Home » Patriots QB Mac Jones is a high-IQ game manager, sort of like a young Tom Brady

Patriots QB Mac Jones is a high-IQ game manager, sort of like a young Tom Brady

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By Bucky Brooks
FOX Sports NFL Analyst

Scouts around the NFL are taught to find players who are ideal fits in their team’s culture and scheme.

This is not only the No. 1 rule in the scouting business, but it has been the foundation for the New England Patriots’ success over the past two decades. If you have followed the Patriots closely, you have seen Bill Belichick and Co. create a template that has enabled them to build a team with a collection of prototypes at each position.

The Patriots’ tried-and-true formula has helped them move from the likes of Troy Brown to Wes Welker to Julian Edelman at their slot receiver position. We have also seen New England swap out a number of pass-catching running backs like Kevin Faulk, Shane Vereen, Rex Burkhead and James White over the years.

While it has been easy to identify plug-and-play options at those offensive skill positions, it’s harder to find a replacement for a legendary quarterback with a rock-solid game who has served as the foundation for the offense.

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As he returns to Foxboro this Sunday as an opposing player for the first time, Tom Brady casts a large shadow. The seven-time Super Bowl winner claimed six titles in New England as a pass-first point guard directing a complex, pro-style offense that features snowflake-like game plans each week.

Josh McDaniels’ voluminous playbook with a wide array of concepts from a myriad of formations and personnel groupings requires a high-IQ quarterback with a refined game who can make the X’s and O’s come to life. 

Although the team has trotted out a few potential successors over the years — Matt Cassel, Brian Hoyer, Jacoby Brissett, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jarrett Stidham and Cam Newton — the 2.0 version of TB12 might be the youngster donning the No. 10 jersey this season.

Before your eyes pop out of your head at the mere suggestion of a rookie filling the shoes of the G.O.A.T, understand that Mac Jones is the ultimate system player for the Patriots. Just like Brady started his career thriving as a game manager before evolving into a playmaker, Jones could make a similar evolution in time.

Studying Jones leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, I viewed the Alabama product as a high-IQ field general with average physical tools. Jones did not display A-level arm talent as a passer, and his marginal athleticism makes him a dinosaur at the position as a drop-back-only passer. In a draft with a number of quarterback prospects boasting superpowers, I compared Jones to Tony Stark and Iron Man because his power comes from his supporting cast (coaching, scheme and playmakers) — aka the suit.

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Some would see that analogy as a dismissal of Jones’ talent, but I was merely pointing out that his success as a pro would be more dependent on his team than his individual talents. With the Patriots, he has landed in the laboratory in the Stark Tower that will enable him to reach his potential. 

McDaniels provides Jones with his  “J.A.R.V.I.S”  (Just A Rather Very Intelligent System) to help the QB thrive amid the chaos.

The Patriots’ scheme has a series of checks and balances built in that enables the quarterback to quickly find the right answer against the defense’s tactics. For example, the team will start in a traditional set-up (shotgun or two-back) but move into various sub-sets based on the defense. 

The transition could feature empty formations with quick routes and screens prioritized on the call sheet. McDaniels could also utilize a variety of heavy formations, with “21” personnel (two running backs, one tight end, two receivers) or “22” personnel (two running backs, two tight ends, one receiver) to incorporate power runs and complementary play-action passes.

The Patriots’ menu also features a number of crossers and post-snap option routes. These are designed to give the quarterback (and receivers) options for handling the various coverages and pressure packages that defenses use to try to disrupt the rhythm of the passing game. 

In speaking with several Patriots players in the past, they say the complex reads require the quarterback and receivers to be on the same page when dissecting the opponent’s scheme.

Bringing it back to Jones, one of the most impressive parts of his game is his diagnostic skills in the pocket. As a young player, he has a great feel for reading coverage and getting to the option that enables him to win the down. Whether it is the check-down that’s the third or fourth option in the progression or the designated hot route against pressure, the rookie has a knack for finding the right guy in the midst of chaos.

The maturity and poise of Jones reminds me of watching No. 12 as a young starter for a Patriots team that claimed three Super Bowl wins in four seasons. 

When I was a member of the Carolina Panthers’ front office, I have vivid memories of watching Brady work his magic at the end of Super Bowl XXXVIII to swipe a ring off of my finger. 

I am not suggesting that Jones is at that point, but the franchise is certainly comfortable with the rookie from Alabama shouldering a heavy load on a team with a solid supporting cast.

Time will tell if the suit will help Jones become the Patriots’ version of Iron Man, but the blueprint is already in place to help the rookie evolve into a superhero in Foxboro. 

Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports and regularly appears on “Speak For Yourself.” He also breaks down the game for NFL Network and is a cohost of the “Moving the Sticks” podcast.


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