Alabama quarterback Mac Jones holds a team jersey after he was by the New England Patriots during the first round of the NFL football draft, Thursday April 29, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

For the first time in nearly three decades, the Patriots drafted a quarterback in the first round.

Welcome to the Mac Jones era, New England.

On Thursday night, the Pats selected Jones with the 15th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Alabama product will come to Foxboro where he’ll immediately compete with Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham for the Patriots’ starting quarterback job.

“This is what I wanted all along,” Jones said on the NFL Network. “I can’t wait to play for the greatest franchise in NFL history.”

This marked the first time the Patriots drafted a quarterback in the first round in 28 years when the team selected Drew Bledsoe with the No. 1 pick in 1993. The franchise was tied for the third longest streak in the NFL with Seattle, who drafted Rick Mirer in 1993.

The Patriots were all over Jones in the pre-draft process. Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels attended his Alabama Pro Day. The Pats also interviewed him at the Senior Bowl. At the Pro Day, Jones ran a play from the Navy playbook and said afterward he wanted to get Belichick’s attention.

“Obviously, I know Belichick loves Navy, so I showed him that. It’s all fun and games out here,” Jones said.

Jones threw for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns and four interceptions last season. The 6-foot-3, 217 pound quarterback was an All-American and a Heisman finalist. He’s known for his accuracy and football smarts. Jones is also an underrated athlete, surpassing Patriots averages marks in the 40 (4.68), vertical (32), broad jump (116) and 3-cone drill (7.04) when compared to other quarterbacks drafted by Belichick.

The 2021 draft unfolded at the top as many thought it would with Jacksonville drafting Trevor Lawrence and New York selecting Zach Wilson. The San Francisco 49ers made a minor surprise by drafting quarterback Trey Lance at No. 3. From there, picks 4 through 10 didn’t select a quarterback. The biggest surprise was seeing Carolina (who traded for Sam Darnold) and Denver (who traded for Teddy Bridgewater) pass on Jones and Justin Fields.

That’s when the Chicago Bears traded up from No. 20 with the New York Giants for No. 11 to draft Fields. Chicago traded No. 20, a 2022 first-rounder, a fifth this year and a fourth-rounder next year to aggressively get their quarterback.

The Patriots stayed pat and still ended up with one of the best quarterbacks in this draft class.

After Tom Brady signed with Tampa in 2020, the Patriots struggled with Newton at the helm. The team finished 7-9 as Newton threw for 2,657 yards with eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also added a franchise record 12 rushing touchdowns. Jarrett Stidham appeared in five games, throwing 256 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.

After re-signing Newton to a one-year deal this offseason, it was clear that the quarterback position was a top need for the Patriots heading into the 2021 NFL Draft.

By Mark Daniels, Providence Journal