MOBILE, Ala. — The last football game Mac Jones played was for a national championship. The next game he plays could boost his NFL draft stock — provided the University of Alabama star's left ankle is good to go.
Jones headlines a group of quarterbacks from high-profile programs at Saturday's Senior Bowl, 19 days after the Crimson Tide beat Ohio State in the College Football Playoff title game.
The Heisman Trophy finalist sat out the end of Thursday's final practice of the week after hurting his ankle, leaving his status for the game uncertain. Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said the plan is for Jones to dress out and see how his ankle feels.
"The goal is for him to play," Nagy wrote in a text message Friday. "He's a true competitor."
Jones is also the biggest name — especially in this state — and almost certainly the top quarterback prospect at the all-star event. He said he didn't regret coming to the game and working with Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule and his staff even with minimal time to recuperate from the season.
"Just being in that room, I already learned so much about NFL football," said Jones, who is considered a first-round pick. "They made me better this week. I've really enjoyed it, and I'm super happy I came."
If healthy, Jones will lead the American team along with two other passers with Southeastern Conference connections. He's joined by Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond and former Wake Forest standout Jamie Newman, who joined Georgia as a graduate transfer from the Atlantic Coast Conference before ultimately opting out of this past season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National team is led by quarterbacks Ian Book of Notre Dame, Sam Ehlinger of Texas and Feleipe Franks, who transferred from Florida to Arkansas for his final college season. Heisman finalist Kyle Trask, Franks' replacement at Florida, was scheduled to play but pulled out because of an ankle injury.
Jones is vying with the other top quarterbacks for draft positioning behind presumed No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence of Clemson. That group includes Trask as well as Ohio State's Justin Fields, North Dakota State's Trey Lance and BYU's Zach Wilson.
In Jones' one full season as the Tide's starter he made the most of his opportunity — and a connection with Heisman-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith — by putting up prolific numbers and winning the Manning, Davey O'Brien and Johnny Unitas honors given to the nation's top quarterback.
Mond started 44 games during his Aggies career (one more than Ehlinger logged for the Longhorns), leading the team into contention for a College Football Playoff spot in his final season. After throwing 24 interceptions his first three seasons, Mond was picked off three times in 10 games — a bowl win against North Carolina followed an 8-1 showing against an all-SEC regular-season schedule.
"I think in a lot of people's opinion, the SEC is the closest thing to NFL-caliber players," he said. "Obviously being able to compete at that level is definitely a huge blessing for me."
Book, a finalist for the Manning and Unitas awards, knows the lack of a scouting combine and in-person visits this year amid the pandemic "just makes every little thing more important," and that certainly includes the Senior Bowl.
"This is more important, the (on-campus) pro day is more important, and it's about taking every rep one at a time and going out and competing," Book said after a practice this week. "I had a really good time today competing with the best of the best. That's why you play football."
Alabama tailback Najee Harris practiced early in the week but won't play because of a lingering ankle injury from the title game.
Jones hopes to be able to go after setting Alabama records with 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns this past season. He succeeded the much more heralded Tua Tagovailoa, who wound up being taken fifth overall by the Miami Dolphins in last year's draft.
"I don't think I needed to prove anything," Jones said. "The tape is the tape, and I did what I did and obviously I had a great team. I just wanted to come and kind of learn more about NFL football and learn a new playbook, which I thought I did a good job with. I understand all the plays."
Other top prospects include Wake Forest defensive tackle Carlos Basham Jr. and wide receiver Sage Surratt — along with his brother Chazz Surratt, who was a linebacker for North Carolina — Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood, Florida receiver Kadarius Toney, Central Florida safety Richie Grant and Miami edge rusher Quincy Roche.
That group of intriguing prospects also includes some offensive linemen from schools outside the Football Bowl Subdivision: Wisconsin-Whitewater's Quinn Meinerz, North Dakota State's Dillon Radunz and Northern Iowa's Spencer Brown.