Worth the Risk? Why the 49ers Should and Shouldn't Take Mac Jones
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After some maneuvering in the NFL draft, the 49ers hold the number threepick. It has been heavily speculated by the NFL media that the 49ers intend to take Mac Jones, quarterback from Alabama. Below is a breakdown of the reasons the 49ers should and should not take Mac Jones:
The Case for Mac Jones:
After watching Mac Jones' highlights, you can clearly see that he is an accurate quarterback. In fact, in 2020 Jones set an FCS record with a 77.4 percent completion rate. In Kyle Shanahan's offense, an accurate quarterback can easily thrive. Kyle consistently schemes players wide open and if the quarterback can hit them in stride, this offense can be running on all cylinders quickly. Looking back on the 49ers’ 2020 season, lack of accuracy was the difference in some of the games turning what should have been a victory into a bad defeat. You can see an example here where Nick Mullens misses a wide-open Kyle Juszczyk. This play amongst a few other bad throws and turnovers during this game was the reason the 49ers lost. A more accurate quarterback would have made the difference in this game.
Passer rating (also known as passing efficiency) is a measure of the performance of a quarterback. It is important to understand the difference between completion percentage and the passing efficiency stats. Completion percentage only takes into account two things: the number of passes thrown and the number of passes caught, while passing efficiency rating is calculated using each quarterback's completion percentage, passing yardage, touchdowns, and interceptions. This stat is a more complete breakdown of a quarterback’s overall performance. Mac Jones was ranked No. 1 in passing efficiency.
This is not a breakdown of college quarterbacks in 2020, this is a breakdown of allquarterbacks since 1956 and Mac Jones topped the chart! Adding a little caution to this stat, you can see that the top 10 almost exclusively consists of quarterbacks within the last few years. College football has changed over the years and teams are extremely pass happy. The spread/air raid offense are far more prevalent in college now then they have been in the past, but either way, it’s an impressive feat to be the highest rated quarterback since 1956.
Play-action passing game:
It is widely known that Shanahan’s offense is predicated off play action and Mac Jones utilized play action frequently in Alabama's offense. Approximately 47 percentof Jones’ dropbacks last season came off a play-action fake and 52.9 percentof his passing yards were gained off play action. Jones is oftenscrutinizedfor his lack of athletic ability;however,he is excellent in the play action passing game and has good pocket movement and awareness.
These are just a few reasons that I could see Shanahan liking Jones. He is a quarterback who could fit well in his system and be an extension of the head coach on the field.
The case against Mac Jones:
Stats do not tell the entire story:
Jones’ completion percentage is insanely high in 2020, but to many of us, we know that stats are not always a reliable indicator of production. A deeper dive into Jones stats helps add some context. Jones threw at or behind the line of scrimmage far more (34 percent) than any other quarterback in this year’s draft class. He also threw a high percentage of run pass options and screens. These are extremely high percentage throws and can easily skew a stat line.
Stats are a great starting point for looking at a quarterbacks abilities, however teams are going to dig much deeper then a stat line to get a better understanding of a prospect.
Lack of athletic ability:
Earlier in this aritcle I referenced Jones ability to move within the pocket and execute play action, however that does not give a sense of his overall athletic ability. Jones will never be a quarterback who can make plays like this play below from Justin Fields:
Jones would have been sacked 9 of 10 times on this play. Very few quarterbacks could turn a broken play like this into a touchdown. In addition to his lack of speed and elusiveness, Jones lacks the arm strength of other top prospects like Fields and Lance. With Jones, you know what you are getting. You are getting a player who can manage the offense. His ceiling is nowhere near as high as other QB’s, but he is a safe pick with a reasonable floor.
More of the same:
Picking Mac Jones is likely a cap move for the team. They would move on from Jimmy Garoppolo soon and they can gain back a good amount of cap space for the next 4-5 years. I personally have a hard time thinking that they team would give up 3 draft picks in order to get cheaper at a position. Giving up that much draft capital is a move you make when you think you can land a quarterback that will take your team to the next level. I do not see Mac Jones as that quarterback.
A difficult task that general managers & the scouting department must do will be quantifing what a quarterback would have done given a different situation. For example, what would Mac Jones tape and stat lines have been had he not had an elite supporting cast on the offensive line and wide receiver positions? If he threw more deep passes and less quick short routes? I do not envy general managers or talent evaluators in the NFL as this is likely the hardest part of the job. In 4-5 years, we will look back on this draft pick as the pick that defined John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan's time with the 49ers. This pick could be the pick that keeps the team competitive for years to come or it could be the downfall of the team and the end of Lynch and Shanahan's tenure with the 49ers.
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