After selecting Alabama's Mac Jones No. 15 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Patriots have set themselves up for one of the more interesting quarterback competitions as we rage toward the start of the NFL regular season.
There was speculation all offseason that New England would look to the free agent or trade market to upgrade under center, with players such as Marcus Mariota, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan and Jimmy Garoppolo all rumored to potentially join Bill Belichick and Co. in Foxboro. Instead, the Pats opted to re-sign locker-room favorite Cam Newton to a team-friendly deal.
While his statistics from 2020 are quite poor — including a negative touchdown-to-interception ratio — Newton wasn't the biggest problem when reviewing his film. The Patriots did little to help Newton thanks to a subpar surrounding cast. Newton is obviously flawed but he's a smart passer who can make impact throws to overcome a lack of consistency.
The 2020 Patriots were a painful reminder of how difficult it is to overcome talent deficiencies at the receiver position. Their unit ranked 31st in pass attempts and third in rush attempts. As most teams threw the ball at record rates, the Patriots turned back the clock to help win low-scoring games.
It was strange to see the Patriots adopt such a run-heavy approach that lacked creative route combinations. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had put together quality offenses with Tom Brady and limited receivers before, but he reverted to an ineffective scheme in 2020. This all led to an overhaul of the unit this offseason.
Jones is more similar to the pocket-passing Tom Brady than the mobile Newton. While Newton has better credentials, Jones was a perfect fit in what McDaniels ran with Brady. A timing-based offense with quick throws makes more sense than a not-so-creative run-based unit.
It's difficult to see how the Patriots can install an offense for both players. Jones is immobile, whereas Newton is among the best runners at his position ever. Even as passers, they're completely different.
Newton will create big chunk plays with his strong arm and downfield preference. Jones doesn't have the ability to drive the ball well but is more accurate and willing to take the first read if he wins pre-snap. Newton does better when his first-read is gone or the defense adjusts post-snap to show a different look.
The new weapons should drastically change how the offense looks with Newton and we can't presume it'll replicate last year's abomination. Newton loves utilizing tight ends and speedy receivers. Jones has less experience with big-bodied targets.
As the competition goes on, it's clear Newton still has the talent to start. Judging him off last year's numbers isn't fair, and this unit offers a real chance for growth as a team.
Newton should win the job. He's a natural leader who can create big plays in and out of structure. Jones' future should be maximized with McDaniels, but the roster's not built for his current tendencies and he's behind Newton in terms of experience and savvy.
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