The New England Patriots hadn’t gone the quarterback route in the first round of the NFL draft since selecting Washington State’s Drew Bledsoe in 1993.
That streak ended Thursday night at No. 15 overall. It ended with Alabama’s Mac Jones.
The redshirt junior found himself the fifth prospect at his position taken in the 2021 class after Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Brigham Young’s Zach Wilson, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Ohio State’s Justin Fields. He found himself with a wait in the green room in Cleveland and a suitor in Foxborough.
“At the end of the day, you kind of want to just get the right fit,” Jones, 22, said on his introductory video conference as a Patriot. “I feel like, secretly, I really wanted to go to the Patriots all along. I’m actually really happy that it happened. But it doesn’t really matter. You get picked. You got to take the opportunity and take advantage of it, learn the new system, learn the new coaches, learn the new culture.”
Jones was once the oddsmakers’ favorite to go No. 3 overall to the San Francisco 49ers. The odds changed. Then the Chicago Bears moved from No. 20 to No. 11 in a deal with the New York Giants. And soon after New England reached the clock, the Crimson Tide product became the 12th quarterback drafted by the war room during head coach Bill Belichick’s watch.
None had been drafted higher than Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo at the tail end of the second round in 2014.
“Mac was available there at our pick,” Belichick told reporters, “and he’s a guy we spent a lot of time with and felt like that was the best pick at that time for us. Look forward to working with him. He’s a smart kid. He’s been in a system that’s similar to ours. We have had a lot of good conversations with him. I think he’ll be able to process the offense. It’s obviously going to take a lot of time. We’ll see how it goes.”
Belichick and New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels were on hand for Jones’ Alabama pro day. Contact with the organization previously transpired at the Reese’s Senior Bowl and continued over Zoom calls.
Jones, listed at 6-foot-2, 217 pounds, appeared in 39 games and started 17 over the course of his Tuscaloosa career with head coach Nick Saban. His final season saw him lead Division I and set a program record with 4,500 yards through the air. There were 41 touchdowns and four interceptions.
The Alabama captain, first-team All-SEC selection, Davey O’Brien Award winner and unanimous All-American set an NCAA record by completing 77.4% of his passes along the way. And in January’s 52-24 win over Ohio State for the national championship, 464 yards and five touchdowns were logged by a pocket passer whose game was played with timing, accuracy and protecting the football more so than breaking contain.
Ahead now is a quarterback depth chart that includes a pair of Auburn products in Cam Newton, 31, and Jarrett Stidham, 24, contending for the starting job.
New England re-signed Newton in March to a one-year contract featuring $3.5 million guaranteed after the former league MVP started 15 games in a 7-9 campaign. And Stidham, a fourth-round arrival in 2019, has checked into eight games during his stay.
“Cam’s our quarterback,” added Belichick. “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. I know he’s very anxious to get going on it and get started and so we’ll start trying to give him material to work on and be ready for the rookie minicamp in the second week of May, and then on to the rookie development program and so forth.”
Jones is looking forward to finding his seat as the calendar turns.
“I mean, for me, I’m actually joining a really great quarterback room with Cam Newton,” said Jones. “He’s played in the NFL for a really long time. He’s earned the respect of his teammates going to New England, being a captain. You got Jarrett, who I really loved watching at Auburn and kind of used as a role model. Both those guys are role models to me right now. I’m just going to go behind them and learn how they did it. … So, honestly, just kind of play my role and listen to them and take advice and help them however I can, whether it’s taking notes or whatever I need to do to help the team win.”