The scene of Mac Jones, the University of Kentucky’s quarterback commitment for next year, standing in front of a Rivals.com backdrop and holding a trophy in his hands has become commonplace.
Two months ago, Jones won most valuable player honors at the Rivals Camp Series event in Orlando. Three weeks ago, he took home the same award from the Rivals camp in Atlanta.
Jones earned his biggest honor yet Sunday in Baltimore, taking the top spot at the Rivals Quarterback Challenge that included some of the best passers in high school football.
“From the moment he stepped on that field, he felt he was going to win this thing,” Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell told the Herald-Leader. “There was no doubt in his mind. Second place was never an option for him. And I really like that about him.”
Jones beat out a group that included several other four-star quarterbacks from the class of 2017 — Clemson commitment Chase Brice among them — as well as Georgia native Trevor Lawrence, who is considered the No. 1 QB in the class of 2018.
The high school recruits were put through a grueling, three-and-a-half-hour process that consisted of a number of drills. Unlike past camps, where throwing at spots is a major component, the Quarterback Challenge includes throwing to actual receivers being covered by defensive backs. “We try to make them make every throw possible that you would see on a football field,” Farrell said.
Most of the quarterbacks in attendance excelled is some drills and struggled with others, but Farrell said Jones was steady throughout.
“I think it comes down to accuracy,” he said. “Mac, he’s just very well prepared. Accuracy is something that he really focuses on in his training. And I think, his consistency — some of the guys had really good sessions in certain areas, certain throws — and I don’t think Mac struggled in one area, except maybe here and there with his long ball.”
Jones’ continued physical development could help him in that area.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound quarterback still needs to add to his thin frame, and that’s what is keeping him from being ranked even higher in the class of 2017. Rivals currently has him as a four-star prospect and the No. 15 QB in the class.
Farrell called Jones a “poor man’s Josh Rosen,” noting that the designation is not meant to be an insult, but instead a comparison to the UCLA quarterback who started all 13 games last season as a true freshman, was named a first-team freshman all-American and, Farrell says, is the best high school quarterback he’s ever scouted.
“Josh has a stronger arm than Mac. Josh is bigger and taller than Mac. Josh is more filled out,” Farrell said. “But that competitive nature mixed in with a little bit of cockiness, he reminds me of that personality-wise. He’s the type of guy that’s going to own a huddle. He’s the type of guy that’s going to get on people if they’re not running the proper routes or handling their assignments. He’s going to be harder on himself than anyone else. And he just has this undying desire to win.
“And that can turn some people off, but I love it. … I want that quarterback mentality.”
Jones — a native of Jacksonville, Fla., who committed to UK last July — just recently was bumped up to four-star status by Rivals, which has invited him to its Five-Star Challenge mega-event scheduled for June.
His recent performances have some Kentucky fans asking if he could ultimately get a fifth star next to his name. Clemson commitment Hunter Johnson is currently the only QB with that designation in the class of 2017.
Farrell said Jones’ thin frame makes him hesitate to grant five-star status, but he acknowledged that former California quarterback Jared Goff, who is widely expected to be the No. 1 pick in this week’s NFL Draft, had a similar build coming out of high school. Goff was the No. 8 QB in the class of 2013.
Jones’ possible path to a fifth star will be similar to that of Landon Young, the UK signee who excelled at Lafayette High School and eventually worked his way toward the top of the national rankings by the end of the most recent recruiting cycle.
“I think it’s going to be that kind of process for him,” Farrell said. “Sort of like the quarterback version of Landon Young. … I don’t think he’s there yet. There’s other quarterbacks in this class that I think are closer to that, simply because they’re more dynamic offensively.”
Once a player gets to college, those stars are meaningless.
Where Jones actually goes to college is what’s on the minds of the UK fans that have been following his progress over the past few months.
He seemed content to shut down his recruitment after his most recent visit to Lexington earlier this month. A few days later, he earned a scholarship offer from Alabama. Farrell is expecting that home-state Florida will offer, too.
Jones likely will take some more recruiting visits, meet with more coaching staffs and weigh all of his options between now and national signing day. Still, he’s built a great relationship with UK’s coaches, and that could be enough in the end.
“As he continues to do better and wins these things, more and more schools are going to come in,” Farrell said. “Originally, the thought was if he got one of those huge SEC offers he was going to stay close to home and go play there. But, it’s not like he jumped on the Alabama offer. So, you just kind of have to think about that.”