PATS REPORTER

Perry: Are mobility, athleticism prerequisites at QB in 2020?

PATS REPORTER

Cam Newton has noticed it. You probably have too. You're sitting at home, watching the Patriots, and seemingly week after week it's the same thing: Freakish athletic talent at the quarterback position. 

Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson have dotted the Patriots schedule and up next it's perhaps this year's most dynamic runner: Kyler Murray.

"I've had the opportunity to see Lamar," Newton said. "I had the opportunity to go up against Deshaun last week. Those guys, and Kyler this week, it's just fun to play against a guy like that this week . . . The game is kind of turning to that style of quarterback, who can not only attack you with the legs, but is as potent with his legs as [he is] with his arm as well."

Patriots Talk Podcast: Does Bill Belichick have a plan to contain Kyler Murray? | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

As the Patriots make their way through a re-set year, the question will linger until it's answered: What's next for them at quarterback?

It could be Newton, a predecessor of today's most gifted athletes at the position yet with more power than quickness at this point in his career. It could be someone else, someone younger.

This year's draft class, for instance, features four quarterbacks who appear to fit Newton's description of the modern NFL passer: Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance. (We sent Lance to the Patriots in the top half of the first round in this week's mock draft.) 

 

While those types of skill sets seem to make the lives of offensive coordinators in the league much easier, it's not necessarily a prerequisite that the Patriots go mobile at the quarterback position moving forward.

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Bill Belichick said on Wednesday morning that there are all types of physical traits that can translate to success.

"I think each player has his own individual and unique set of skills, just like we all do," he said. "We’re all individuals. We’re all different. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. But, in the end, we try to evaluate, in this case, the players, the quarterbacks and take a look at the composite and put some kind of value on them. But, every guy is different. 

"Unless you just want to eliminate certain players, then that’s – if you want to eliminate all players under 6-1, then you’re going to eliminate a lot of players. How good are they or aren’t they? I mean, I don’t know. If you want to eliminate all quarterbacks over 6-6, you can eliminate those guys. Are there some good players in that area? Yeah, there probably are, but if you have a certain philosophy that you don’t want to deal with a certain type of player for whatever reason, then teams certainly can do that and do do that. 

"I would rather look at the player and try to evaluate his overall value and what he can do and try to find a way to use the skills that he can do."

Belichick's current No. 1 quarterback, despite understanding the importance of his own physical tools, agreed.

"I don't want to say that [it's a prerequisite to be an athlete at quarterback]," he said. "There's different ways to skin a cat. That's an old cliché saying. You just gotta understand the system. Just depends on what system you're in. A lot of quarterbacks may not be athletic like [Watson, Jackson and Murray] but they're still effective. As long as you have a great understanding of what your offense is trying to do, that's pretty much what it comes down to."

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That's true. But the pure pocket passer is becoming more and more rare. Finding a Tom Brady or a Drew Brees-type, someone who can process at supercomputer speeds behind center, is a pipedream. Last offseason, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach -- who pushed for Patrick Mahomes to be the team's long-term answer back in 2017 -- explained why he felt athleticism was more important at the position than ever before.

"I think what you're seeing now is mobility being just so paramount in acquiring a quarterback,"  Veach told me. "Some things like velocity or accuracy, whereas before — depending on how you weighted things — certainly being a lot higher. I think the athletes nowadays and the speed from sideline to sideline is so great that you have to have a quarterback who can create plays. 

 

"And the defensive lines — the defensive line talent that comes out every year is just ridiculous with the athletes up front so you just have to have a quarterback who can create plays on his own and throw from different platforms. Then if you have one who can create on his own, throw from different platforms and be accurate, good luck. It's hard."

That last point, the one about the defensive linemen and their speed being more and more difficult to contend with, was something Newton acknowledged Wednesday.

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"Yeah," Newton said when asked if he's seen linemen get faster during his decade in the league. "I mean, going against certain players and certain defenders who are running, if not faster than you, as fast as you. And I'm not just talking about defensive ends. Three-techs. Shades. Nose tackles. Guys are just freakish athletes these days and you just have to have an edge in some category of your game."

Even if there is more than one way to skin a cat as a quarterback, that process better involve neutralizing the humans on the other end of the line of scrimmage paid to chase quarterbacks.

Is it speed? Processing speed? How the Patriots approach the position down the road will go a long way in explaining exactly what they value at that spot in today's NFL.