It didn’t make any sense then, and it makes sense even less now. In the NFL, nothing matters for a franchise until it acquires a great quarterback. Every decision a front office makes revolves around either finding one or supporting the one it is so very lucky to have. How could so many teams have forgotten that in the draft last spring? And how did they allow the beneficiary of their negligence to be — of all teams — the New England Patriots?

A bushel of quarterback-needy teams filled the top half of April’s first round. Two teams traded up to draft a quarterback. Two others stayed in the top two spots and took passers. The Patriots watched 14 players come off the board and plucked the quarterback who won the national championship at Alabama, who posted the highest passer rating in the history of college football, who blew away evaluators with his football intellect and who may provide Bill Belichick a post-Tom Brady return to excellence

The Patriots do not have to dream on Mac Jones. They are watching a fully formed passer who just shredded the Cleveland Browns and will lead a 6-4 team on a four-game winning streak into Atlanta on Thursday night. In the unlikely event that Jones does not improve, that his performance remains static, the Patriots still have found the long-term successor to Brady. It took them one year, cost no additional draft picks and required minimal salary cap space.

A question for the rest of the NFL: What are you guys doing?

“I could not tell you,” said Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy, a former NFL scout who studies college prospects as closely as anyone. “That’s a question for those teams sitting in the 14 spots above Mac. I didn’t understand it. I thought Mac was behind Trevor Lawrence. I thought Mac was the second-best one. I saw the way the guy prepared. I saw the way he handled himself. I saw him with teammates. So, yeah, I can’t answer that for you.”

There are two possibilities. The first is that Jones is awesome and the league screwed up. The second is that Jones is pretty good and he landed with a smart and nurturing franchise that has bolstered him in a way others would not have. (Hello, Jets.) With the help of hindsight, it seems the answer is mostly No. 1 with a dollop of No. 2.

Jones should have been considered a better prospect last spring, based not on his rookie performance but on information available at the time. In his one year as Alabama’s starter, Jones completed 77.4 percent of his passes for 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns and four interceptions. His teammates were far more talented than his opponents every game he played. That was also true of Tua Tagovailoa, who went fifth overall in 2019 before Jones replaced him at Alabama.

But too many evaluators viewed Jones’s performance as a product of the talent around him. At the Senior Bowl, Nagy was shutting down the conference center at midnight and found Jones alone in the quarterback room, watching film and taking notes. Nagy had to kick him out the next night, too.

“The point that was made a lot during the pre-draft process was that Mac was really a smart player,” Nagy said. “That’s so underselling him. That’s like saying Michael Vick was a fast quarterback or like saying John Elway had a strong arm.”

Every knock against Jones presented an easy rejoinder. Jones is 6-foot-2, 217 pounds and, by the standards of the NFL, a bit doughy. Popular perception declared him unathletic. But he ran a 4.72-second 40-yard dash and posted a 32-inch vertical leap, both better than acceptable for a quarterback. “Something that was overlooked with Mac was how well he maneuvered in the pocket,” ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid said.

There was an easy comparison for Jones that went overlooked. In 2019, Joe Burrow began the season projected as a mid-round pick. He put up historic numbers on an LSU offense laden with NFL talent and won the national title. He had an advanced feel for the position and was a better athlete than he was given credit for. He became the clear-cut first overall pick.

“Nobody was saying the things about Joe Burrow that they were saying about Mac,” Nagy said. “The situations were almost identical. It was crazy to see how different the narrative was between the two guys. It just made no sense.”

Ten games will not decide the fate of the 2021 quarterback class, but Jones has been by far the best player. Lawrence still could be the gem of the class — he has carried a talent-poor Jacksonville Jaguars roster playing for a coach without prior NFL experience. Trey Lance and Zach Wilson have been slowed by injury and overmatched when they have played for the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets. Chicago’s Justin Fields has mixed breathtaking plays with rookie mistakes and shown enough skill and poise to suggest his ceiling remains astronomical.

At least those teams took quarterbacks. Spare the Bengals, Dolphins and Chargers, who selected quarterbacks the year before, and the Cowboys, who had Dak Prescott in place. It was puzzling that any other team picking in the top half would have bypassed a quarterback.

The Lions drafted offensive tackle Penei Sewell, so they have a state-of-the-art security system protecting a hovel. The Carolina Panthers — whose staff spent a week coaching Jones at the Senior Bowl — and Denver Broncos took cornerbacks and opted for placeholder veterans behind center. The New York Giants traded down and stuck with Daniel Jones.

“The Broncos and Panthers are probably kicking themselves,” Reid said. “The rebuild doesn’t matter until you get the quarterback position right.”

Of course, it is easier to get the quarterback right when you do everything around him well. The Patriots employ perhaps the best coach in NFL history and one of the most experienced play-callers in the NFL in Josh McDaniels. They have a strong offensive line. Their offseason free agency binge upgraded their skill players and rebuilt their defense into one of the NFL’s best.

“The infrastructure that’s in place for him right now, that’s the big difference from other quarterbacks,” Reid said. “The great thing that the Patriots did, they spent all this money to where they could drop a quarterback into the roster and he could succeed.”

To Nagy, the Patriots’ coaching and roster help explain why they are winning but not why Jones is playing so well.

“Everyone’s looking for reasons to discredit Mac for the success he’s having,” Nagy said. “Does fit matter? Does organizational culture? Absolutely. I’m not going to argue that. That’s 100 percent true. Mac would be having success regardless of where he is because he’s so prepared and he plays the game so fast mentally. The game is so slow for Mac, he can play it fast. He’d have a grasp of any system he was in.”

Ironically, Jones may have fit the wrong prototype. For decades, NFL teams wanted quarterbacks who could stand in the pocket. Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson and others have changed the position. Having let Patrick Mahomes slip to the 10th overall pick because teams missed his unconventional abilities, franchises now chase traits reminiscent of his. The word “Mahomesian” became part of scouting vernacular. Wilson may have played a weak schedule at BYU and thrown to receivers running in open pastures, but he zipped passes on the run and at unusual arm angles.

In Jones, the Patriots did not find the strongest arm, fastest runner or most heralded college recruit. They just found the player who is, so far, the best quarterback.