With the season over halfway complete, it’s a good time to stop and evaluate one of the most important decisions a franchise can make: drafting a QB. At this point, everyone knows that Patriots QB Mac Jones has outperformed the other rookies. But the real question is, "Why has he been able to do so?" Looking at the metrics thus far, here is what stands out.
Mac Jones is thriving due to a combination of accuracy, efficiency, and decisiveness
For the most part, Jones hasn’t pushed the ball downfield into harm’s way, which has allowed him to avoid costly turnovers. His average depth of target (ADOT) of 7.7 yards is the lowest among rookie QBs, but his completion percentage (70.2%) is the best.
Despite opting for easier throws, he is still completing passes at a rate above expectation. According to Next Gen Stats, his CPOE of +3.3% is 7th best among all QBs. Jones has clearly been the most accurate rookie passer.
As for efficiency, Jones’ Expected Points Added (EPA) per play of 0.150 makes him the only rookie above zero in this efficiency metric. To put that into context, every other rookie QB has done worse in their in-game circumstances than an average QB would be expected to do. Jones is not only performing better than an average QB, he ranks in the top-15 among all QBs. Another efficiency indicator is yards per pass attempt (YPPA), which is one of the few categories Jones doesn’t lead for rookies. Trey Lance has barely edged him out, but with Lance only accumulating 48 pass attempts, Jones' 7.3 YPA is more impressive and predictive.
An additional category that illustrates why Jones has had so much early success is his average time to throw (avgTTT). He has done an excellent job of getting rid of the ball quickly, as indicated by his average throw time of 2.51 seconds. Davis Mills has also been decisive with the football, trailing Jones by the smallest of margins in throw time.
Since losing to the Cowboys in OT in Week 6, the Patriots have won 5 consecutive games, and Jones has only thrown 2 INTs over that span. While every rookie QB (aside from Lance) has tossed at least 8 interceptions, Jones' INT rate (2.29%) is the lowest, as he also has the most pass attempts. Trevor Lawrence is the next best with an INT rate of 2.72%; after starting the season with 7 INTs in his first 3 games, Lawrence has only thrown 2 INTs since then.
One of Jones’ biggest issues, however, did arise Thursday night when he was intercepted by A.J. Terrell. When he throws the ball deep, he has the tendency to loft it without optimal velocity. Though he can drop the ball in the bucket from long distances, it gives DBs a lot of time to play the ball in the air. He has done well to avoid making this mistake often, but it is worth keeping an eye on.
While Jones deserves tremendous credit for how well he has played, he is not the only reason the Patriots are now 7-4. He has benefited from strong support around him, a decisive advantage over his fellow rookie QBs. In terms of rushing efficiency, defensive success, pass protection, and play calling, Jones’ situation in New England has been the most favorable.
As depicted in the table above, the Patriots rushing attack and defensive efficiency (ranked in Expected Points Added) are both the best for any rookie QB’s team. New England is not the best, however, in OL Continuity. This indicates how many Offensive Linemen have played at least 100 snaps this season for each team. Due to Trent Brown’s injury, the Patriots have had 6 such players, whereas the Bears, 49ers, and Jets have had more continuity.
The 49ers are actually slightly better in both pressure rate allowed and play action percentage. Even so, the Patriots are second in both categories, despite having less continuity on their offensive line and more passing attempts.
Focusing on the coaches, both Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels deserve significant praise for how well Mac Jones and the Patriots have performed. They have put Jones in a position to succeed (through play action passes, manageable throws, etc.), and he has taken advantage of the opportunity.