How was a rookie quarterback able to outperform a starter and 10-year veteran to the point where his team released the veteran outright?
Mac Jones is the Patriots' starting quarterback entering Week 1 after New England cut Cam Newton on Tuesday. The No. 15 overall pick has looked very impressive throughout training camp and the preseason, showcasing accuracy and poise in game action while learning the Patriots' offense quickly.
In fact, Jones' performance this summer is reminding some of another quarterback to come through Foxboro. An NFL executive who watched the Patriots' joint practices with the New York Giants told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler that while it's unfair to make any Tom Brady comparisons right now, Jones shares some traits with the seven-time Super Bowl champion.
"With his ability to make the right read, the decision-making, getting the ball out quickly and feeling the pocket, some of that stuff is there," the person told Fowler. "You watch him and you're like, 'OK, they have something.'"
Jones garnered some Brady comparisons before the Patriots even drafted him, as analysts noted his strong pocket presence, ability to work through progressions and leadership for national champion Alabama last season.
The 22-year-old will face a much steeper challenge against NFL defenses this season. But a "veteran NFL assistant coach" believes the Patriots will be able to operate a more pass-friendly offense -- i.e., one more similar to what Brady ran in New England -- after a 2020 season in which Cam Newton threw just eight touchdown passes.
"When you look at his Alabama tape, Mac Jones had just about as good of a performance as you can; he wasn't just a byproduct of good players around him," the coach told Fowler.
"You can do a lot with him. He can handle it. They won't be throwing him 50 times a game, but they don't have to dumb it down, either. He takes it, sees it and rips it."
Jones proved as much in the preseason, completing 69.2% of his passes on 52 attempts over three games. He averaged a modest 7.5 yards per attempt, which could be a sign of things to come: ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen told Fowler the Patriots likely will feature quick-passing and play-action concepts with Jones under center to complement a strong running game.
That means Jones may not put up gaudy stats in his first season as the Patriots starter. But then again, neither did Brady -- who helped guide New England to a Super Bowl title in 2001.