PATS REPORTER

Perry: How Mac Jones compares to other Sarkisian-coached QBs

PATS REPORTER

Now that we know who the Patriots have taken in the first round of this year's draft, now that they have a direction at the most important position on their roster, it's only logical that we start to project. 

What will Mac Jones look like in the Patriots offense? How will Josh McDaniels have to adapt to Jones in order to help set him up for success? And, ultimately, what kind of quarterback will Jones be?

There's no foolproof method to get to the core of that last question. But if there's one thing with which we've been inundated over the course of the last few months, it's been scouting reports. Maybe within those scouting reports, when compared and contrasted against quarterbacks from draft classes past, we can get a better idea of the type of player Jones will become.

Patriots Talk Podcast: Slow and steady wins the race? Patriots offense not built for speed | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Pro Football Focus used text analytics to assess this year's class of draftable quarterbacks, taking write-ups from The Athletic's Dane Brugler and comparing them to his work on other quarterbacks over the last seven seasons. "Similarity scores" were then derived based on words in those write-ups that linked quarterbacks in this year's class and those in previous classes.

 

Through this process Jones, interestingly, compared best to Josh Allen, Mitch Trubisky, Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa, Deshaun Watson and Joe Burrow. Could you get a half dozen quarterbacks with more disparate styles?

Still, PFF's takeaways were that most of those quarterbacks, aside from Allen and Herbert, didn't have great arms. It was also posited that the similarities between Allen, Herbert and Jones might've stemmed from the use of the word "surroundings" in Brugler's write-ups. Their surroundings -- good for Jones, bad for Allen and Herbert -- made each of the three difficult evaluations.

There's more here, though. Let's take an additional step in projecting Jones by evaluating what experts said about him versus what they said about other players hailing from similar coaching backgrounds. 

Jones is a good candidate for this kind of thing because his offensive coordinator at Alabama, Steve Sarkisian, tutored a number of NFL quarterbacks who experienced varying degrees of pro success: Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez, Jake Locker and Tagovailoa. 

What are the similarities between Jones and those others? The differences? Should Patriots fans be encouraged... or not so much? 

Let's dig in. 

Mac Jones

First, let's get a sampling of what folks were saying about Jones ahead of the draft. Brugler started his "Strengths" section on Jones by noting he "processes the action quickly and efficiently and keeps his eyes where they need to be." Makes good decisions. Throws with anticipation. Exhibits poise. Moves well in the pocket. "Excellent deep thrower," Brugler said. Competitive with "natural leadership traits." 

NFL.com's Lance Zierlein said that Jones "has above-average accuracy" and explained that Jones' ball-placement, leading to yards after the catch, stands out. Similarly to Brugler, Zierlein noted Jones has a "feel for pocket slides to avoid pressure." He throws with touch and has "perfect placement" at times, Zierlein said.

Curran: This would be ideal Pats schedule for 2021 season

As for the negative? Zierlein pointed out that Jones has "average release quickness" and a "very thin lower body." Jones can also tend to lock in on a target "rather than honoring the progressions," Zierlein said, adding that Jones can be "antsy" when reads aren't clear.

For Brugler, the negatives began with Jones' "adequate arm strength." Jones' size and mobility are only "average," per Brugler. And as PFF pointed out, Brugler made a point to mention that Jones is a tough evaluation because he had "elite" skill players, coaches and offensive linemen around him. 

Carson Palmer

Compared to Jones, there is a dearth of online scouting reports that break down Palmer as a prospect. Different world back in 2003. But ESPN's Chris Mortensen wrote up what he'd been hearing from scouts on Palmer before that year's draft. 

"He is big and strong and mechanically sound," Mortensen wrote. While Jones is considered to have good mechanics, typically "big and strong" aren't adjectives attached to him. 

 

One scout told Mortensen that Palmer was "the best no-risk guy among the quarterbacks" and said "you might even get Drew Bledsoe."

As a leader, Mortensen was told by one scout that Palmer was "very well-liked" by the people at USC, while another called him "a wallflower... real low on personality... hardly inspirational."

That doesn't quite sync up with the early word on Jones leaving Alabama. Even when it comes to Palmer's athleticism, he seems like a bad comp for Jones: "He moves around pretty well and ran a 4.62 in the 40 last week," Mortensen wrote. Jones ran a 4.83 at his pro day. Not bad for a quarterback considered to be a non-athlete, but not a low 4.6 either.  

Matt Leinart

This may end up being the better comparison for Jones in some respects, though Leinart is a lefty and had more of a prototypical NFL frame (6-5, 225 pounds) than Jones (6-3, 217 pounds). 

"Leinart makes good decisions and plays well within an offense filled with top-notch players at the skill positions around him," Matt Waldman of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio wrote

Delete Leinart. Replace with Jones. Could easily be a Jones scouting-report bullet point.

Waldman added: "Leinart is a poised player that has experience on a big stage. He has a chance to succeed as a starter in the right NFL system -- one that emphasizes the short passing game and has a very strong line."

Jones might not have to rely on the short passing game the way Waldman thought Leinart would. Jones is an accomplished deep-ball thrower, as Brugler pointed out, leaving Alabama. But the rest of the Leinart writeup? The rest sounds like Jones. 

Some of the weaknesses are Jones-ish, too.

"I'm not impressed with his arm strength or overall accuracy," Waldman wrote at the time. "...Leinart does not get a lot of velocity on his throws." Waldman critiqued Leinart's accuracy on more than one occasion, which doesn't really pop up in the assessments we laid out on Jones. Arm strength though is not considered a plus for many who evaluated Jones.

But as far as Leinart's decision-making, poise, arm strength, mobility and his college system helping him out, there are some scouting-report similarities between him and Jones. 

Mark Sanchez

"Sanchez excelled at reading defenses and properly going through his progressions," SB Nation wrote ahead of the 2009 draft. "Is always looking around on the whole field, keeping his face mask square with the line of scrimmage."

That hasn't always been a strength of Jones', per Zierlein, but that Sanchez description seems to fit what Brugler noted about the efficiency with which Jones attacked his reads. 

More Jones similarities when compared to Sanchez? "Makes quick decisions and is a smart player... Put passes in good spots for receivers to make easy catches... Probably a good fit for the West Coast offense because he doesn't have great arm strength."

 

"Slow release," the Sanchez report continued. And one of his "weaknesses" was the fact that he'd started only 16 games. Jones started 17 at Alabama. "He's also a fiery competitor who shows good leadership qualities," NFL.com noted. All somewhat Jonesian. 

Sanchez was considered a better athlete behind center, though, and was described as an "accurate passer when he's moving to either the left or right." 

Jake Locker

Despite developing under the same collegiate play-caller, Locker is one player who was essentially the antithesis of Jones on the field. 

"Locker has had issues in the past with his accuracy," SB Nation said prior to the 2011 draft. "Some concerns" there with his accuracy. "Accuracy seems to be based more on arm strength than rhythm and touch."

Locker's positive traits are traits Jones lacks, per Brugler and Zierlein. Locker was just on a different plane as far as arm strength and athleticism go.

Perry: Will Pats' lack of skill position speed anchor Mac Jones?

"[Locker's] arm will be one of the strongest in the 2011 class," SB Nation wrote, "and compares favorably to the strongest in the NFL... Possesses as much athleticism and mobility as someone could want in a starting quarterback."

One similarity? The word "antsy." Remember, Zierlein used it to describe Jones at times. SB Nation used it with Locker, saying "He would too quickly pull the ball down and run instead of reading his progressions. He still tends to carry that issue and gets too antsy in the pocket."

"Elite athleticism at the QB position," NE Patriots Draft wrote on Locker, adding, "Doesn't throw a pretty ball... Doesn't always get to his second read... Doesn't see the entire field."

Tua Tagovailoa

Does Jones more closely resemble the Sarkisian pupil he backed up at Alabama? 

Zierlein saw Tagovailoa as an accurate quarterback with the "touch needed to work all three levels successfully." He didn't go so far as to call Tagovailoa "antsy," but he noted that Tagovailoa "needs better poise when pressured... hurries into frenetic throws with moderate pressure at times."

In those ways, Zierlein saw Jones and Tagovailoa as sharing some of the same qualities. Clearly, though, Zierlein believed Tagovailoa to be a superior athlete -- even though that wasn't necessarily one of his strengths as a rookie quarterback with the Dolphins in 2020.

Zierlein called Tagovailoa a "talented dual-threat quarterback" whose "escapability not only moves the chains, it creates chunk plays in the air and on the ground." Also, Tagovailoa's "rare upper-body twitch" was one of the top "Strengths" listed on NFL.com. "Twitch" not commonly found in Jones scouting reports.

Greg McElroy

Might as well mix in a few of Nick Saban's quarterbacks at Alabama who weren't coached by Sarkisian. There were only a couple who were legitimate pro prospects, including McElroy.

 

NFL.com's Nolan Nawrocki said McElroy "has rare intangibles." 

"Team-first player who works tirelessly at practice and in the film room to master an offense," Nawrocki added. "Can scan the field and run through his progressions. Will throw receivers open. Shows good accuracy in the short to intermediate passing game. Quick release. Good pocket mobility and drop discipline."

Even with all of those traits working for him, though, Nawrocki noted that McElroy had "less-than-adequate arm strength," which would drop him below Jones in that regard.

AJ McCarron

Nawrocki's overview on McCarron might look familiar.

"An efficient game-managing quarterback who has shown he can carry an offense at times throughout his career, but more often is dependent on a terrific supporting cast," Nawrocki wrote. "Grades out most highly for his intangibles and decision-making, knowing when and where to go with the ball, and could earn an NFL starting job."

Saying Jones was "dependent" on a terrific supporting cast might be a little strong, but it's difficult to separate what he did from the cast he did it with.

"Good field vision, timing and anticipation," Nawrocki wrote. "...Good caretaker and decision-maker... Mature leader. Smart and articulate. Highly competitive team leader -- holds teammates accountable. Very well prepared."

Check, check and check. 

"Does not have a big-time, vertical arm," Nawrocki wrote under the "Weaknesses" section for McCarron. "Average athlete."

Because one of Jones' strengths as a passer is his deep-ball proficiency, the McCarron comp isn't a perfect one.

Perry's very early Patriots 53-man roster projection

There is no perfect comp, of course. There are parts of Jones' game that may be similar to Leinart's game. Jones may do things that are reminiscent of McCarron. He may exhibit, as Patriots fans undoubtedly hope, signs of being more Palmer than McElroy.

Jones will write his own story. But as is the case with any young quarterback -- even one coached by a proven offensive mind like Sarkisian -- there are a number of paths his career could take from here. And it will be on the Patriots, in part, to take the strengths Jones possesses and accentuate them to give him a chance at a longer and more successful career than many of the names listed here.