The University of Alabama Football program is one of the true sports dynasties we have in 2021. Head coach Nick Saban has built a program that churns out NFL talent at a rate that few schools can compare to. Nick Saban’s advantage in recruiting has led to a dominant run throughout the last 12 years. Since 2009, Alabama has won 6 national championships, and has sent 106 players to the NFL. In this year’s draft, Alabama had 6 players drafted in the first round which tied an NFL record.
One position at Alabama that often gets overlooked by the overwhelming amount of talent everywhere else is QB. Alabama QBs don’t exactly have a great hit rate in the NFL, with A.J. McCarron being the most notable name to be drafted since Saban took over. Since being drafted by the Bengals in 2014, McCarron has shifted to a career as a backup quarterback. While there’s nothing wrong with that, we hadn’t seen a true starting quarterback come out from Alabama until Tua Tagovailoa in 2020.
That’s not to say Tua has lived up the hype of his 5th overall selection. Tua’s rookie campaign was rocky, including multiple benchings and some clear disappointment from Brian Flores and the Dolphins coaching staff. With Deshaun Watson trade rumors swirling around the team, Flores has maintained his trust in the 2nd year quarterback, making it clear that he is their starter for 2021.
Head coach Brian Flores makes it clear: Tua is the Dolphins’ QB1. pic.twitter.com/KDirhIZpxL
— theScore (@theScore) September 2, 2021
Then in 2020, Mac Jones had one of the most historic college seasons in recent memory. With a ridiculous arsenal of Heisman Winner Devonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, and Najee Harris, Jones threw for 4500 yards and 41 touchdowns on his way to another championship for the Crimson Tide. Most people would argue that most Alabama QBs succeed in college because of the NFL talent they are usually surrounded by, which is certainly a fair argument considering the track record. But since being drafted by the Patriots at 15th overall, Jones has beaten out last year’s starter, Cam Newton in a fairly surprising QB battle that has left Newton without a job. Newton was objectively one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL last season, but it was still impressive to see a rookie quarterback come in and beat out an established former MVP for the starting job.
While Jalen Hurts didn’t finish his college career at Alabama, he was there for his first three years before being benched for Tua in 2018. He then transferred to Oklahoma for his senior year to improve his draft stock. His gamble paid off when the Philadelphia Eagles selected him in the 2nd round of the 2020 draft to be their backup quarterback. We all know how that played out, and now Jalen Hurts is the clear QB1 in Philly with Carson Wentz moving on to Indianapolis. Tua, Mac Jones, and Jalen Hurts were actually all on the 2018 Alabama Roster at the same time, which is pretty mind-blowing, considering all three have locked down starting QB jobs for 2021.
— Bleacher Report CFB (@BR_CFB) August 31, 2021
Now that I’ve set the stage, I’d like to rank the three quarterbacks based on how successful I think their 2021 season will be.
3. Tua Tagovailoa
While this might come as a surprise to some people, I’m just not fully sold on Tua being a productive NFL QB. He was benched on two different occasions in 2020, and while his season did have some high points (His second NFL start against the Cardinals in Week 9 being the outlier), it was mostly inconsistent and definitely left a lot to be desired. It’s clear he’s talented, and he’s mobile enough to match the speed of today’s NFL. Tua’s injury history is another reason why he’s third on this list. In 2018 he suffered an ankle sprain in the SEC championship game that required surgery, and then in November of 2019, his college career was cut short by a hip injury that didn’t allow him to return for the rest of the season. I’m just not confident Tua will be able to stay healthy over the course of a 17 game NFL season.
Injury history aside, there have been reports that the Dolphins have built an offense built around Tua, as opposed to the offense he ran last year which was tailored around Ryan Fitzpatrick. They have also added some much needed receiver talent, by signing Will Fuller and drafting Jaylen Waddle This could bode well for Tua and the Dolphins as they look to contend in a crowded AFC East, but in terms of overall production, he falls third on the list for me.
“The Dolphins have more speed at receiver — with Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle — and that will impact the playcalling. A greater trust in Tua also is expected to make the play-calling less conservative and more aggressive. Expect more run-pass options.”
– Herald’s Barry Jackson pic.twitter.com/JLCz83zLE8
— Dolphin Nation (@Dolphin_Nation) September 9, 2021
2. Jalen Hurts
One of the main reasons why I have Jalen Hurts second on this list is his rushing ability. I truly believe that Jalen Hurts can be one of the elite dual threat QBs in the league in due time. We got a taste of it in his 4 starts last year, where he rushed for 272 yards and 3 rushing touchdowns. Imagine what Hurts will be able to do with a full offseason, and a clear direction for the team. He still needs to improve his throwing accuracy, but with a new coaching staff that has emphasized getting players into space, he should be able to progress through his reads easier and improve his completion percentage. While I don’t think the Eagles will finish with a better record than the Dolphins, I think Jalen Hurts’ 2021 season will be more impressive and impactful than Tua’s.
Most rushing yards in first 4 starts by a QB in NFL history:
— Thomas R. Petersen (@thomasrp93) September 5, 2021
1. Mac Jones
I wasn’t fully sold on Mac Jones entering this year’s draft, mostly because of rumors that he might end up with the 49ers at third overall. I thought that Trey Lance and Justin Fields were 2 players that should’ve gone before him, so I was glad to see that he ended up being the last QB to go in the first round. It’s hard to end up in a better situation than New England. Mac will immediately have one of the greatest coaches of all time on his sideline every week, an understated advantage. Bill Belichick is out for revenge this season, after finishing 7-9 and watching Tom Brady waltz his way to another Super Bowl ring in his first year with the Bucs. He wants to win, and he wants to win now.
Highest-graded rookies this preseason:
Kwity Paye pic.twitter.com/sqXKL2xMor
— PFF (@PFF) August 31, 2021
I think it was clear that Cam Newton wasn’t the answer, but if Mac Jones wasn’t ready or needed extra time, Belichick wouldn’t have made him the starting quarterback. Mac has exceeded all expectations throughout training camp, including an impressive preseason campaign where he finished with a 69.2 completion percentage and 0 interceptions. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones had the highest grade among rookie quarterbacks, finishing with a score of 92.2. Granted, most of those drives came against 2nd and 3rd stringers, but he showcased his precision and an impressive understanding of the Pats’ playbook.
Week 1: Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins at Mac Jones and the Patriots. pic.twitter.com/UEfBjWD89w
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 1, 2021
The Dolphins and Patriots will match up in Week 1, so we’ll be able to see these two former teammates battle it out for bragging rights, right out of the gate. In the end, I believe that Mac Jones will be the best former Alabama quarterback starting in 2021. The Patriots have improved on both sides of the ball and should be in line to return to the playoffs if Mac can perform. With the greatest coach of all time, and a system that was practically built for him, he should be able to flourish in his rookie season.
Featured Image: Graphic of Mac Jones, Jalen Hurts, and Tua Tagovailoa as starting NFL Quarterbacks: SEC Network
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