The Mac Jones Discourse has somehow hit a fever pitch in late June. And being that it's late June -- when interest-piquing NFL topics can be conservatively defined as scarce -- we have to say, we welcome it.
Earlier this week, thanks to some commentary from Rob Ninkovich, the possibility was raised that the second-year quarterback could carry the Patriots to a 12-win season. Then came Scott Zolak saying he's heard Jones receive some Tom Brady comparisons -- mostly in terms of how Jones is now approaching his gig -- from people in Foxboro.
Prior to that, Dan Orlovsky ranked his top-five quarterbacks under 25 years old and placed Mac Jones on the list ahead of Kyler Murray. Chris Simms, meanwhile, checked in with his annual quarterback rankings and had Jones slated at No. 18.
Who's right? Who needs a reality check? Who's deserving of a smack upside the head on their way out the door to their summer vacation?
First, let's say this: Jones had a strong spring.
Understanding that OTA and minicamp practices are played in shorts and T-shirts, Jones exhibited the kind of accuracy that made him eighth in the league in completion percentage last year and allowed him to rack up 24 of Pro Football Focus' "big-time throws" -- on the highest end of difficulty and value for their evaluators -- which was one more than Patrick Mahomes.
Jones clearly had worked on adjusting his body composition headed into spring workouts, and he acknowledged he worked with Brady's throwing coach Tom House, which could eventually produce a noticeable change in his arm strength.
From a leadership standpoint, he took control of drills at times by coaching up players around him, and folks at One Patriot Place have raved about his work behind the scenes to best set himself up for success after his first full offseason of being the team's unquestioned starter.
But what does that all mean for his standing in the league? How will he compare to his peers across the NFL in 2022? Particularly given that he'll be working with new offensive coaches Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, and directing a "streamlined" Patriots offense?
To get a better idea of where he may fit in among 31 other starters, we've compiled five straightforward buckets of quarterbacks for the coming season, projecting a bit for how we feel quarterbacks will perform, not how they have performed.
The first tier of passers includes "elite" quarterbacks, who are the 2022 MVP favorites, including two surefire Hall of Famers still near the heights of their powers.
There are the "very good" quarterbacks, who could in any given year be a top-five player at the position.
There are the "good" quarterbacks, who if provided an average supporting cast will take a team to postseason contention.
There are the "average" quarterbacks, who if provided an average supporting cast will lead a team to a record of about .500.
And, finally, there are the "below average" quarterbacks, who are expected to perform at about a replacement level.
Marcus Mariota, Jacoby Brissett, Davis Mills, Jared Goff, Daniel Jones, Drew Lock, Mitchell Trubisky, Trey Lance, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Sam Darnold
Because a quarterback and his situation are inextricably linked, it's difficult to separate who Justin Fields and Davis Mills might be on an improved roster. But until their teams improve, it may be impossible to decipher between some of these quarterbacks and backup-level players.
Jacoby Brissett, Drew Lock and Sam Darnold make the list here since Deshaun Watson's future is up in the air and since neither Baker Mayfield nor Jimmy Garoppolo's situations have been ironed out.
Carson Wentz, Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts, Jameis Winston, Matt Ryan, Trevor Lawrence
With about average supporting casts last season, both Carson Wentz and Tua Tagovailoa led teams that went 9-8. For the purposes of this exercise, they appear to be the definition of average. Good enough to start and have a chance... but also not so good that their teams are willing to keep them as "the guy" until further notice.
Matt Ryan will be an interesting test case this season in Indy, where the weapons outside of running back Jonathan Taylor aren't all that impressive. Is he the player who looked flummoxed and beaten on a bad team in Atlanta, with his best days long behind him? Or is he better to be placed in the next category, and good enough to push the otherwise-average Colts into the playoffs?
Derek Carr, Kyler Murray, Ryan Tannehill, Kirk Cousins, Mac Jones
After just one year, Mac Jones already entered himself into the conversation with quarterbacks who were viewed as examples of his ceiling prior to last year's draft.
He was 16th in ESPN's QBR stat last season, just behind Derek Carr (14th) and Kirk Cousins (15th). He finished as Pro Football Focus' 12th-highest graded quarterback, just behind Ryan Tannehill (ninth) and just ahead of Carr (14th).
With an improved understanding of NFL defenses and an improved receiver room (which added DeVante Parker), Jones should solidify his standing as a top-half-of-the-league passer and could sniff top-10 consideration in Year 2.
The question remains whether or not the Patriots coaching staff will have him in the best possible situation to succeed after the departure of Josh McDaniels.
Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford
Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow could end up making massive Year 3 leaps as their teams around them continue to improve, while Russell Wilson could easily climb back into being viewed as a top-five talent at his position under a new coaching staff in Denver. He won't have a receiving talent like DK Metcalf, though, so any slippage in his game could make his placement in this tier seem generous.
Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen
These are the best of the best.
Tom Brady was arguably the best quarterback in football last year. Josh Allen is the most physically-gifted quarterback in football whose understanding of the game only continues to grow. Patrick Mahomes continues to be on an otherworldly trajectory through the early portion of his career. And yet it was Aaron Rodgers who earned MVP honors in 2021.
Maybe by season's end, we'll look at this tier and say there should have been an addition or two in Herbert or Burrow (or Jackson, if he returns to his MVP form). But for now, these are the clear elites at the most difficult position in sports.