Belichick has a beef. He is reportedly still upset with Jones for his decision to seek outside counsel in 2022, per NBC Sports. Jones also has a beef. The Patriots' offensive play-caller last year was Matt Patricia, who had zero prior experience in that role. Add the Patriots' abysmal offensive season into the equation and here we are, at a crossroads.
If the Patriots do move forward with Jones in 2023, one thing is clear: they need a better supporting cast around him. After all, Jones had a better supporting cast at Alabama, when he won a national championship in 2020. Yes, I know that sounds straight out of a hot-take factory. But this isn't one of those wild claims from years ago, like the Kentucky Wildcats could beat the Philadelphia 76ers. Jones' supporting cast at Alabama, at least on offense, was arguably better than what he's had in New England.
Here's the bird's-eye view. Alabama's best 11 on offense in 2020 was loaded. It featured 10 NFL players and eight drafted in the first or second round.
Starting 11 on offense in Mac Jones' most recent college vs. NFL season
QB Mac Jones
QB Mac Jones
RB Najee Harris
TE Jahleel Billingsley
TE Hunter Henry
LT Trent Brown
LG Deonte Brown
LG Cole Strange
RG Emil Ekiyor
RG Mike Onwenu
RT Evan Neal
A lot of blue-chip talent doesn't necessarily make them pros, especially if you believe in the 'Patriot Way'. So let's break it down further.
Jones had better offensive weapons at Alabama than with the Patriots, from blue-chip talent to actual NFL production.
- Roughly 80% of his career completions at Alabama went to first- or second-round draft picks, namely DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, John Metchie III and Najee Harris.
- Only 30% of his career completions with the Patriots went to players drafted in the first two rounds.
- Surprisingly, he's thrown more than twice as many completions to undrafted players with the Patriots (42%) than at Alabama (19%).
Again, blue-chip talent isn't everything, especially when we're talking about the Patriots, but the numbers are so mind-boggling I had to share.
Mac Jones' percentage of career completions by teammate draft round
First two rounds
The actual NFL productivity between Jones' Alabama versus Patriots teammates is also staggering.
- Jones has completed a pass to 19 different Patriots players in his career. Not a single one has ever made a Pro Bowl. They've combined for one 1,000-yard receiving season, and that was DeVante Parker with the Dolphins in 2019. Parker hasn't quite found his footing with the Patriots either.
- Jones completed a pass to 18 different players at Alabama, they've combined for three Pro Bowls and three 1,000-yard receiving seasons
His Alabama pass catchers include household names like DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, John Metchie III, Najee Harris, Josh Jacobs and Brian Robinson Jr. Even if you only include Jones' breakout season with the Tide in 2020, he still played with two 1,000-yard receivers in Smith and Waddle, and a 1,000-yard rusher in Harris. That trio is better than the Patriots best from 2022 (Rhamondre Stevenson, DeVante Parker and Jakobi Meyers). Even though New England has a better tight end than Alabama (Hunter Henry vs Jahleel Billingsley) I feel confident saying Jones had better offensive skill players around him in college.
NFL careers among players to catch pass from Mac Jones
1,000-yd rec seasons
1,000-yd rush seasons
The trenches are a different story. Jones played behind the best offensive line in college football in 2020, as Alabama won the 2020 Joe Moore Award, given to the nation's best offensive line.
All five starters have made NFL rosters, and three were drafted in the first two rounds. While those five can't stand up to the 2022 Patriots offensive line, they aren't completely out of their league. Only two Alabama linemen from 2020 started last year, and Evan Neal was the second-worst OT in the NFL, per PFF grades. Former Alabama center Landon Dickerson was one of the best guards in the NFL, though. The Patriots' offensive line ranked around the league average and C David Andrews and RG Mike Onwenu were standouts.
Given that three members of the 2020 Alabama O-line weren't starter material in the NFL in 2022, the edge goes to the Patriots here, even if their O-line was pedestrian.
I'll make the tiebreaker coaching. Nick Saban versus Bill Belichick is a wash. Alabama's offensive coordinator in 2020 was Steve Sarkisian, the outside source Jones may have spoken with during a frustrating 2022 season. Since anything is better than your offensive play-caller being a former defensive coordinator, like in 2022 with Matt Patricia, that's the deciding factor for me.
If you can say a QB had a better supporting cast in college than in the pros, there's something wrong there. If that's not a call to action, one that creates a sense of urgency to go out and get a star pass catcher, I don't know what is.
Yes, Alabama had an embarrassment of riches in 2020, but it's more of an indictment on the Patriots, who have had one of the league worst groups of offensive skill players in the NFL since drafting Mac Jones.
New England may have won three Super Bowls in the early 2000s with a relatively unheralded group of pass catchers, but Tom Brady isn't walking through that door anytime soon (to my knowledge) and if they are going to stick with Jones they need to improve his supporting cast. So far they haven't been able to do that this offseason. They brought in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mike Gesicki, while losing Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor and Jonnu Smith. In other words, no major impact moves.
As our Tyler Sullivan wrote last week, the Patriots are actively trying to add more weapons around Jones, and are still involved in trade talks with DeAndre Hopkins and Jerry Jeudy. Given the success the Dolphins and Eagles had in trading for Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown last year, the veteran route is ideal. The Patriots could also use the 14th overall pick on a wide receiver, but the safer bet would be to trade that pick for a known commodity, if they can.
If they can't, well, we can continue pondering if Jones had a better supporting cast in college than the pros. I'm not sure I've ever been able to say that about a quarterback. You could argue that's also an indictment on Jones. Maybe he was a product of his environment at Alabama. I don't think we'll know that answer for sure until we see him surrounded by more playmakers in the NFL. If things with Belichick are still boiling over, we might not get that answer in a Patriots uniform.