There's a chasm between Mac Jones' stellar college numbers and the lukewarm forecast that qualitative evaluators give for his future in the NFL. And it forces a question that quarterback-needy teams have to answer: Which will best predict his pro career?
Statistically, Jones is one of the greatest college quarterbacks of his generation. At Alabama in 2020, he recorded the single-highest QBR season in the metric's history, dating back to 2004. He sits atop a leaderboard of best seasons littered with top draft picks and elite NFL QBs; Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck trail Jones. Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, the consensus top-ranked quarterback in the 2021 NFL draft, never finished above fifth in QBR in a single season. Again, Jones' 2020 ranked No. 1 among all seasons.
Jones is considered by many evaluators -- including Todd McShay and ESPN's Scouts Inc. -- to be the fifth-best signal-caller in this class, after Lawrence, Ohio State's Justin Fields, BYU's Zach Wilson and North Dakota State's Trey Lance. Though Mel Kiper Jr. predicted in his latest mock draft that the 49ers would select Jones with the No. 3 overall pick, he wrote that "I'm not sure I see a superstar when I watch him on tape. He's solid -- and extremely accurate -- but not spectacular."
Jones was not considered a candidate to be selected in the top three until the 49ers traded up nine spots. Suddenly Jones, who many believe would thrive most in Kyle Shanahan's system, became the favorite to land in San Francisco. But whether he is best off with the 49ers and whether the 49ers are best off with him are not the same question. And while expectations for his draft slot have shifted in recent weeks, the vexing disparity between his statistics and the consensus scouting evaluation remains.
There have been several criticisms levied against Jones, including that he's the least athletic of the first-round quarterbacks and less of a running threat than his peers, that he doesn't have high-end arm strength, and that he played with elite talent around him that would elevate any quarterback. Is it possible evaluators are underrating Jones? Let's separate fact from fiction and put numbers to those criticisms: