Tim Benz: Steelers projected to trade up for QB Mac Jones. The prediction is meaningless. The conversation isn't.

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Tim Benz, The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
·5 min read
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Feb. 23—This week's CBSSports.com mock draft has the Steelers making a big trade up the board to nab Alabama quarterback Mac Jones.

Why not, right? He piloted the Alabama Crimson Tide to the 2020 College Football Playoff championship. And if Ben Roethlisberger is cut, the Steelers will be looking for their quarterback of the future.

If not this year, then next.

Opinions are split on Jones, and it's a cautionary tale about how much stock to take in these mock drafts this early in the process.

Here's what CBS said in its write-up as to why the Steelers would try to swing a trade with the Los Angeles Chargers at pick No. 11 from pick No. 24.

"...the Steelers are looking for their next franchise QB and will have to trade up to get him. Two decades ago Jones, a traditional pocket passer, would've been a top-5 pick. In 2021, he'll be valued less than the more athletic QBs in this class but has a chance to be as good if not better."

Note that "less than the more athletic QBs ... two decades ago" thing. We'll come back to that. Meanwhile, I've got a few other thoughts on this theory.

As of now, I wouldn't think that you'd have to jump up 11 spots to get Jones. If the Steelers really want him, he still may be available in the 20s. But I suppose quarterbacks tend to gain traction as draft day approaches. And sometimes teams get itchy trigger fingers when it comes to drafting them.

Frankly, I don't mind when teams do that for a quarterback. If you are completely sold on a player at that crucial position and you want him at No. 24 and you think someone else may grab him before you do, then trade up to get him. And pay a lot to do so.

You are assuming the guy is going to be your next franchise quarterback to replace Big Ben, right? Cost shouldn't matter.

So the concept of bolting up the board, I get. I co-sign on that mentality.

But, if it's me, and we are talking about Jones specifically, I'm not completely sold. I'm not even sold that he is a first-rounder, let alone worth moving up high to get him.

I loved him in college. How couldn't you? And I get why some people draw Joe Burrow comparisons. He was last year's No. 1 overall selection out of LSU and was having a promising rookie season in Cincinnati before suffering a knee injury.

Like Burrow, Jones was a championship quarterback at a big-time SEC school. This year indicated that he has a better arm than what doubters assumed. He's got a good head on his shoulders in the pocket. And he's accurate. A completion percentage of 77.4% and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 41:4 show that.

He's an inch or two smaller than Burrow, though. He's 5-10 pounds lighter. And he's perceived to be less nimble moving around the pocket or escaping from it.

As NFL analyst and former NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz told NBC Chicago when discussing the idea of the Bears trading up for a quarterback, Schwartz panned Jones. And a lot of his analysis had to do with that aforementioned lack of mobility.

"Mac Jones I don't see being good in the NFL," Schwartz said. "I think we're seeing a new version of quarterback that has to be mobile. Mac Jones is not mobile. I think we look at how open his wide receivers are at Alabama — Tua (Tagovailoa, fellow Alabama alum) is having this problem in the NFL — they're not open in the NFL. You have to throw them open. You have to say, 'OK, he's not open now, but if I throw the ball now, he will be open then.' That anticipation, you don't have to do that at Alabama. You don't have to anticipate, these guys are wide open.

"I'm worried about Mac Jones' mobility, and his ability to throw into tight windows when it's not perfect."

I co-sign on all that, too. As Doug Farrar of USA Today pointed out, Alabama went to great lengths to minimize Jones' need to throw on the move.

And if the Steelers offensive line requires as many quick throws as it did last year while it undergoes a rebuilding process, the Steelers better wait to put Jones behind five blockers that are in the realignment stages of being patched together.

Not to mention the ongoing absence of a complementary run game.

In February, throwing together a mock draft to titillate Steelers fans is easy. But it is sorta like betting on the over/under goal total for the Penguins postseason opener two months in advance. Especially this year, when we don't even know if the Penguins are going to make the playoffs. Let alone who they are playing.

There are too many variables such as workouts, trades, free agency decisions and offseason injuries to put a true board together.

People do them anyway, though. And occasionally where I see the value is in talking about the thought process that may be necessary to get a certain player, especially a quarterback.

If some of you are on the "Mac Jones Express" — and my email and Twitter feed indicate many of you are — this dialogue at least serves a bit of purpose today.

Not so much in the cause and effect of "A mock draft says the Steelers are drafting Mac Jones, so expect that to happen."

Rather, it's to get the conversation going if the Steelers should be interested in Jones to begin with. And if trading up for him is truly worthwhile.

For now, I'd say no to both.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.