How can Mac Jones take 'next step' for Patriots? Scott Pioli raises key question

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Ex-Patriots GM raises important question about Mac Jones' development originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Mac Jones appears to be doing all the right things this offseason. He's been putting in long hours in the film room and already has met up with several New England Patriots wide receivers for throwing sessions.

Scott Pioli believes that last part could play a key role in how Jones performs in Year 2. During a recent appearance on NFL Network, the former Patriots vice president of player personnel and Kansas City Chiefs general manager outlined one of the biggest keys to Jones' development entering his second NFL season.

"He had a very, very strong rookie year, but that doesn’t mean anything in New England when you’re a quarterback," Pioli said. "But to me, one of the next steps he needs to take is, who is his go-to-guy going to be?

"He's got these relationships. He went out and saw players. He spent time with them. What he needs to do is cultivate those relationships, deepen them and find out who his most dependable teammates are going to be. Who is the guy that he can count on?"

Pioli, who won three Super Bowls with the Patriots from 2000 to 2008, noted that quarterback Tom Brady always had a "go-to guy" in New England, from Troy Brown in Brady's early years to Wes Welker and later Julian Edelman.

"Those (go-to) guys were generally versatile, smart and dependable," Pioli said. "Mac needs to find out who those guys are -- or who that singular guy is -- in order to make things go to the next level for him."

Pioli's take is in line with what former Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia pointed out earlier this year: that every good quarterback needs a reliable possession receiver who can "keep the chains moving."

So, who can be that chain-mover for Jones in 2022? That's not entirely clear. Wide receiver Jakobi Meyers caught the most passes from Jones last season (83 catches for 866 yards), so he's a potential candidate. But Kendrick Bourne is a more experienced and arguably more dynamic wideout (10.4 yards per catch in 2021), while tight end Hunter Henry was Jones' preferred red zone target with a team-high nine touchdown receptions.

Who will be the Patriots' most important skill player in 2022?

We haven't even mentioned offseason addition DeVante Parker, who is three seasons removed from a 1,200-yard campaign with the Miami Dolphins, or Nelson Agholor and Jonnu Smith, who are both looking to bounce back from disappointing 2021 seasons.

While the Patriots should want Jones to spread the wealth, he would absolutely benefit from a skill player emerging as his "security blanket." Just ask Brady's former security blanket, who is excited to watch Jones run it back in 2022.