Through two days of the NFL draft, the Patriots have taken two edge rushers, two tight ends, and one Division II safety.
Quarterbacks? Zip. Zilch.
For the first time in 20 years, Bill Belichick and the Patriots don’t have a surefire answer at the most important position on the roster. This weekend’s draft represented an opportunity for the rest of the football-watching world to get a sense for how Belichick and personnel chief Nick Caserio would handle the quarterback spot in their first post-Tom Brady offseason.
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Would they take a shot on a talented-yet-unpolished player like Jordan Love in the first round, acknowledging that because the position was so important, they might as well take early risks to help improve the chances they hit? Would they wait until Day 2 to take a flier on an athlete like Jalen Hurts, who might not be a starter Year 1 but might provide some value in specialty quarterback-run-game packages as a rookie?
Would they go for a big arm? A quick-footed passer with a big brain? Was it critical to nab someone with big-game experience?
But the football world is still waiting to see what the Patriots valued at that position in this year’s draft. As it turns out, what they valued was what they already had in Jarrett Stidham.
That’s the implication, at least. Because unless Brian Hoyer beats out Stidham as the best man for the job in New England next season, it’s going to be hard for a player taken on Day 3 of the draft — even early on Day 3, like Stidham — to join the team after a shortened (if not non-existent) offseason program and challenge a player with good physical skills who has the benefit of a full season under his belt.
Not impossible. But hard.
I asked Caserio on Friday night if leaving quarterbacks alone through two days of drafting should tell us anything about the club’s affinity for Stidham.
”There's still some players I think that have a possibility ending up on this team,” Caserio said. ”We have the picks sort of spread out [Saturday]. There's different ways that you can get the players on your team.
“We're going to have a third quarterback on our roster, pair them up with Jarrett and Brian. These guys are working hard at the start of the off-season program. We're going to have another player here at this position. Where he comes from and how he gets here is sort of yet to be determined. There's a few guys I think that we like and we feel comfortable with. Now it's just a matter of how we get them on the team.“
That could mean Day 3 of the draft. It could mean something else. After all, the current free agents at that position feature big names like Cam Newton and Jameis Winston. Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton could be available via trade soon. Miami’s Josh Rosen should be as well.
If it is the draft, though, there are some options who’d make sense at One Patriot Place. Here are some of the best available Prototypical Patriots in Day 3 at the quarterback spot.
Anthony Gordon, Washington State
It took Gordon — who began his career at City College of San Francisco and then sat for three years — a long time to see the field for coach Mike Leach. But when he did, he tore it up. He completed 71.8 percent of his passes and had a 3-to-1 (48-to-16) touchdown to interception ratio. A baseball player first growing up, Gordon has a strong arm that's quick to strike. He explained at the combine that he watches Jimmy Garoppolo's compact delivery to polish his own mechanics.
Though Gordon made some bad calls to force passes into places they shouldn't have been, he was extremely efficient in the Cougars Air Raid offense in his first and only year as a starter. Still a young player in terms of game experience, his arm and tight delivery might make him the first quarterback off the board on Day 3.
Jake Fromm, Georgia
Smaller hand size than the typical Patriots quarterbacks, which is worthy of consideration given where and when (December, January) the team’s most important home games are played.
Fromm has also only spent three years in college, is a below-average athlete, and possesses what is by all accounts a below-average arm. There are still a number of things to like about Fromm. A three-year starter for a Patriots-preferred program, he reads the field, he's taken snaps from under center, he covets possession (only 28 turnover-worthy plays in three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus), and he's accurate (63.3 percent completions for his career). He's just not the "prototype."
Jacob Eason, Washington
Eason is another big-bodied passer who has no problem meeting the size thresholds for the prototypical Patriots quarterbacks. He played one year at Washington after transferring from Georgia, where he lost the starting gig to Fromm in 2017. Though he has just two years of real college-playing experience, he's been in the collegiate ranks for four.
Eason completed just a hair under 60 percent of his throws (59.8) for his career and had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 2.4-to-1. He owns a cannon for a right arm and might be a fit for Belichick if mobility isn't high on the list of preferred attributes for The Next Guy.
Jake Luton, Oregon State
Plenty of size. Plenty of arm. So why isn't Luton more highly regarded? His accuracy might not be considered to be on the level of some of the best in this class, but it's just fine. He completed 62.2 percent of his career attempts (played six games in 2015 at Idaho before transferring), but his 7.1 yards-per-attempt number is a tad low. Unafraid of a good checkdown — evident in that YPA figure — Luton could be a little quick to get rid of the football. But does that sound like something that would interest the Patriots?
Luton's 28 touchdowns to just three interceptions in 2019 will be sure to catch Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio's attention. (Ohio State's Justin Fields and Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa were the only quarterbacks last year with at least 25 touchdown passes and three picks or fewer.) Low interception numbers helped get LSU's Danny Etling picked by the Patriots on Day 3 a few years ago. The same could be true for Luton this year. He's already earned a pair of degrees (sociology and innovation management) and had a 3.43 GPA. He suffered a thoracic spine fracture in 2017, saw five starts in 2018, and came back last season as the full-time starter for the Beavers.
Tyler Huntley, Utah
Though only 6-1, shorter than the prototypical Patriot quarterback, Huntley had a helluva college career. A first-team All-Pac 12 selection and Shrine Game invitee, Huntley was a three-year starter. He completed over 67 percent of his passes in his career — including a whopping 73 percent last season — and he took care of the football with 19 touchdowns to just four interceptions in 2019. Huntley also scored 16 rushing touchdowns in his career.
Huntley is a Pro Football Focus darling, with the eighth-best quarterback grade in the country last season, the lowest turnover-worthy play rate among Power 5 quarterbacks, and the second-best accurate-pass rate in the country (behind only Joe Burrow) on passes of 10 yards or more down the field. On Day 3, he'll be an intriguing option.
Cole McDonald, Hawaii
With his frame and hands that measured over 9.5 inches, McDonald checks most of the boxes the Patriots have typically drafted when it comes to stature. He also came in as one of the most athletic passers at the combine this year (4.58-second 40, 36-inch vertical, 7.13 three-cone).
Though he's not a Power Five conference player, his statistical production was very good (61.4 percent completions for his career, over 8,000 yards passing, 70 touchdowns against 24 picks as a two-and-a-half-year starter), and he looks like he could be a late-round flier for Belichick if the head coach can get over McDonald's wonky throwing motion.