past. But for a good 10 years, the very best qbs were all high level passers who functioned in a very defined, timing based offense. Now it appears we are in the era of sandlot players. 

How much of this is just this generation of scramblers panned out in a way the prior generations didn't and similarly, this generation of pocket passers aren't the same as the prior generation. 

Why are we assuming the game has fundamentally changed and thus the profile of which QB becomes a success has changed? 


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#2 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Apr 14, 2021 - 12:03pm

The QBase numbers line up with Klassen's opinions in this article.  QBase has Jones at  54.8% chance to be a bust, 7.1% chance to become elite, both a step below the other top 4 QBs.  There's a circularity here, though, as QBase assumes Jones goes late 1st round, and if he goes higher QBase's chance of success scores would increase.  But assuming equal draft positions, QBase still likes the other 4 QBs better than Jones, so whatever has fundamentally changed (if anything has), it's coming out in the numbers, not just in the subjective analysis.

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#44 by ahzroc // Apr 16, 2021 - 11:15am

Quick question for the class:

Re Jones:

How important is Accuracy in an NFL QB? ( a la Drew Brees)

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#3 by mehllageman56 // Apr 14, 2021 - 12:27pm

If he turns into a healthy Chad Pennington he will end up being better than at least half the guys going ahead of him.  I doubt he does-that's his ceiling.  It's not that low a ceiling.  If his ceiling is Teddy Bridgewater pre-injury, that's a lot worse.  The thing is, Pennington was accurate even when he rolled out or was out of rhythm; his problem was arm strength on medium throws, especially after the shoulder injury.  Looks like Jones has more issues than Pennington did coming out of college.

Also not sure I agree about Wilson's arm being the weakest.  I went from watching Fields' Nebraska tape to a Wilson game from 2020 and being more impressed with Wilson's arm strength.  Then I watched Wilson's game against Washington in 2019, and realized his arm strength improved from one year to the next-probably because he was playing injured in 2019.  It doesn't matter that much, since while Fields and Wilson don't have Elway arms, or even ones as strong as Jim Kelly/Dan Marino, they're good enough for the NFL.

I don't think I wrote it before, but thanks for these articles Derrik.

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#14 by dank067 // Apr 14, 2021 - 4:58pm

Seconding your comment that a healthy Pennington would seem to represent a pretty decent ceiling. I hadn't realized he finished #1 in DVOA by a mile in 2002 (#2 in DYAR to Gannon in his MVP year). Unfortunately that was probably his only really healthy season. But maybe Derrik is right that it's harder to develop that type of player now - Pennington sat for two years.

For some of the other comps here, Goff seems like he has a significantly better arm than Jones but would appear to be much worse at processing and extending plays. So then Cousins - if you put Jones' ceiling in terms of Kirk Cousins, or a slighly better Kirk Cousins, I think that could be worth an upper-half first round pick, but in a draft with these other four prospects, I think they all have to go ahead of Jones.

Also seconding thanks to Derrik, have enjoyed these.

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#15 by theslothook // Apr 14, 2021 - 5:01pm

Let me ask a clarifying question. What is it that Kirk Cousins lacks that puts his ceiling where it is?

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#18 by dank067 // Apr 14, 2021 - 5:37pm

I'd say he doesn't have a top-end arm, and his ability to make plays out of structure or under pressure is limited - mostly just checks the ball down, and doesn't make very good decisions when he tries to do more than just check the ball down in those situations.

While not athletic enough to extend plays, Cousins is at least effective on the boot and can throw rolling to his left, so he's not a total statue. (I seem to remember that a RH QB throwing while rolling left used to be a bigger novelty back in like the late 90s/early 00s.)

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#19 by theslothook // Apr 14, 2021 - 5:50pm

Sure but those problems were true of Peyton Manning post neck surgery as well. And probably true for Drew Brees for the last 5 years. 

I would say Kirk Cousins biggest weakness is that he's a lot like other volatile QBs that needs proper roster construction and scheme to mitigate his weaknesses. I think this is also true for Stafford as well. It was certainly true for Flacco who had a gun for an arm. 

I think we can all agree, Cousins lacks the ability to elevate his roster because he does not possess those higher level QB skills. I think this is also definitely what plagues Goff. In other words, bless Cousins with a better arm and a bit more mobility and I am not sure how much better a QB he really is. Effectively, I don't think his physical tools are the limiting factor here. 

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#20 by dank067 // Apr 14, 2021 - 6:10pm

I don't think I agree, just looking quickly at last year's DYAR leaderboard, there are quite a few QBs who I would put above Cousins whose physical tools are significant to their success: Mahomes, Rodgers, Allen, Watson, Tannehill, Wilson. Dak and Lamar didn't put up the numbers last season (Dak obviously bc he got hurt), but I think they also belong in this group.

The list of QBs near the top who I would consider super-elite processors/anticipators/whatever without that kind of talent (or who have lost that talent) looks much shorter: Brady, Ryan, Brees, Rivers. Stafford and Carr are probably like if Cousins had a better arm but was a little bit worse of a processor. Looking for up-and-comers, I think Herbert, Murray and Mayfield also all clearly have better physical tools than Cousins, while Burrow does not.

So I think talent is winning out.

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#21 by theslothook // Apr 14, 2021 - 6:17pm

So this is where I wondered if this is a new normal or just how its working out currently. It might be coincidental that the athletes are doing well now versus in the past. After all, its not as if there weren't athletic QBs in the past. 

I agree - right now the best QBs in the league would all be deemed "athletic", but that just may be what we are observing today. 

Also we need to define what "athletic" means in this context. Is it big arm + mobility or just one or the other. Also, is mobility defined by willingness to run or having a sufficient amount of speed to run?

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#29 by joe football // Apr 15, 2021 - 10:52am

I think the quality of mobile QB prospects has definitely gone up over time as more coaches at all levels have moved towards putting athletes at QB in real passing offesnes(non-option) instead of moving them to other positions.  It's possible that this has the opposite effect on pocket-only guys:  there's fewer of them getting a chance to develop, so fewer good ones available to pick from when they get to the NFL.  You see a similar sort of thing with offensive linemen where you will periodically see articles quoting line coaches complaining about how nobody is developing NFL-style OL prospects and all the guys coming out suck(haven't seen one this year so maybe they've adapted).

So in the past it would be easy to make the case for Mac Jones over Kordell Stewart or Tebow or Pat White.  But if you have guys who can legitimately move and throw at a high level, it starts to become harder to justify taking the pocket-only guy.  Obviously if he's legitimately Brees or Brady you don't care, but it's a lot harder to figure that out ahead of time then whether he can move(or how hard he throws)

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#30 by theslothook // Apr 15, 2021 - 11:10am

This is a good point. I also take the extreme view that no one can predict if a QB will develop those mental processing skills to the degree that those hall of famers did. In that respect, you would say, better to go with the prospect that can move than one who can't.

I should add, however, even here there's a risk. it is not obvious that someone like Lamar is going to develop the passing skills to be as dangerous as he is. Tebow never did. Manzeil never did. Vince Young never quite did either.  

Josh Allen looked like a bust for 2 years, his running ability notwithstanding. I think if we are being honest, his leap was a huge surprise given his career trajectory to that point. I bet a fair amount of people(maybe the majority?) would have predicted Sam Darnold making that leap instead of Allen. Going back to the draft, if these two players are again available, are you going to take Allen over Darnold without the benefit of hindsight?

In a way, my argument is a long these lines. The physical tools are nice to have, but unless they have Lamar level gifts, those tools are nice to haves. What you really want, first and foremost, is that player to be good at throwing. And so if I were drafting a qb, my first choice criteria would be - who is the most likely to be a good passer and then I would start looking at physical attributes. 

Also, a thought exercise. How much better, if at all, is Joe Flacco than Andy Dalton? Because Andy Dalton is a punchline because of his noodle arm; something you can never accuse Flacco of having. And yet, outside of one miracle run, I might take Dalton over a career than Flacco. 


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#54 by GwillyGecko // Apr 29, 2021 - 2:19pm

Josh Allen improved quite a bit in year two before improving again in year 3.

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#4 by All Is On // Apr 14, 2021 - 12:32pm

I think there's two factors. One, you can teach a scrambler to be a high-level processor (at least theoretically), but you can't teach a guy athleticism. Two, scramblers definitionally have higher ceilings. You're going to have plays that don't work over the course of a game. A guy with the ability to scramble has the ability to turn those into sandlot completions or just tuck and run. A guy with little athletic ability is going to have to force a lower-percentage throw or eat a sack. Every throw available to Tom Brady is (again, theoretically) available to Lamar Jackson, but no Lamar Jackson run is available to Tom Brady.

I think there has also been some understanding lately that athletic ability at the QB position also raises the floor of your offense when your shiny new QB is developing. An athletic QB adds another dimension to your running game and can be difficult to defend when he tucks and runs on passing downs. Athleticism adds options for your options.

Derrik makes this point at the close of the article: teams target potential and upside at the top of the draft. If you have two identical prospects, but one can run, obviously the one that can run has higher potential. Comparisons are never that obvious, but I think that's the guiding principle here.

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#5 by All Is On // Apr 14, 2021 - 12:32pm

This comment was meant to be a direct reply to theslothook's first comment. oops.

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#6 by theslothook // Apr 14, 2021 - 1:26pm

You've crystalized a lot of the thinking very well here. I think this line is the best argument there is:

"Every throw available to Tom Brady is (again, theoretically) available to Lamar Jackson, but no Lamar Jackson run is available to Tom Brady."

This is literally true but I don't think it works in practice. I think, if anything, there may be a negative correlation between scrambling and being Tom Brady. By that I mean, using your legs as a bailout means you don't need to be extra attentive to knowing how to maximize every drop back. And scramblers create their own problems with sacks and turnovers from fumbles - something Josh Allen still has a problem with. In that way, I would argue Lamar is the QB with the hard ceiling and someone like Mac Jones has a ceiling unavailable to Lamar. Again in practice this is what I have observed.  Its also by the way why I don't think Wilson belongs in the conversation of the highest tier of QB despite a lot of people clamoring that he should be. He takes a lot of sacks and while he doesn't throw many interceptions, the nature of his game is much more high variance than a traditional drop back passer. 


I will agree here - a low athletic QB better be really good presnap or hes useless. A scramble athletic guy can raise the floor so I guess he's less likely to end up a bust. Maybe the functional difference between Josh Rosen early on and Josh Allen early on was that the former couldn't run and the latter could. 

But since the point of contention was on the word "ceiling", I tend to disagree in general. The ceiling of QB play is Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, two guys no one thinks is some athletic marvel. 




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#31 by All Is On // Apr 15, 2021 - 11:53am

Your point about scrambling disincentivizing the development of "pocket passer" QB skills is something I considered and I think there's something to that. I would absolutely be willing to believe there are prospects for whom that is true. But I think most NFL evaluators operate under the assumption that these skills can be taught once the QB gets brought into the building. The Josh Allen case is evidence that it can be true in certain cases. Whether a mobile prospect has these skills in college affects what people perceive as that prospect's floor, I think, not his ceiling (I think that's clearly wrong, but I'm not an NFL talent evaluator).

As far as what the ceiling of QB play looks like, you might come to different conclusions if you're looking at single years or full careers. I think it's fair to consider both. Manning and Brady are clearly the choices if you're talking career, but on a yearly basis, you have Mahomes '18 or Rodgers '11 (and numerous others) to throw into the discussion. Both of those guys combined elite processing with athleticism and mobility. It added an extra dimension to their passing offenses. Would Manning or Brady have been as good in those offenses? Hard to say. I would argue no.

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#32 by theslothook // Apr 15, 2021 - 12:08pm

Well I would say, you don't absolutely need to have Manning or Brady level mastery to produce the highest of performances. Mahomes and Rodgers and Lamar have. 

But, interestingly, the highest dvoa ever recorded by a qb was Peyton Manning. The highest Dyar ever recorded was Tom Brady. So even if you think Mahomes or Rogers has that little extra to them, it doesn't appear to be enough to unseat the guys above. And these weren't one time seasons either. Manning and Brady have produced more all time seasons than any other QBs you can name, including Rodgers. 

Think of it another way. What's more impressive, having a guy that's able to make something happen when things go wrong or having a guy who is so efficient that he avoids being in those bad situations in the first place. I think this is a pretty big qb grading blind spot. 



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#35 by All Is On // Apr 15, 2021 - 1:32pm

You're right that the best QB performances historically have been from disproportionately from statuesque passers. Is that because being a statuesque passer is necessary for those performances to exist? Or is it because the league has actively selected for statuesque QBs until now and athletic passers haven't been given as much development and playing time? I don't know which it is and I don't think we can know. I think there are reasonable cases to be made on either side.

I'm not sure your final question is the right one to ask because I don't think those skills are in any way exclusive. A QB can't avoid all bad situations - he can't make his LT not get run over right at the snap, for example. If you have two QBs of exactly equal ability to play the mental game and exactly equal arm talent but one of them can run, you'd rather have the more athletic one because he will likely be better in situations where the plan isn't executed. That's how I'm thinking about this situation.

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#36 by theslothook // Apr 15, 2021 - 1:49pm

To your second point, I absolutely agree. All things equal, your ideal would be someone who has Lamar's legs, Rodgers arm, Brady or Manning's presnap abilities, and Favre's toughness. 

Are they mutually exclusive? Not literally, but I do think there are some negative correlations built in. Mahomes having his abilities means he's more willing to gamble on extending plays and drifting backwards than someone like Brady or Manning, who will actively avoid those situations. Is one better than the other? In terms of producing the best of best seasons, probably not. We're splitting hairs here. I could easily see Mahomes having a season where he breaks the all time DYAR or DVOA record. 

As for your first point, I agree again, there's a case to be made in either direction. 

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#7 by ImNewAroundThe… // Apr 14, 2021 - 1:46pm

Mac Jones ceiling is higher than Lamars...because he's essentially not smart enough to know when not to use his legs. Russell Wilson isnt in the highest tier because he takes sacks yet still gets a bunch of yards and TDs and has been better, overall, than statutes like Ryan and Brady since he's entered the league.

Geez. Twist the definition of ceiling in the worst ways and doesn't even realize it. No wonder people don't wanna talk about Fields unfair criticisms here when they do it themselves. Peyton and Brady (hmm just those two) are insanely great at processing and reading coverages not just during but before the snap. That's intelligence that apparently only Mac Jones can hit but not Lamar because he moves around therefore he's never going to figure out sacks are bad. Weird. 

Mac Jones is a fine pick starting at like 9 with Denver, as long as a team isn't trading up to do so. But as Derrick has pointed out, and I have before, him above any of the top 4 is asinine because a lack of arm strength and mobility is something NFL defenses can pick apart. Yes, that factors in the ways he does win and tries to compensate for it. 

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#8 by mehllageman56 // Apr 14, 2021 - 2:25pm

The thing is, Fields isn't even Lamar Jackson or Vick.  He's very athletic, but he plays in the same style as Aaron Rodgers, and that's where people should put his ceiling.  Fields' first instinct isn't to run, but read the field.  He'll scramble but he's still looking downfield usually.  I'd rather have Aaron Rodgers than Lamar Jackson or Vick.

I agree that taking Jones over Lawrence, Fields or Wilson is a really foolish move, and I don't think that's going to happen.  I disagree on where you put Lance; he is not more athletically gifted than Fields, and isn't that much better than Lawrence.  He's a decent bit faster than Wilson, ok.  He has a strong arm, but has not displayed the accuracy the others have displayed, and he played weaker competition than the other three, including Wilson.  He also only has a season and one game under his belt.  I would take Jones over him.  Not sure if either should go in the first round.  Understand, I'm not saying than an NFL team won't take Lance early in the first, I'm just saying it's a really risky move.

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#10 by ImNewAroundThe… // Apr 14, 2021 - 3:45pm

that happens to run a 4.44, something Jones doesn't come near. 

If you want a QB that has a lower ceiling and a low floor due to mobility, is older, and "also only has a season and one game under his belt (yes this also apples to Mac)" that's on you.

But either way, Mac does not, in any shape or form, have a higher ceiling than Lamar. Or any of the top 4 this year. Implying otherwise is stereotypical. Mac is a safe QB11-22, not high ceiling. 

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#13 by mehllageman56 // Apr 14, 2021 - 4:22pm

Oh, I agree he doesn't have a higher ceiling than Lamar.  His ceiling is higher than Lamar is now, but that is just how ceilings are.  Although, Lamar might have reached Pennington's DYAR level with that one year.

I also think Jackson is better at reading the field than some other posters think, or seem to think.  His issue is accuracy, or rather his mechanics... which he worked on before his MVP year, and not during the covid off-season.  I fully expect his performance to improve again.

Again, agree to disagree with one member of your top 4.  Although he may have a higher ceiling than everyone mentioned, his floor is abysmally low.

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#22 by ImNewAroundThe… // Apr 14, 2021 - 6:41pm

Just because he's not in the NFL right now? He's not Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen bad. He won MVP just a year ago with rookie Hollywood Brown and Willie Snead as his top WRs. That shouldnt be erased. 

If supposed great coach (do you agree?) Kyle Shanahan is sick of Jimmy G do you think he signed off on trading three 1sts for Jimmy G 2.0? Would you?

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#40 by bravehoptoad // Apr 15, 2021 - 10:30pm

Well, not when he could have stayed put and gotten THAT guy at 12, or if you were the nervous sort could have moved up to 6 and saved an entire first-round draft pick over what you paid to get to 3.

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#43 by jds // Apr 16, 2021 - 10:13am

Yeah, I don't get why SF moved to 3, if it is to get Jones.  Who did they think saw good things in Jones (that they obviously did) that would scoop them?  He looks "adequate", which might be what you are looking for, but why did they think they had to overpay that much, to get adequate?

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#50 by ImNewAroundThe… // Apr 18, 2021 - 11:55am

It wouldn't make much sense for a coach we think is great to pick essentially the same QB that's limited. Great player+great scheme>good player+great scheme. I find it hard to believe anyone watches Jones and thinks he's a top 3 QB in this class, especially someone as good as Kyle. But if he did select Jones, that just brings up doubt. Does he not know how to read the room/board. ATL is begging someone to take #4! They wouldn't have had to give up that 3rd at least.

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#9 by Raiderfan // Apr 14, 2021 - 3:41pm

You write “is far more likely Jones functions along the lines of Bridgewater or Chad Pennington,”. I am curious if their college performances were similarly off the charts as Jones’ was.  Additionally, why is his comp them, and not, for example, Matt Ryan, who, of course, was MVP under Shanahan?

And, Ryan has been an iron man, as opposed to athletic QBs who run.

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#12 by joe football // Apr 14, 2021 - 4:10pm

Bridgewater had fantastic stats for the time(71% completion, 31 TDs to 4 INTs his junior year), but it's probably impossible to really compare a player from 2013 in the AAC and 2021 in the SEC.  The fact that we've had two players in two seasons with these kind of stats(Burrow, Jones) probably means our charts are going to get adjusted pretty soon

You can make a reasonable comparison between Jones and Ryan on physical traits(both middling by modern standards), but Ryan definitely wasn't drafted high based on his awesome college production

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#42 by nath // Apr 16, 2021 - 5:08am

It probably isn't comparable, but I don't think in the way you mean necessarily. Jones had all the talent of Alabama around him and was doing it in a pandemic year. Bridgewater was also Louisville's starter since he was a true freshman, which I think tends to say something about a player's ceiling. Jones came into Alabama the same year as Tua Tagovailoa but wasn't good enough to unseat him; given the worries people already have about Tua in the NFL, that would be a major mark against Jones for me.

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#17 by dank067 // Apr 14, 2021 - 5:12pm

Had never looked them up before and Pennington's college stats are pretty terrific, adjusted for era I'd have to imagine they're up there with Jones. Of course Pennington was playing for the late 90s MAC equivalent of Alabama himself.

Also, lol at Randy Moss in 1997: 96 rec, 1,820 yds, 26 TDs in 13 games. And he had 28 TDs in 15 games playing in I-AA the year prior.


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#27 by mehllageman56 // Apr 15, 2021 - 1:19am

Marshall went from being I-AA champs in 1996 to going 10-3 in the MAC in 1997, 12-1 in 1998, and undefeated in 1999.  They were very talented, but the talent level of the opposition increased a lot in Pennington's career.

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#39 by Kaepernicus // Apr 15, 2021 - 3:24pm

1. Ryan dragged a relatively poor roster to number 2 in the country in the ACC and was forced to throw the team to victory on a weekly basis in a much more pro-style offense. He had a lot of snaps under center. The offensive system Mac ran could never succeed in the NFL due to the share of PA/RPO plays he was executing and share of short passes. He concerns me the same way Haskins concerned me with 50%+ of his yards coming from YAC.

2. Outside of the double pick 6 game against Auburn in 2019 we really do not have a very good read on how Mac deals with adversity. Mac bouncing back in that game was really impressive but he just has so few reps in those bad situations that he is hard to evaluate. Matt Ryan had (Hyperbole but closer to reality than you think) like 9 game winning drives his last year in college. You were watching him rise to the occasion and make difficult throws to win games against much better rosters. Brees was the same way at Purdue.

I honestly think there is a reason we have not seen a successful pocket passer in the NFL from a loaded major program who lacked some extremely high quality tool(s). You have Stafford with his incredible arm, Carson Palmer with his incredible arm/size/athleticism, and maybe Burrow, if he recovers fully, with his incredible accuracy/scrambling ability. Even Tua has maybe the quickest release I have ever seen but the jury is still very much out on him after a pretty mediocre rookie season. It is just really hard to find a good comp for Mac in the NFL. I keep thinking it is Fromm/Sanchez but that just does not seem right considering his incredible accuracy. He just seems a lot closer to Trask as a prospect than he is to Fields/Lawrence/Wilson and Trask is a lot bigger. Hopefully one of the smart posters on here can find a decent comp for Mac because I have never been able to find one.

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#41 by bravehoptoad // Apr 15, 2021 - 10:31pm

Yah, I don't buy him as Garoppolo 2.0 at all.  Mac doesn't roll out as well or have that utterly lightning release that Pretty Jimmy has.

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#48 by Noahrk // Apr 17, 2021 - 11:54am

More like Daniel Jones, maybe? Which would work even better if the niners pick him at #3.

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#11 by theslothook // Apr 14, 2021 - 3:59pm

Tom Brady's draft profile.


Poor build
--Lacks great physical stature and strength
--Lacks mobility and ability to avoid the rush 
--Lacks a really strong arm
--Can’t drive the ball downfield
--Does not throw a really tight spiral
--System-type player who can get exposed if forced to ad lib
--Gets knocked down easily


My point is not to suggest physical tools don't matter or even to suggest Mac Jones is some generational prospect.


It's more to examine the narrative around ceilings. Allegedly, physical tools hard cap your ceiling. And we have a number of examples where that isn't the case. 



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#16 by StraightCashHomey // Apr 14, 2021 - 5:07pm

I think the better argument isn't that a lack of physical tools hard caps a player's ceiling, but that it really lowers a player's floor. We can imagine a player who has all of Tom Brady's attributes and also has the ability to consistently make plays with his legs. This player, however unlikely his existence is, would certainly have a higher ceiling than Tom Brady. 

Brady hit a remarkably high ceiling, but he did so only because he was able to really maximize many of the non-physical elements of QB play. If he were a bit worse in those areas, he wouldn't be a great player. And if he were a lot worse in those areas, he wouldn't be an NFL QB at all. 

A QB who can make plays with his legs doesn't need to hit as high of a level of his potential in those other areas to be effective. And athleticism is more objective or at least more readily observable than the kinds of processing and feel that made players like Brady or Peyton Manning great. Is Mac Jones a Brady- or even Pennington-level processor? Hard to say. But we know what Justin Fields can do with his legs. 

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#26 by theslothook // Apr 14, 2021 - 8:52pm

"We can imagine a player who has all of Tom Brady's attributes and also has the ability to consistently make plays with his legs. This player, however unlikely his existence is, would certainly have a higher ceiling than Tom Brady."

This is where I made the argument; its not an accident players like Brady need to develop these aspects of their games. Its because they don't have the option available to them when things break down that they have to work extra hard to avoid such situations in the first place. That's not an indicment of players who do being dumber, lazier, or whatever pejoritive comes to mind. It just feels like a natural conclusion. Steph Curry's of the world have to be better shooters than Shaq because of the physical limitations.


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#38 by Kaepernicus // Apr 15, 2021 - 3:01pm

Tom was a drafted baseball prospect, nearly 2 inches taller, and most of the body criticisms were about how skinny he was. I just don't even see him fitting the athletic profile at all either. Mac is most definitely faster than Tom and has a frame that could be improved with conditioning. The scary part is Mac obviously needed to put on 10-20 lbs of muscle and just looks fat. Cousins and Ryan are skinny but ripped. I just do not remember a first round prospect as chunky as Mac with his lower tier arm strength. He is a scary low floor pick with a really high ceiling if you can work him out to the point where he has even above average arm strength. It is really concerning that these conditioning issues are even a concern for a player coming from a place like Alabama.

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#23 by Joseph // Apr 14, 2021 - 7:00pm

1. He had great talent around him at Alabama. This talent advantage over opponents in the NFL will not be as pronounced. The pockets won't be as clean, and he won't have first-round WR's coming off the bench.

2. He appears to have the anticipation (as the article clearly shows) to make throws where other QB's will wait a hair later and use more arm strength. This will serve him well in the NFL, but he will do better if he has a QB coach or OC who has a reputation of helping QB's reach their potential. [Or a former QB. Think Brees, Brady, and the Mannings couldn't teach QB's a ton about reading defenses and anticipating throwing windows?]

3. He needs to fix the footwork issues that caused the two errors in the article. Those pockets are pretty normal in the NFL--if he can't adjust, he will end up as a backup at best. 

4. In my book, he is clearly the lowest ceiling of the 5 potential 1st round QB's--but he probably has the highest floor too. Put him on a team like MIN with 2 good WR, a TE, & a good RB, and he should be OK--and maybe he is a better version of Cousins. Put him on a rebuilding team, and he will look horrible. He would probably also do good on a team that has a good defense and doesn't need 30 points to win the game every week.

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#24 by reddwarf // Apr 14, 2021 - 7:37pm

I think I remember first hearing this with NHL goalies, but sometimes the "best" simply can't teach others to do what they do because it's so instinctual to them.  Die-hard Bronco fan here--does anyone think Elway has been able to even evaluate QB prospects accurately?  And Drew Lock has been picking Manning's brain for a couple years as well.  Despite Elway and Manning being on speed-dial, few are left that think Lock will be anything more than an average starter (and he's got a way to go to even get there).  And I like Lock more than a lot of others do.

So no, I would not be at all sure that Brees, Brady, and the Mannings can successfully teach others the mental processing speed and recognition they possess and were able to hone with thousands of reps.  

And just food for thought, why do we assume that mental strengths can be taught?  No one on Earth was going to turn Manning or Brady into Lamar Jackson because they had/have physical limitations (which doesn't make them couch potatoes, just...not Lamar Jackson).  I'm perfectly comfortable thinking that not many people have the mental capacity of Manning or Brady either (even though saying someone has mental limitations is considered insulting in a way that saying they have physical limitations isn't).

Any of us can learn the principles of recognizing a defense; few people will ever be able to replicate the speed of recognition and processing Brady/Manning have, and I seriously doubt they can "teach" someone else to do it either.  

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#25 by theslothook // Apr 14, 2021 - 8:43pm

This is spot on. And if you think about, there's nothing coded in saying it this way. For some reason, athletic ability is seen as innate and cannot be taught but mental processing is something you can "learn" to do. But what evidence exists that this statement is true?

And like you said, mental processing doesn't imply intelligence or lack thereof. In fact, "measured" intelligence appears to be uncorrelated with football acummen. Ryan Fitzmagic has one of the highest Wunderlich scores and he is a turnover machine. Joey Harrington was one of the most intelligent football players ever. And he sucked. Its sad some people feel obligated to insert race into this discussion at every turn. Its pathetic.

And as you correctly note, whatever abilities these people have, they certainly dont seem to be able to transfer any of it. Brock Osweiler did nothing. Brady's backups outside of Jimmy G amounted to nothing. Do we expect Jameis, Teddy, or Taysom to suddenly process the game like Brees?

When you really think about it, this aspect of QB play looks a lot like innate talent and ability, very much in line with athletic ability. 

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#28 by Joseph // Apr 15, 2021 - 9:34am

I agree with the "processing speed" parts of both of your posts. I also agree with being able to teach that innate processing speed--the ability to jump in an instant from "that safety is dropping out" to "that means the LB will stick on the inside receiver, so the outside receiver running the deep in will be open once he crosses that defender"--that is something that cannot be taught. You either have it, or you don't. 

The part that can be learned is seeing that to make that jump--in other words, knowing where to look and what to look for. This is the part that even decent NFL QB's can teach younger QB's--what to look for. The reason that RPO plays have become popular is that the QB only has to read one guy--in other words, it simplifies that. This allows QBs who have the athletic talent to lean on that instead of their mental processing--which they have probably done a lot of, because they could. No, you can't run RPO's every rep--but if you can do it 7-8x per game, it allows an athletic QB to lean a little more on the stronger parts of his game while he learns the mental process (which we all know has to be faster from HS to college to the NFL). IMO, we saw Josh Allen take this leap last year for BUF.


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#34 by Joey-Harringto… // Apr 15, 2021 - 1:01pm

" sometimes the "best" simply can't teach others to do what they do because it's so instinctual to them."

My impression (perhaps I suffer from confirmation bias) is that the best former players-turned coaches were actually only average at best during their playing careers.  They had marginal physical talent, and had rely on work ethic/practice habits and technique/fundamentals to compete with their more talented peers and stay in the league.

Sammy Baugh, Otto Graham, Norm Van Brocklin and Bart Starr were great players, but failed as coaches.  On the other hand, Gary Kubiak, Jim Harbaugh, Dough Pederson, and Frank Reich were either backups or marginal starters, and had (to varying degrees) pretty successful coaching careers (Harbaugh and Pederson were fired for reasons unrelated to performance it would seem).

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#45 by Joseph // Apr 16, 2021 - 12:35pm

You don't even have to limit it to QB's (although you forgot Sean Payton). Tomlin, Reid, Belichick didn't do anything in the NFL either.

The NBA is no different; I think MLB is also. I think the only guy I know that qualifies as a HOF player and coach is Lenny Wilkens in the NBA. (If you know of another, reply to this.)

On the flip side, how many good players would want to endure the daily grind of coaching? They (probably) have more money than they could ever need; they can still earn money from endorsements, royalties, etc. Broadcasting is much easier when you compare hours and success required, while still being connected to the game. It's not that they can't--but at some point the body gets tired of the grind. In Brees' and Rivers' cases, they want to spend more time with their kids. 

Whereas the guy who only played for a couple of years may still have that competitive drive, and may also be the type whose mental abilities were better than their physical gifts. Let's be honest, almost everybody that plays college sports was a standout/starter in HS, and almost everyone who does something in the pros was a standout/starter in college. (Matt Cassel is the only exception that I know of.) Plenty of guys (and gals) whose physical abilities weren't good enough at the next level have mental abilities that allow them to be successful coaches, usually b/c they couldn't rely on their physical abilities as much as their more athletic peers. 

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#46 by theslothook // Apr 16, 2021 - 12:47pm

I have another perspective to add.

I just don't think being able to do something at a super high level is something you can teach. Peyton Manning can explain all day what he saw on film, but he can't teach you to see all of that in split second time.

I would also say, the skills of being a great player aren't the same skills as being able to coach/teach it. You might think they would; but its a bit like saying - the best software engineers don't necessarily make good managers. 

I would say, successful players might be successful coaches, but I doubt after years of devotion studying a particular set of skills that they have the stomach to pour energies into a different set of skills.

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#51 by Noahrk // Apr 19, 2021 - 12:44am

As to this entire conversation, I would add two things:

-It's a well-known fact in all walks of life that the best doers aren't always the best teachers or trainers (or coaches), and the best teachers are often middling doers.

-While it's true that you can't teach QB processing in the same way you can teach history or math, processing does develop quite a bit with practice, training and study. A good coach will be a valuable aid in this process, although the natural faculties of the player will determine his ceiling. Athletic ability is similar in that good training also helps the athlete reach his ceiling, but it seems clear that good training makes more of a difference in developing processing than athleticism. A good physical trainer can help an athlete run just a tiny bit faster (which makes a big difference in competitions, but still is just a tiny bit), while mental processing (in general, not just in football) can change dramatically when going from an average trainer/teacher/coach to a very good one.

I would also think complex technique, such as is used by QBs would develop in a clearly different way depending on the quality of the coach. Even if we were to assume NFL coaches are the very best in the world (which I would dispute, as I am certain some coaches make it to the NFL based on considerations other than their ability), the athlete-coach fit might not be the right one for a number of reasons. For example, the coach might be doing an apparently very good job at training/teaching, but maybe it's not what that particular athlete needs the most. Maybe one athlete needs someone more demanding, another someone more verbally precise and detail oriented, another someone more empathetic, another someone more inspiring, etc. I believe having the proper coach could make a sizeable difference.

So three things. I would add three things. And that Elway sucks, so four things.


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#52 by Joseph // Apr 19, 2021 - 1:40pm

"The skills of being a great player aren't the same skills as being able to coach/teach it." That is 100% true--teaching=communicating what you have learned. I am good at math, and teaching it; completely fluent in Spanish, and can teach it; have played piano since before grade school, but I'm not very good at teaching it. I can really only work with people that have already done it for several years--I just can't teach the basics that came naturally to me. 

I think the analogy regarding sports is that the most elite can read the play, the defense, the ball rotation/movement, movements of players around them on the court/ice/field, etc. at a faster speed than everyone else. That extremely fast processing time can't be taught, as several people have said--just as physical speed can't be taught.The flip side is that I think someone who already has the fast processing can learn to process other things just as fast--but if they don't process things quickly, the best teacher in the world can't help them process faster.

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#53 by RobotBoy // Apr 22, 2021 - 3:29am

In the NBA, John Wooden, Bill Sharman and Tommy Heinsohn are also in the HOF as players and coaches. 

Paul Molitor is a HOFer currently managing. Dusty Baker was an all-star a few times. Joe Torre was a multiple all-star and MVP who had a good/great career. Joe Cronin is in the HOF as a player and was an excellent manager (and player-manager). Nolan Ryan has been pretty successful in the front office.

The role mlb baseball managers play is so different from NFL head coaches that it's hard to measure them against each other. And neither an NFL head coach nor a baseball manager is doing any hands on teaching of players. Or very little. It might be interesting to look at great players who worked as positional coaches in baseball. Certainly some HOF NBA players have done some excellent coaching - like Olajuwan for big men.

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#33 by barf // Apr 15, 2021 - 12:28pm

Looks like Trent Green 2.0, which won't be a bad thing in the right offense. 

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#37 by Caw Caw // Apr 15, 2021 - 2:49pm

It's pretty much a two way race between Washington and the Pats to draft Jones now, right? It seems like he could succeed in either spot. Assuming Lance goes to the Broncos at 4 or even 9.

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#49 by Tutenkharnage // Apr 18, 2021 - 10:52am

... I fervently hope Jones ends up in New England. Bonus points if they give up other assets to move up for him. 

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