Mac Jones vowed to do things his way rather than by the Tom Brady playbook as he teamed up with Bill Belichick at the New England Patriots.

The 22-year-old Jones led Alabama to a national championship in the 2020 season and joins the Patriots after being taken with the 15th pick in the NFL Draft.

As a quarterback linking up with Belichick, who had Brady as his favoured signal caller for 19 years, Jones has a lot to live up to.

First, he has to dislodge Cam Newton though, so Jones is determined to play according to his own design and his personal strengths rather than look to copy anyone else.

Asked about Brady, Jones said: "I just love watching him, how he manoeuvres through the pocket and stuff. But for me it's just being myself and being my own player and obviously he did great things for New England and I'm just looking forward to going in there and working.

"I've watched all the Super Bowls, regardless of the team, so it was awesome. Obviously, Tom and the New England Patriots were in a lot of them growing up, so I got a chance to watch them and I just like good football in general."

Jones said he had watched previous Patriots games during the draft process, to get a firm grip of what makes the team tick.

Newton replaced Brady as Belichick's starting quarterback last season and has signed on for this year too, but his position looks set to come under threat in 2021 from Jones and Jarrett Stidham. The Patriots finished with a 7-9 record in 2020, while Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Super Bowl glory.

Veteran coach Belichick, who described Jones as "a smart kid", said the process of getting the new recruit ready for the rigours of the NFL would "take a lot of time".

"Cam's our quarterback," Belichick said. "Whatever position, whatever time Jarrett or Mac are ready to challenge and compete, then we'll see how that goes. But right now, Mac, he's just got a lot of learning in front of him."

Jones would not disagree with that perspective, wary of pushing himself to the front of the queue before time.

"Cam's awesome," Jones said, "and I've only heard great things when talking to people that I know from the Patriots about how great of a guy he is and how much everyone loves him.

"He just has fun with it, and I do too, so hopefully we can kind of have fun together and I'll help him out. It's his show and I'm just there to support him and then kind of just help out the team in whatever way I can."

Jones excelled in his only year as a starter at Alabama, completing 77.4 per cent of his passes for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns and only four interceptions.  He was one of three finalists for the 2020 Heisman Trophy, which went to his teammate DeVonta Smith.

Jones had been tipped in some quarters to join the San Francisco 49ers, but they plumped for Trey Lance instead with the third overall pick.

"I feel like, secretly, I really wanted to go to the Patriots all along, so I'm actually really happy that it happened," Jones said. "But it doesn't really matter.

"You get picked. You've got to take the opportunity and take advantage of it and learn the new system, learn the new coaches, learn the new culture, and coach Belichick's done a great job establishing that throughout his time in New England and I've just got to learn how to be a great teammate and do my job and stick to what they're telling me to do."

Highly touted quarterbacks? Check. Oversized stage? Check. Raucous Fans? Check.

A year after holding a virtual NFL Draft in Commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement due to concerns over the coronavirus, the 2021 draft descended on Cleveland, Ohio on Thursday, with Goodell once again sharing bro-hugs with the prospects on stage in front of thousands of vaccinated and mask-wearing fans.

Although the easy chair from Goodell’s basement did make the trip to the stage, this year’s edition of the draft felt much more normal than a year ago – and it began exactly as nearly everyone expected.

The Jacksonville Jaguars chose Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence first overall and the New York Jets went with BYU quarterback Zach Wilson at number two.

Considered to be the most polished QB prospect in years, Lawrence threw for 10,098 yards in his collegiate career, while going 34-2 as a starter with the Tigers and winning the 2018 National Championship.

Wilson had been linked to the Jets for months after throwing for 3,692 yards with 33 touchdown passes to only three interceptions last season, and New York hopes he can be the franchise’s answer at QB and lead the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 after the recently traded and 2018 No. 3 pick Sam Darnold never lived up to expectations.

A quarterback had also been projected to go third overall ever since the San Francisco 49ers traded up to that position weeks ago, the only question was who – Trey Lance out of FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Justin Fields from Ohio State or Alabama national champion Mac Jones.

The tight-lipped 49ers ended weeks of suspense by drafting Lance, who has only played in one game since the 2019 season but led the Bison to the FCS title that year while accounting for 42 total touchdowns without an interception.

With the surprising Lance going to San Francisco, this became just the third time in the common draft era that started in 1967 – and first time since 1999 – quarterbacks went 1-2-3 in the NFL draft.

The consensus top five QBs - Lawrence, Wilson, Lance, Fields and Jones – had been slated to all get drafted in the top 10, but Fields and Jones were still on the board after 10 picks.

The Chicago Bears decided not to sit on their hands, trading up nine spots with the New York Giants to grab Fields, a dual-threat QB who finished his collegiate career with 5,701 passing yards and 67 TDs through the air.

The Patriots were more patient, selecting Jones with the 15th pick – a spot few believed he would still be available. Jones threw for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns to just four picks in leading Alabama last season, and became the first quarterback selected in the first round during Bill Belichick’s 21-year tenure in New England.

Jones also became the final QB selected in the first round, making this only the fourth time at least five QBs were drafted in round number one, along with 2018, 1999 and the famous 1983 draft, when six were selected.

Not only were QBs a hot commodity, so were their targets.

The Atlanta Falcons made Florida’s Kyle Pitts the highest drafted tight end in history when they picked him fourth overall after he had 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 TDs in 2020.

The Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins drafted who they hope will be their franchise quarterbacks in the 2020 first round, and this year they each focused on providing them with a playmaker they were familiar with.

Cincinnati selected LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth pick, teaming him 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow, the quarterback who led the Tigers to the 2019 FBS title. In 26 games played together in 2018 and 2019, Burrow targeted Chase 162 times, resulting in 107 receptions for 2,093 yards and 23 touchdowns.

One pick later, the Dolphins chose Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle, reuniting him with college quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, last year’s fifth pick. Waddle only appeared in six games last season because of a broken left ankle, but he left Alabama with 106 receptions for 1,999 yards and 17 touchdowns over three years.

The reunions continued with the 10th pick, when the Philadelphia Eagles traded up to select 2020 Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith to get him back with former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, the 53rd overall pick a year ago. Smith, who put up eye-popping numbers in 2020 with 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns, was a teammate of Hurts in 2017 and 2018.

While the Bengals, Dolphins and Eagles reunited former teammates, the Jaguars decided to go ahead and just bring aboard one of Lawrence’s teammates from this past season, selecting Clemson running back Travis Etienne with the 25th pick, making this the first time in the common draft era a quarterback and running back from the same school were drafted by the same team in the first round.

Etienne was a workhorse for the past four years with the Tigers, racking up 4,952 rushing yards and 70 touchdowns on the ground while averaging 7.2 yards per carry.

Etienne became the second running back selected in the first round after the Pittsburgh Steelers took Alabama’s Najee Harris one pick earlier.

With the Denver Broncos nabbing Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II ninth overall and the Las Vegas Raiders drafting Crimson Tide offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood at No. 17, Harris became the sixth player from Alabama drafted in the first round, matching the University of Miami from 2004 for the most players selected from one school in the first round.

While the draft started with offensive players being selected with the first seven picks for the first time ever, the final five picks of the opening round were all defensive players, concluding with the defending Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selecting linebacker Joe Tryon out of Washington with the 32nd pick.

Bill Belichick has his next quarterback, as the New England Patriots selected Mac Jones with the 15th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. 

The QB will seem like a natural fit for Belichick's system in New England after leading Alabama to a national championship in 2020. 

That should temper any disappointment Jones might feel in dropping to the 15th pick after some had speculated he might go as high as third overall. 

Jones excelled in his only year as a starter at Alabama, completing 77.4 per cent of his passes for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns and only four interceptions. 

He was one of three finalists for the 2020 Heisman Trophy, which ended up going to his teammate DeVonta Smith. 

Now the question is how quickly he will take over the starting job in New England, who went 7-9 last season with Cam Newton at the position after Tom Brady left to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

Newton re-signed with the Patriots for 2021, but Jones will be seen as the heir to Brady, who teamed with Belichick to win six Super Bowl titles in 20 seasons together. 

The selection would seem to eliminate the possibility of Jimmy Garoppolo returning to New England, which had been a popular subject of speculation in recent months. 

 

Mac Jones was not universally pegged as a first-round pick. Not until the San Francisco 49ers moved up to three, at least.

Then Kyle Shanahan's reported interest in the Alabama quarterback prompted a reappraisal of his talents.

If the Niners were willing to make a blockbuster trade, parting with two future first-round picks, just to move into position to take Jones, how good must he be?

Plenty around the NFL still are not convinced, while the smoke and mirrors surrounding the draft means there remains no guarantee Jones goes at number three or even in the top 10.

But what would the 49ers or any other suitors be getting if they selected the Heisman Trophy finalist? And how does he compare to his rivals in a potential five-QB first round?

With the aid of Stats Perform data, we take a look at one of the most polarising prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The raw numbers

Jones played in all 13 games for Alabama in 2020 as they went 13-0, succeeding Miami Dolphins first-rounder Tua Tagovailoa at the QB position.

En route to the National Championship, Alabama boasted the outstanding offense in college football.

Jones threw for 4,500 yards, the most in the FBS, and trailed only Florida's Kyle Trask (43) with his 41 passing touchdowns.

He also led the FBS in completion percentage. Of his 402 throws, 311 were caught - another high - for an exceptional 77.4 per cent.

These figures could have been even more impressive, too, with 323 of his balls considered 'catchable'.

Jones did benefit from playing with the best receiving corps in the game, however.

DeVonta Smith caught 23 TD passes from 117 receptions for 1,856 yards, yet just 919 yards came through the air, with Smith adding 937 after the catch.

Jones ranked 44th in the FBS for air yards per attempt at 8.43. Indeed, Jaylen Waddle - who played just six games - averaged 21.1 yards per catch but only 11.0 at the point of reception, his dynamic ability with the ball in his hands significantly boosting Jones' output.

Trust the system

At the helm of an excellently designed offense and on a team with elite receiving talent like that possessed by the Crimson Tide, Jones' merits are obvious. That is why he is said to suit the 49ers.

Jones completed 77.6 per cent of his play-action passes - a staple of the Shanahan scheme - last year, and Shanahan is widely regarded as having an affinity for quarterbacks who can digest his offense and deliver accurately from the pocket.

Kirk Cousins, drafted during Shanahan's time in Washington, ranks third all-time in the NFL for completion percentage (67.0).

Atlanta Falcons starter Matt Ryan completed 69.9 per cent of his passes working with Shanahan in the 2016 season en route to an MVP award and a Super Bowl appearance, while the Niners' Jimmy Garoppolo threw at 69.1 per cent in 2019 as they came within minutes of lifting the Lombardi Trophy.

Fellow draft prospects Zach Wilson (73.5 per cent, third), Justin Fields (70.2, seventh) and Trevor Lawrence (69.2, 10th) joined Jones in the top 10 in the FBS in completion percentage, though.

Meanwhile, Trey Lance - restricted to a single game last season - ranked fourth in the FCS in 2019 with a mark of 66.9 per cent.

But where Jones particularly stood out was with his throws in pressure situations.

The Crimson Tide star led the FBS in completion percentage when blitzed (76.9) and also in red zone completion percentage (75.9). On third down, he ranked fourth, connecting on 71.6 per cent of his passes.

Mac lacks mobility

Despite his consistency as a thrower, there is a reason Jones was not previously considered a challenger to Wilson, Fields, Lawrence and Lance.

If the 49ers look elsewhere, Jones could yet fall a long way to find another team confident they have the system and surrounding personnel to make the move worthwhile.

And even then, few NFL coaches in 2021 are likely to be willing to overlook his shortcomings as an athlete.

Whereas Wilson, Fields, Lawrence and Lance are set to join the burgeoning ranks of dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL, Jones' playing style is one borne of the soon to be bygone era of the pocket passer.

At Alabama, where he could palm the ball off to FBS-leading running back Najee Harris, Jones had just 35 carries last year and scored a single rushing touchdown.

The majority of these runs were short bursts to steal first downs, averaging 0.4 yards per attempt, with a longest carry of 14 yards.

It is in this area that Jones lags a long way behind the rest.

Wilson averaged 3.6 yards and scored 10 TDs. Fields played just eight games but had 81 carries, averaging 4.7 yards. Lawrence averaged 3.0 yards and scored eight times.

In the inferior FCS in 2019, Lance blew each of those performances away. He had 169 carries for 14 TDs at an average of 6.5 yards per carry.

Without the same ability to open up the game with his legs, Jones would need to be a truly generational talent with his arm.

Only three NFL signal-callers averaged under 0.4 yards per carry over 10 games last season: Tom Brady (0.2), Drew Brees (-0.1) and Philip Rivers (-0.4).

Brady and Brees are each in their forties and among the greatest of all time. Brees and Rivers have also both since retired.

The NFL is eschewing the traditional quarterback in favour of the athletically gifted dual-threats whose skill sets are more conducive to elite production in the modern game. Regardless of where he is selected, Jones is going to have buck that trend to succeed at the highest level.

LeBron James and Patrick Mahomes were among the stars to wax lyrical over DeVonta Smith, who said Alabama "finished writing our story" in the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Heisman trophy winner Smith was in sensational form at Hard Rock Stadium in top-ranked Alabama's (13-0) 52-24 rout of Ohio State (7-1) on Monday.

The exciting wide receiver, who is NFL bound for the 2021 season, had 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns, all in the first half as Alabama claimed a 35-17 lead at the interval.

The 22-year-old recorded 200-plus receiving yards and three or more touchdown catches for the third time this season, tying Davante Adams (2013) for the most such games by any FBS player in the last 25 seasons, according to Stats Perform.

Smith also broke the South Eastern Conference's single-season receiving yards record as he was named Offensive Most Valuable Player.

What was most impressive is the fact Smith missed the majority of the second half with a right hand injury, though he said after the game "I'll be alright" when asked about the issue.

Speaking about the achievement, in quotes reported by ESPN, Smith said: "It came down to the young guys just putting in the work, every day, every week, knowing if somebody went down, they were going to have to come in and do something big. 

"I believed in them from the jump. That's what we do, that is why you come to Bama.

"Just with COVID and everything going on it made things tough, made us more together as a team, be there for each other. This team is like no other.

"It's been an unbelievable [season]. We just finished writing our story, that was the whole thing of us coming back, just finishing the story that we wanted to write and we did that."

Social media was abuzz watching Smith's performance, with Los Angeles Lakers superstar James hailing the youngster on Twitter.

"DeVonte Smith is one of the best pure receivers I've ever watched! Like a mix between Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison. Man he's good!" James wrote.

Mahomes, who led the Kansas City Chiefs to Super Bowl glory last season, merely posted: "Lol they just need to put like everybody on him".

After seeing his record tied, Adams joked: "From now on if u misspell my name make sure it’s Devonta cuz he that boy."

J.J. Watt added: "DeVonta is going crazyyyyyy!!!!!!!"

The win saw head coach Nick Saban win a seventh college title, surpassing Paul Bryant for the most national championships, with six of those titles coming during his 14 seasons at the helm of Alabama.

Nick Saban stands alone as the most successful head coach in college football history after claiming a record seventh title following Alabama's 52-24 rout of Ohio State.

Top-ranked Alabama (13-0) were too strong for number three Ohio State (7-1) in Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship at Hard Rock Stadium.

Saban – who celebrated his first crown in 2003 – surpassed Paul Bryant for the most national championships, with six of those titles coming during his 14 seasons at the helm of Alabama.

"I'm just happy we won tonight," the 68-year-old said amid the celebrations post-game. "And I really haven't thought about that 'cause you're always looking forward.

"And I just love this team so much and what they've been able to do. I can't put it into words."

Saban added: "To me this is the ultimate team. There is more togetherness on this team than on almost any team we've ever had. They've had to overcome and to persevere so much through this season, and they have done it magnificently."

Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith flexed his muscles in a stellar display in Miami Gardens, Florida before suffering a hand injury in the third quarter.

Smith – in his final college appearance as he prepares for the NFL – had 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns, all in the first half as Alabama claimed a 35-17 lead at the interval.

Th 22-year-old recorded 200-plus receiving yards and three-plus touchdown catches for the third time this season, tying Davante Adams (2013) for the most such games by any FBS player in any of the last 25 seasons, according to Stats Perform.

Smith also broke the South Eastern Conference's single-season receiving yards record as he was named Offensive Most Valuable Player.

Alabama quarterback Mac Jones also dazzled, becoming the first QB to complete 80.0-plus per cent of his passes for 450-plus yards and five-plus touchdowns in a bowl game since NC State's Philip Rivers in 2003.

Jones finished 36-of-45 passing for 464 yards, five TDs and no interceptions, while Ohio State counterpart Justin Field was 17 of 33 for 194 yards and a TD.

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