Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, April 15, 2024

Why the Patriots should draft a quarterback

All signs point to under center.

Marines at NFL Draft 2012

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is pictured with marines at the NFL Draft.

After years of stability, life is moving pretty fast at One Patriot Place. The immutable Bill Belichick is gone, replaced by a fresh face, Jerod Mayo, who represents the dawning of a new era for the franchise without quite relinquishing all ties to the Patriot Way. Suddenly, with a new head coach for the first time since 2000, an apparent opening in the front office and the disappointment of a 4–13 season behind them, uncertainty seems to be the new status quo. Yet through all this upheaval, perhaps nothing looms larger than the NFL Draft, less than 100 days away, where the New England Patriots will hold the third pick, their highest selection since taking Drew Bledsoe first overall in 1993. 

The Bledsoe pick should serve as a reminder of what would be wise for the Patriots to do in April: draft a quarterback. While sixth-round pick Tom Brady is responsible for all six of the Patriots’ Super Bowl trophies, the luck that led the franchise to the future NFL all-time passing leader cannot justify passing on a quarterback this offseason. Some forget that it was Bledsoe, now perpetually overshadowed by his uber-successful successor, who guided the franchise back into contention after seasons of frustration in the late 1980s, culminating in an appearance in Super Bowl XXXI. Right now, even the dynasty originalist Patriots fans with the highest standards might settle for a mere Super Bowl appearance after the fiasco that was 2023. Hitting on a QB early would go a long way.

Brady’s draft position in particular stands out among the other great quarterbacks of his era. The Indianapolis Colts selected Brady’s longtime rival and two-time Super Bowl champion, Peyton Manning, first overall in 1998. The quarterback Brady defeated in his final Super Bowl victory, Patrick Mahomes, now two-time MVP and two-time Super Bowl champion, was the 10th pick in 2017. The dominance of first-round quarterbacks throughout the NFL is pretty hard to miss — this year they piloted seven of the eight teams that advanced to the divisional round. Including Brady, 11 of the 17 quarterbacks to appear in at least one Super Bowl since 2011 were chosen in the first round. Right now, the Patriots would have to defeat a certified posse of strong AFC teams led by young, first-round quarterbacks in order to even sniff a return to the promised land.

Of course, first-rounders at every position excel more often than those outside the first-round, but no other position holds even half the weight of the QB in today’s NFL. This isn’t to say that teams can get away without building a well-rounded roster, but instead to note that the highest urgency should undoubtedly remain on that gaping hole under center. Mac Jones is broken. Bailey Zappe fared only marginally better. Despite a defense that ranked top 15 in total defense and top five in rushing defense, 4–13 was the result. This team needs a quarterback.

Attributing blame to other factors behind this year’s calamity is by no means invalid — the roster simply lacked talent on offense, both at skill positions — particularly wide receiver —  and along the line, with the former now a constant from season to season. Even with the expanded 17 game schedule, no Patriot receiver has reached 1,000 yards since Julian Edelman in 2019. Meanwhile, 13 different men saw time on the offensive line this season, with stalwarts David Andrews and Michael Onwenu being the only real consistent performers. Neither Jones nor Zappe benefitted from the players who surrounded them this past season. There is no doubt that a full retool will take more than just a quarterback, which means talks of tackles and wide receivers won’t be going away anytime soon, with some front offices itching to utilize the third pick in pursuit of one of these positions. This would be a mistake.

The options for the Patriots at pick number three can be boiled down to those two positions and quarterback, with Marvin Harrison Jr., generational Ohio State wide receiver prospect, and Notre Dame tackle Joe Alt as potential options. Yet the route to improving either position elsewhere, whether through free agency or trade, would presumably be far easier than attempting to acquire a QB outside of the draft.

Elite (and potentially elite) wide receivers are out there. Tee Higgins, with two 1,000-yard seasons to his name as the No. 2 weapon for the Cincinnati Bengals, oozing with talent at 6-foot-4, is a free agent. If age isn’t a factor, Mike Evans is an option as well. In the last three seasons alone, Tyreek Hill, A.J. Brown and Davante Adams have moved via trade. All three have produced results for their new teams. Another talented receiver could be shipped out at any time (Brandon Aiyuk, anyone?). Fixing the offensive line undoubtedly must be a priority as well, but the Patriots have proven they can consistently find line talent for better value. Andrews, Onwenu, Matt Light, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney and Dan Connolly — phew — all outside the first round.  

Recent expensive quarterback deals paint a different picture. Russell Wilson is seemingly already out in Denver with the Broncos, while Deshaun Watson has rarely been in for the Cleveland Browns. Does anyone remember Matt Ryan’s tenure in Indianapolis for the Colts? Regardless, it's unclear if any even borderline elite quarterbacks will be available this offseason. Unless betting on someone like 35-year-old Kirk Cousins is appealing to Patriots fans, the only choice for the third pick is a QB.

The current assumption is that QBs go with the first and second picks, likely Caleb Williams from the University of Southern California and Drake Maye from the University of North Carolina. Williams seems too good to refuse with the first pick, whether that be by the Chicago Bears or a recipient of their selection through trade, and the Washington Commanders subsequently will be unlikely to pass on Maye as they look to reset.

This, in all likelihood, leaves Jayden Daniels, Louisiana State University quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner. At the moment, Daniels is the consensus No. 3 quarterback in a strong class, with his stock rising significantly throughout his breakout season. Daniels possesses two traits conducive to success in today’s NFL: speed and a beautiful deep ball. His potential for dynamic play, both in and out of the pocket, (1,134 rushing yards and 40 passing touchdowns in 2023) jumps out. Yet the narrative has him planted firmly behind Williams and Maye. Questions remain about his ability to operate within structure. Questions will undoubtedly arise about getting good value with the third pick. You can almost hear it already. Daniels is a “reach.” Harrison is more of a “can’t miss.” The third pick is not the first pick, sure. But one only needs to take a look at the aforementioned intimidating cadre of AFC QBs to know the first pick isn’t an end all be all. Neither Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson or C.J. Stroud were selected first. All have had success.

There is no such thing as a guarantee, but even a glimpse at Daniels’ film demonstrates the obvious: There is a chance he can be great. And like it or not, that is how you find success in the NFL. Take chances on great QBs. Ideally, the Patriots will never have to pick this high again. They are guaranteed a top three quarterback. Whether it be Williams, Maye or Daniels, they shouldn’t waste this opportunity.