This time next month, Cam Newton, Mac Jones, and the New England Patriots will finally give fans their first true glimpse of what the team will look like in the 2021 season.
For many, the impending competition between Newton and Jones for the starting quarterback job could decide the course of the entire season.
Bill Belichick handing the keys to the presumptive starter Newton would likely signal a run-heavy offense that could showcase the veteran’s multidimensional abilities. But last year’s anemic passing performance has media and other experts wondering if Newton can throw the ball well enough to adequately run the offense.
On the other hand, Jones could eventually conjure images of Tom Brady — or perhaps a young Jimmy Garoppolo — in the Patriots’ traditionally timing-based, quick-passing offense if given the chance to start early. Of course, those flashes would almost certainly come with some growing pains as he navigates playing at the NFL level for the first time.
NFL film analyst Greg Cosell believes Belichick will ultimately cast his vote for the former option.
“I think it will be Cam Newton,” he said when asked about the Patriots quarterback situation recently on The Ross Tucker Football Podcast.
Cosell explained that decision is as much about the personnel around Newton as it is about the former MVP quarterback himself.
“I think what they did in free agency — and again it’s always difficult to get into the head of Bill Belichick as you well know, Ross — but I think what they did in free agency, what they’ve done the last couple years, indicates that this could be a little bit of an old-school offense built on the run game,” he said. “Let’s play with two tight ends with Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. I thought Damien Harris looked very good last year when he got the opportunity to play before some injuries kicked in. They still have Sony Michel. They actually drafted a big physical runner, Rhamondre Stevenson, in the fourth round out of Oklahoma.
“I think you are going to see a little bit of 12 personnel. They’ll be a little old-school. They’ll try to run the ball. They’ll try to control tempo of games. And they’ll try to win that way. And of course, Cam Newton fits extremely well into a run-based offense because you’ve got the quarterback run game. So Cam Newton will be the starting quarterback.”
The Patriots did run the ball well last season, with Newton contributing 12 rushing touchdowns of his own in 2020. However, Newton will still have to be more productive through the air than he was last season to justify sticking with him at quarterback.
That’s why detractors see the rookie Jones as the better choice to lead the Patriots when the season begins. The No. 15 overall pick certainly appears to be a more natural long-term fit for the Patriots than Newton and showed obvious progress during minicamp and OTAs this spring.
While Cosell doesn’t see Jones starting in Week 1, he is optimistic that Jones has the skills to succeed in the NFL despite the league’s trend toward more athletic quarterbacks that can extend plays.
The veteran analyst pointed to his predecessor, Tom Brady, as an example of a quarterback who thrives despite less-than-stellar mobility and sees Jones as a “litmus test” of whether pure pocket passers can do so in the future.
“He was the only quarterback of the top 5 chosen in the first round who did not show second reaction improvisational movement,” he said of Jones. “Some say he’s a better athlete than his tape showed; I guess we will see when he gets his opportunity in New England.
“What Jones did at Alabama was play the position with needed refinement and maturity from the pocket. It seems these days that we don’t place the same value on that as we do the ability to make off-script plays. As the world turns.”
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