Bill Belichick, Patriots get their QB, Mac Jones, with a little patience in NFL draft

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- After months of speculation on the New England Patriots possibly making a bold move up the 2021 NFL draft board for their quarterback of the future, coach Bill Belichick played it cool and let the draft come to him.

Then Alabama's Mac Jones dropped right into his lap.

It's one of the rare times when months of projection leading into a Belichick draft actually produced an accurate result. Jones was talked about as a Patriots possibility all the way back in January.

Back then, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay noted how Jones was "super intelligent" with "pocket presence" and someone who "feels things, anticipates, and gets the ball out." Those who follow the Patriots know those are core tenets of what they value. They aren't looking as much for the quarterback who runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash or makes off-platform throws as much as a good decision-maker who is accurate and loves football.

Then in February, former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis doubled down, saying he believed Jones was the best fit for the team.

"What are the two most important components of a star quarterback? They have the 'it' factor. And they're accurate. That's who he was," said Weis, who pushed back on the criticism Jones was a product of having NFL-caliber skill players around him.

"You talk about being around good players. Yeah, he was around good players. But playing on a team with a bunch of stars, who is the leader of the offense? He also had to make all those throws. I think the kid is an excellent quarterback. He has less holes than just about anybody," Weis said.

So, Jones to the Patriots has been on the radar for some time, which isn't usually the way it works with Belichick's drafts. Predicting his targets is often a fruitless pursuit.

The wrinkle this year, however, is that the San Francisco 49ers' bold trade up to No. 3 in late March came with a month of media speculation that it was for Jones. But when they drafted North Dakota's Trey Lance instead, the stars started to align again.

Jones himself even saw it coming.

"At the end of the day, you kind of want to get the right fit. I feel like, secretly, I really wanted to go to the Patriots all along," he said late Thursday night. "So I'm actually really happy it happened."

And now the question naturally becomes: How soon can the quarterback torch be passed in New England?

Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham have been attending voluntary offseason workouts at Gillette Stadium the past two weeks, with most of the skill-position players also with them as some early chemistry is formed. Jones has ground to make up, and he struck a humble tone Thursday night, saying he plans to come in behind Newton and Stidham and learn from them.

But Belichick didn't select Jones at No. 15 for him to be a backup, which means it's only a matter of time.

"Cam’s our quarterback. Whatever time Jarrett or Mac are ready to challenge and compete, then we’ll see how that goes," Belichick said.