When it comes to the Patriots’ recent performance, owner Robert Kraft is making his disappointment clear. And he’s doing the same when it comes to his expectations for quarterback Mac Jones.
Kraft spoke to The Athletic’s Jeff Howe for a new feature story focused around Jones, whom everyone in the organization and every fan in New England hopes will take a big step forward in his second season. Jones threw 22 touchdown passes as a rookie, and posted a 92.5 passer rating, good for 15th in the NFL.
“This year will be very telling,” Kraft told Howe of Jones and the 2022 Patriots. “To come into something as new as this, as established, I think he got beat up pretty bad, and he kept coming back and getting up and really doing some great stuff. Just the way he handles himself, he took some real beatings and hopped up. He has developed a good relationship with the whole cadre of receivers. I’m very happy with what I’ve seen. But this is a big year, the second year.”
Much of the focus on the Patriots’ 2022 off-season has been about their relative inactivity in free agency and the major additions around the AFC at wide receiver. Kraft is echoing Bill Belichick’s recent sentiment that the team instead hopes for big improvements from guys who disappointed in 2021 (Jonnu Smith, Nelson Agholor), and another step forward for players who fit in well (Kendrick Bourne, Hunter Henry).
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But despite concerns that the Patriots continue to fall behind in terms of the talent around their quarterback, the more important question is the direction Jones’ career takes in year 2. On paper, can he approach the regular season performance of the Bengals’ Joe Burrow in his sophomore season? Burrow threw for 4,611 yards, 34 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions, finishing with a 108.3 passer rating, second-best in the league behind Aaron Rodgers.
Asking Jones to have a top-2 passer rating seems like a big ask. But could he crack the top-10? Patrick Mahomes took the 10th spot in 2021 with a 98.5 rating. That would be about a 6.5-percent improvement for Jones from his rookie year. This Patriots roster probably needs a little more than that.
Still, there are factors outside of Jones’ control that could themselves lead to improved QB production and more points on the board. The Patriots played conservatively in the passing game for much of 2021 as they brought Jones along, particularly in the red zone. With Josh McDaniels gone and Belichick likely to take on a bigger role coordinating the offense, it would be unsurprising to see the Pats take a more aggressive aerial approach now that Jones has a year under his belt.
If Jones can start to make more plays through the air while maintaining solid decision-making, his numbers will certainly improve. But even still, would it lead to more wins? Jones’ performance under pressure, both against pass-rushers and in high-leverage situations, will ultimately define him, as it does any quarterback.
And as Kraft seems to believe, it could define the Patriots’ 2022 season as well.
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