CLNS Media Patriots Beat reporter Evan Lazar’s annual list takes you through the ten most important Pats for the 2021 season.
Quarterback is the most important position in all sports, so it has to be number one on our list.
As Patriots head coach Bill Belichick noted following the draft, Cam Newton is currently New England’s starter, “someone would have to play better than he [Newton] does,” Belichick said.
With improvements to his supporting cast, there is a path for Newton to play better in 2021.
Suppose Newton’s timing and grasp of the system improve while offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels caters the passing offense to the former MVPs strengths. In that case, Newton may hold off rookie pick Mac Jones and continue as the starter for the 2021 season.
However, the odds aren’t in his favor when we look at the recent history of first-round quarterbacks. Since 2010, only three of the 34 quarterbacks selected in the first round sat as rookies. In other words, the “rookie redshirt” year is becoming more of an anomaly.
The most recent examples are Green Bay’s Jordan Love sitting behind Aaron Rodgers after the Packers took Love with the 26th overall pick in the 2020 draft. Rodgers went on to win league MVP, earning a berth in the NFC Championship Game after a 13-win season.
In 2017, Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes held the clipboard behind Alex Smith despite Kansas City taking Mahomes tenth overall. Mahomes transitioned from Texas Tech’s air raid system while Smith was still a reliable veteran who won 11 games the year before.
Other than those somewhat unique examples, the incumbent veterans don’t hold off the highly-touted rookies for long.
Jones will start games for the Pats sooner rather than later because, despite Newton’s history of success, NFL teams simply don’t draft QBs in the first round to have them sit on the bench.
Plus, the chatter around Gillette Stadium on Jones’s first impressions this spring is overwhelmingly positive.
The Alabama product is picking up the offense quickly, throws a “great ball” with accuracy, and multiple offensive players spoke about how he “sees the game the same way” as McDaniels.
Evidence of Jones’s stylistic fit in McDaniels’s offense was all over his tape at Alabama, where he posted the highest adjusted completion percentage and PFF grade in a collegiate season since 2014.
The Patriots’ rookie sees things quickly, gets rid of the ball quickly, and places the ball in advantageous spots for his receivers to either adjust around coverage or create after the catch.
Although it’s important to manage expectations, New England fans should have relatively high expectations for Jones as a first-round pick who screams Patriots for several reasons.
Having the utmost respect for Newton’s accomplishments as in his pro career, Jones will need to blow the Patriots’ coaches out of the water to win the starting job right away this summer.
But even Cam himself acknowledged that it’s a matter of time before Jones is the guy, “he was the right pick, in my opinion. He was the best player available,” the 32-year-old Newton said.
Putting the rookies’ name ahead of Newton’s is not throwing shade at the veteran but instead acknowledging the obvious: Mac Jones is the most important player in the organization.
Whether you’re a big Newton supporter or not, a lot is riding on Jones’s development.