2021 NFL draft prospects: Alabama QB Mac Jones

Eric Edholm
·7 min read
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

Alabama QB Mac Jones

6-foot-3, 217 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.00 — possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report: Elite processor with passing touch who oozes self-confidence, even if he possesses merely average physical traits

Games watched: Missouri (2020), Georgia (2020), Mississippi State (2020), Notre Dame (2020), Ohio State (2020)

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit (No. 162 nationally), Jones initially committed to Kentucky before flipping once Bama offered him. He redshirted during the Crimson Tide’s championship season of 2017, operating on the scout team. Jones saw limited action in 2018, completing 5 of 13 passes for 123 yards and a TD in 14 games. In 2019, Jones earned the backup role and replaced an injured Tua Tagovailoa, starting four times (12 games total), completing 97 of 141 passes for 1,503 yards with 14 TDs and three interceptions and running 16 times for 36 yards and one TD.

In 2020, Jones set school and national records as a Heisman Trophy finalist (losing to teammate DeVonte Smith), leading Alabama to a 13-0 season and a national title. Jones completed 311 of 402 passes for 4,500 yards with 41 TDs and four INTs, also rushing 35 times for 14 yards and one TD. After earning his undergraduate degree in 2.5 years with a 4.0 GPA, plus finishing his master’s degree, Jones declared for the draft and attended the 2021 Senior Bowl, where he was named the top QB on the American team but did not play in the game after tweaking an ankle injury.

Upside: Extraordinary efficiency as the trigger man for one of the best offenses in college football history. Turned in the highest single-season completion percentage in NCAA history in 2020 with a passer efficiency rating higher than LSU’s Joe Burrow in his brilliant 2019 campaign. Completed 61.8 percent of his throws 15-plus yards downfield (with 72.4 percent being on target).

Showed up in big games — stepped up in bowl win over Michigan in 2019, led shootout wins in 2020 (including SEC title thriller vs. Florida) and was a monster in the CFP, earning Offensive MVP of the national title game (36 of 45 passing, 464 yards, five TDs) vs. Ohio State. Filled huge shoes following Tagovailoa and exceeded all external expectations.

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - JANUARY 11: Mac Jones #10 of the Alabama Crimson Tide gestures to the fans as he heads off the field during the fourth quarter of the College Football Playoff National Championship game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Hard Rock Stadium on January 11, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Alabama QB Mac Jones was brilliant in 2020. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Advanced understanding of fronts, coverages and progressions — fast, natural processor. Facilitator who operates the offense as it’s designed. Manipulates safeties and linebackers with his eyes and play-action fakes.

Great touch — throws a very catchable ball. Very accurate when going vertical — puts ideal loft and timing on his passes. Great decision making. Doesn’t wilt under pressure. Career 56-7 TD-INT ratio. Only five career fumbles — three in 2020. Decent feel for when to throw the ball away and fight for another day.

Underrated feet in the pocket — ex-tennis player who reacts to pressure, maneuvers the pocket well and keeps his options open while scanning the field. Undercut some talk of his athleticism by turning in good pro-day workouts — 4.82-second 40-yard dash, 32-inch vertical jump, 116-inch broad jump, 7.04-second 3-cone drill. Smart scrambler who picks good spots to take free yards. Good QB sneaker when you need 1 yard.

Great red-zone efficiency — doesn’t take unnecessary risks. Puts the ball in spots where only his receiver typically has a shot at the ball, such as this beauty against Georgia, the final dagger in a big win:

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Highly competitive. Confident and self-assured — has the “it” factor. Used to trash talk to Nick Saban (!) while running Bama’s scout team in practice as a third-string freshman. Unafraid of competition as he picked Alabama with Jalen Hurts entrenched as a freshman starter and Tua Tagovailoa signed in the same recruiting class. Held off competition from heralded recruit Bryce Young prior to the 2020 season.

High-floor prospect with few major concerns. Answered questions about supporting cast by standing out at the Senior Bowl in unfamiliar surroundings. Disciplined worker who bided his time and grew behind the scenes before taking over. Career 16-1 mark as a starter.

Team captain and natural leader to whom teammates gravitated. Asked which Bama QB they’d pick if they could, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith reportedly said they preferred Jones over Tagovailoa, the fifth overall pick in the 2020 draft. Smith reportedly told one team this, according to an SI report. Waddle said it on NFL Network.

Downside: Average size and physical tools. Arm talent is average — underthrows some deep balls and can’t always drill the deeper sideline balls. (Also had some shaky overthrows at his pro day vs. no defense.) Can’t truly rip the ball — reliant on touch, timing and good protection up front to make that work.

Athleticism doesn’t compare to several other QBs in this class. Can’t ask him to be an extension of the run game. Sub-par short shuttle time (4.39 seconds) more indicative of his athletic profile.

Played in a nearly pristine scenario. Operated in QB-friendly offense — wasn’t asked to make a ton of difficult throws. Surrounded by a rare supporting cast, including Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, a banner offensive line, robust run game and other notable weapons. Faced low pressure rate. Could require similar surrounding cast in NFL to reach his peak.

Not as effective when he has to go beyond his first read. Not a jazz player — reads the notes as they’re written. More of a system quarterback who is still learning how to create when things break down — requires structure to thrive. Won’t take big risks with tighter-window throws — happy to take shorter, safer options. Didn’t do much outside the pocket. Scrambling ability limited to short pickups as last-ditch option.

Average play strength — can’t wrestle or wiggle his way out of sacks once defenders’ hands get on him. Needs to learn how to slide — fast. Poor technique could lead to a leg injury (more than one shaky slide in the Notre Dame game).

Battled immaturity and confidence issues early in college career. Arrested and charged with DUI and possession of a fake ID in November 2017 following a car accident, leading to a one-game suspension (LSU). Hot-tempered early on — tennis player competitiveness that rides the razor’s edge at times.

Relative lack of game experience — only 17 career starts. Turns 23 the week prior to the 2021 NFL season.

Best-suited destination: While it seems Jones appears locked in as the No. 3 overall pick to the San Francisco 49ers, we could envision him fitting in as a high-floor, middling-ceiling starter for multiple teams that run a timing/rhythm offense that features good yards-after-the-catch options and a strong offensive line and run game.

Did you know: Jones’ father, Gordon, was a touring tennis pro in the late 1970s and early 80s. He once beat Hall of Famer Yannick Noah in a singles match. Jones' mother, Holly, played college tennis at Mercer. Mac’s oldest brother, Will, played soccer at Mercer and his older sister, Sarah, played tennis at College of Charleston.

Player comp: Style-wise, there’s strong Kurt Warner vibes in Jones’ play. Whether he reaches the plateau that Warner did during a Hall of Fame career remains to be seen.

Expected draft range: Top-10 pick, as high as No. 3 overall.