Patriots 2020 NFL Draft Preview: Quarterbacks

I don't remember exactly when I started writing Patriots draft previews for the Stool. Just that it was a long time ago. I might have just been a lad in my mid-40s or so, with a gleam in his eye, a spring in his step and dreams of a future filled with multiple Super Bowl championships. Which came true. What I do know is that over the years, I've continued to add to a growing list of correct predictions. I would put my successful, nearly supernatural record of projecting their picks up against anybody's. I have accurately projected the Patriots would take Dont'a Hightower, Brandon Spikes, Darius Butler, Dominique Easley, Duke Dawson, Joejuan Williams, and a tight end from Florida who's name escapes me, among others. No brags, just facts. 

As I do every year, I'll begin with a disclaimer. I don't pretend to know how other franchises operate. I enjoy mock drafts as much as the next guy but I don't do them because I've never seen one that survived past the first 10 or so picks. All I bring to the table is an informed opinion on what type of player fits what the Patriots require in their system on both sides of the ball. To go with a psychic connection to the man who commands the Pats war room. The Belichick Whisperer is proud to be back in the Patriots Draft Preview business. I've been longing for this moment. And for the first time ever, I'm beginning with the quarterbacks.

Positional Overview: As a matter of fact, I can't even tell you how many times I've taken a dive into the quarterback position, if any. First, for the obvious reason that it hasn't been an area of need on this team since the Bush Administration. The first Bush Administration. Second, and maybe because of that, it's hard to get any sort of a handle on what their "type" is. Since Belichick's first draft in 2000, they've used a grand total of 11 picks on QBs. And the only common trait is that they've all been 6-2 or bigger. Beyond that, they've taken guys from schools as small as Easter Illinois and as big as ... Michigan. (Pause here a moment because I'm having one of my episodes. And I'm back.) They've pulled the trigger as early as the 62nd pick and as late as the 250th. They've taken guys as young as 22 and as old as 24. Mobile guys and more traditional pocket passers. With such a small sample size and so few common traits I defy anyone to identify what they look for most in a quarterback. It's an even bigger challenge given how short the season for working out and meeting QBs has been.

What I do believe is that the future belongs to Jarrett Stidham, with Brian Hoyer as the back up. And that this year, as always, they're looking for the next viable NFL starter, whether it's here in the future or someone they can flip to some other team for a second round pick to piss everybody off. So I expect they'll take a mid-tier prospect with one of the eight picks they have been No. 87 and No. 213.

Current Roster: Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer, Cody Kessler

Note: All measurables are from the NFL's official draft page or, in the case of 40 times if the player didn't run at the Combine, estimates from scouting sources.

The Mortal Locks to Go in the Top 10:

Joe Burrow, LSU. 6-foot-, 221 pounds, 4.83 40-time

Everyone knows Burrows' story by now. Three years at Ohio State. Transferred to LSU when he didn't get the starter's job but not before graduating with two years of eligibility. What really made his game take off was when Ed Orgeron brought in NFL quarterback coach Joe Brady to be his Miyagi. And the next thing you know, Burrow was winning the Heisman and being compared to Tom Brady by the leader of the free world over take out cheeseburgers in the White House. He's got the total package with the possible exception of top-level arm strength. He's the best pre-snap reader of defenses in his class and can go through his progressions with any of them.. He's also the most precise passer. He's a confident, aggressive thrower with poise and vision and the ability to create second reaction plays when his targets need time to get open. In spite of his puny, Dooneese-like 9-inch hands, all that talent will land him in back in Ohio with the first pick, the hole from which not even the child of Ras-Al Ghul can escape. But he's good enough to maybe make the Bengals respectable.

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Kirk Cousins 

Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama. 6-0, 217 lb, 4.70

Tagovailoa was ready to come into the league as one of the most pro-ready, plug & play, don't-need-to-read-the-manual-to-set-it-up quarterbacks of our time before he dislocated his hip. He not only won the National Title game with a 41-yard TD pass in overtime as a freshman, he built on that performance. If you're into advanced metrics, he set an FBS record for passing efficiency in 2018 that was later broken by Burrow. He's a good, not great athlete, but with a left arm made of Mithril, the precious metal the Dwarves made Frodo's chain mail shirt out of. He throws with precision, ball placement and timing. He's efficient in the pocket and can extend plays when healthy. Though his true strength is in running a programmed offense with defined reads and throws. In all likelihood, he's going to Miami with the fifth pick. 

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Drew Brees

Justin Herbert, Oregon. 6-6, 236 lb, 4.68

For a guy his size, Herbert is exceptionally athletic. And he has a surprisingly quick release, given how long it should take to unfold those 33-inch wings of his. He was a legacy at Oregon, the grandson of a man who played wide receiver for the Ducks back in the 60s. He's smart enough to have twice been an Academic All-American and came across as a soft-spoken, level-headed cat with good intangibles during his interviews at the Senior Bowl. He's mobile, with top end arm talent and the highest graded accuracy in this year's group. Where he needs to improve is distributing the ball, as he tends to laser focus on his primary as opposed to seeing the whole field. I have it on good authority that the Patriots have been lusting after him for over a year and have held private workouts long before he became draft eligible. By all accounts he's going to the Chargers with the sixth pick, though for one, NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah has him falling to New England at 23 somehow. Which was probably just a clickbait headline because it would have to be a real inexplicable, Aaron Rodgers-like fall down the draft board. But if by some chance he did make it past LA, the chances the Pats would make a bold move up to get him are very high. 

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Ryan Tannehill

The Next Tier of QBs, All of Whom the Patriots Spoke to at the Combine

Jordan Love, Utah State. 6-4, 224 lbs, 4.74

Love was not a terribly highly regarded prospect coming out of high school, and Utah State was his only scholarship offer. But he played in the same program that got NFL jobs for Blaine Gabbert, Chase Daniel and Brad Smith, for whatever that's worth. And he got himself onto pro scouts' GPS as a sophomore with 32 TDs and six interceptions. Though he didn't do himself any favors by throwing 17 picks the following year. For a pitcher with a power arm, he's still shown willingness to take something off his fastball when the situation calls for it, putting air under the ball and throwing guys open. He had a good workout at the Indianapolis Kennel Club Show with his ability to throw while running around cones in his shorts. Though sometimes in game action his lower body mechanics break down, he's nevertheless a rhythm passer who can get the ball out with velocity. The bottom line is that he's sort of an eye of the beholder player and where he goes will entirely depend on whether teams feel he's the kind of guy they can work with and develop. 

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Brett Hundley

Jake Fromm, Georgia. 6-2, 219, 5.01

Without a doubt, you'll find Fromm's best asset between his earholes, as opposed to under his right shoulder pad or beneath his thigh pads. His intangibles are beyond reproach, it's his tangibles that are the issue. As you can tell from his 40-time, he's a better leader than he is an athlete. He came to the Senior Bowl even though he wasn't eligible to play, just to meet with scouts. He led Georgia to the National Title game as a freshman. And he has the distinction of chasing two five-star QBs, Jacob Eason and Justin Fields, out of the Bulldogs program. In a pro style offense, he threw for 61.2% completions, with 60 TDs and 29 INTs against the best competition in the country. But as I eluded to earlier, it's his arm and leg that are the problem. He can read a defense and has the quick release to work the short and intermediate stuff, but you can't ask him to air it out deep or hit someone on the opposite sideline with any consistency. And he's a straight pocket passer who's going to need that quick release to survive against pro pass rushers. So he could fit in a rhythm/timing type of scheme, such as a West Coast.

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Carson Palmer


Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma. 6-1, 222 lb, 4.59

Hurts had a long, strange journey to get here. From Nick Saban's freshman starter at Alabama to getting injured in the BCS Bowl, losing his job to Tagovailoa when he came in in relief to win the game, being a great sport about for a season, going to Oklahoma and ultimately finishing second in the Heisman voting behind Burrow. They loved him in 'Bama and still speaking glowingly. about him. He's a superior runner who could play several different positions, like hybrid receiver or fullback. He's just not the most accurate passer and his receivers needed the catch radius of DaVinci's Vitruvian Man at the Senior Bowl. It's just a matter of whether teams see him as someone they can develop thanks to his abilities and character, or whether they'd be willing to change their schemes to take advantage of the things he does well, the way the Ravens did with Lamar Jackson. 

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Taysom Hill 

Other QBs in the Next Tier:

Jacob Eason, Washington. 6-6, 231 lb, 4.89

After getting bounced out of the Georgia's starter's job by Fromm, Eason transferred to Washington and excelled in their pro-style offense as well. He's undoubtedly got the strongest arm in this class, if not in the observable universe. He can throw a ball 65 yards while flat-footed. Then again, they used to say Jamarcus Russell could throw one 60 yards from his knees, and that turned out to be a skill that had very little practical use in a game. Like a lot of guys with preternatural arm talent, his ability helps Eason and it hurts. He'll use it to get passes through tight windows, then try to use it through windows that are shut and bolted, thus turning it over. It'll also cause him to throw from a backpedal, which is another risk/reward thing that often costs him more than it helps. Another knock is that scouts aren't confident about his commitment to football, and having been since his high school days. His massive size gives him a nice straight-line 40-time, but again, that's not the most applicable skill for an NFL QB. Actually moving in a pocket away from pressure is more important, and it's not his strong suit.

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Joe Flacco (minus the leadership)

Small School Guy:

James Morgan, Florida International, 6-4, 229 lb, 4.89

Morgan's got the prototype build for an NFL quarterback. His mechanics are solid. His arm strength isn't elite but it's not bad and could improve. He threw 40 touchdowns over the last two season against just 12 picks. Most importantly, he helped himself a ton at the East-West Shrine game and projects to be a late round developmental pick. 

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Sean Mannion

Sleeper:

Jake Luton, Oregon St. 6-6, 224 lb, 4.89

Luton was a standout as a Juco, earning him a shot with the Beavers, where he spent six years due to missing time with a spinal injury. As a senior, Luton threw 28 touchdowns to just three interceptions. He looks bigger than even 6-6, and yet is athletic for his size. He makes quick throws, shows command of his offense and will definitely be a late flyer pick.

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Brock Osweiler.

The Perfect Patriot: Herbert. Like I said, they've had dirty thoughts about him for years. But 12-4 teams don't have the luxury of drafting QBs like him unless a miracle happens or they find a Herbert of their own in the later rounds. 

Whom They'll Draft: Fromm. Again, with all the picks they have available in Rounds 3-6 and with Fromm's limitations scaring other team's away who don't have faith in a pocket passer without a power arm, I can definitely see where he could drop and Belichick could work up and down his draft board to land him on Day 2. He's got the leadership they love. He could sit and develop like a Jimmy Garoppolo. And Georgia is what Rutgers used to be: Their No. 1 feeder program. It's Jake Fromm. And in advance, I'm issuing a moratorium on State Farm jokes. Be better the rest, New England.