Mac Jones had huge shoes to fill Tuscaloosa. Alabama’s great program Tua Tagovailoa had left for the NFL, and career backup quarterback Jones would step in. The consensus was straightforward: Jones wasn’t Tagovailoa, and maybe he wasn’t even a Jalen Hurts.
It’s true that Jones didn’t turn out to be any of those players. But his game has been almost as dominant as Tagovailoa in his prime, propelling Alabama to an undefeated regular season and a place in the college football playoff once again. Jones has performed so well that both he and his top wide receiver, Devon ta Smith, are finalists for the Heisman Trophy, two of only four chosen nationwide. The 6-3 junior in the red jersey went from QB in cleaning time to first-round prospect in the NFL Draft.
” Mac, for the perseverance,” Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said recently, by 247Sports. “This is a guy who waited his turn, was thrown into the fire late last season, showed some stamina by bouncing back from a couple of interceptions in the Auburn game. And then he came this offseason and was hardly denied, and he prevailed. Prepared for a tremendous season. And because of the results he’s having now, I’m very proud of him, and I’m happy for him because he earned it. “
Jones did not show up in Alabama as your typical Crimson Tide recruit, having retired from Kentucky before signing with Alabama. Having just three stars next to his name made him an anomaly in a class of 2017 that featured six five stars, 18 four stars, and only six players with three or fewer stars (according to 247Sports). There were big names in that group: Name Harris, Jerry Judy, Dylan Moses, Devon ta Smith, Henry Riggs, Alex Leatherwood, Jed rick Wills and, of course, Tagovailoa. Hurts was already there and had started as a freshman.
A common refrain about modern college football revolves around the overabundance of transfers. It’s most notable at the quarterback position, as a team can only have one player at that spot. Jones’ transfer would not have been illogical, not if he had done the math and seen three or four years sitting behind Hurts and / or Tagovailoa. However, he stayed still.
As a freshman in a red jersey, Jones played in six games and attempted 13 passes. He was called up to more duties in 2019 when Tagovailoa suffered a season-ending hip injury. Jones started the last three games of the season and threw 10 touchdowns (along with two interceptions against Auburn).
Even that performance without Tagovailoa didn’t guarantee Jones the 2020 spot. Top pick Bryce Young was coming to town with a claim to be the center of attention. But in an unusual offseason, Jones stopped Young and wouldn’t let go of his starting job.
Before the season, Tim Tebow told Sporting News that he thought “it will be the Mac team.” But the expectation elsewhere was that Jones could fall primarily into the role of game manager, handing the ball to Harris and letting Alabama’s outstanding receivers make plays.
Once the games started, Jones proved that he is a play maker in his own right. In Alabama’s second game, a win over Texas Am, Jones threw for 435 yards and four TDs. It was the first of three straight games that exceeded 400 yards, with Jones topping that stretch with another four passing scores against Georgia.
Jones drew attention with his deep ball, striding his receivers over the top seemingly when he wanted to.
” I really like the touch, the location of the ball and the trajectory on those vertical shots.” ESPN draft expert Todd McShay wrote earlier this season.
Someone tells LSU they can double hedge on Devon ta Smith.
Mac Jones finds him AG A IN for another deep TD – this one is 61 yards.pic.twitter.com/ IDtpCPGPpd
– Boom or Bust: The Draft Show (@BoomOrBustDraft) December 6, 2020
Jones was his dominant self once again in the SEC Championship game, throwing for 418 yards and five touchdowns in a narrow win over Florida.
“Shout out to Coach Saban for taking me to Alabama and giving me a chance,” Jones told SEC Network after that win. “My colleagues obviously make me look much better than am, andnd they always do their job. And I just try to do my job to the best of my ability and tonight was a great team win. “
Jones could return to Alabama for another season, but his drastic rise to the first round from most NFL draft drills points him to testing the professional waters after this season. First, though, there’s a college football playoff to play and a (virtual) Heisman Trophy ceremony to attend.
Who could have seen it coming?
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.