PATS REPORTER

Perry: Why Pats fans need to watch the SEC Championship Game Saturday night

PATS REPORTER

There's a chance the future quarterback for the Patriots offense -- The Next Guy -- lights it up on your televisions this weekend.

No, not Jarrett Stidham. 

How about Alabama's Mac Jones? Or Florida's Kyle Trask? 

Two of the front-runners for this year's Heisman Trophy will square off on Saturday night in the SEC title game, and both could be available for the Patriots to snag whenever it's their turn to draft next spring.

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Are either fits in New England? Which fits best? What about the rest of the quarterback class? And will the Patriots even want to roll with a first-round quarterback if he's not viewed as one of the top few talents available at that position?

Let's start with the players themselves. 

Between Jones and Trask, the better option of the two for the Patriots looks like Jones. And not just because he hails from Alabama and plays for coach Nick Saban. 

He's firmly in the conversation as being a first-round pick because of what he's shown on the field in terms of his down-the-field touch and accuracy, his anticipation, and his ability to keep his poise when things get hairy. Jones has good size at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, and while he's not a modern-day quarterback in terms of his athleticism, he's athletic enough to maneuver within the pocket to buy himself time. 

 

Jones also has a story that would seemingly interest the Patriots in that he's been a longtime backup behind both Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts. After filling in for the injured Tagovailoa last year, he might've been passed over by the 'Bama coaching staff this season in favor of stud freshman Bryce Young. But Jones fought to keep his job and might be named the best player in college football by season's end. He's second in the nation in completion percentage (76.4), first in yards per attempt (11.7) and first in rating (203.9). He boasts a whopping 9-to-1 (27-to-3) touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Jones only has 16 games with 10 or more pass attempts dating back to last season. The sample size isn't massive. And the talent around him is the best in the country. Those are factors the Patriots would have to weigh if they were to ever consider him in the middle of the first round. (If the season ended today, they'd pick 16th.) But it'll be hard for evaluators to ignore what he's put on tape this season. Jones hasn't been Joe Burrow in terms of making the leap from being an afterthought to the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft. But he certainly will earn himself Day 1 consideration based on the improvements he's shown from last year to this year.

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Trask has plenty going for him, too. Currently No. 3 in the Heisman odds -- behind Jones and 'Bama receiver Devonta Smith -- he's a mountain of a man at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds. As you'd expect, he has a big arm and he's been far more consistent with that arm this year than he was last season. He's ninth in the nation in completion percentage (70.2) and yards per attempt (10.1). He's sixth in rating (187.0) and he also has a ridiculous touchdown-to-interception ratio (40-to-5). 

Trask might not have the Alabama offense around him, but he has a similarly-talented cast with which to work. All-world tight end Kyle Pitts is a nice No. 1 option, and slippery wideout Kadarius Toney is the kind of athlete who should go early in the draft as well. Trask would qualify as more of an old-school pocket passer. Neither he nor Jones would qualify as "mobile" by the modern definition, but Jones would have the edge over his SEC rival in that category.

The reason this matchup should carry intrigue for Patriots fans is that if the team is interested in investing at the quarterback spot early, they may not get a crack at any of the consensus top-four passers.

Clemson's Trevor Lawrence will be first off the board to the Jets, in all likelihood. Then, in some order, will probably follow Ohio State's Justin Fields, BYU's Zach Wilson and North Dakota State's Trey Lance. The Patriots could always trade up to try to land one of those three, but ahead of them in the draft order -- as things stand at the moment -- could be a half-dozen teams or more interested in quarterbacks: Jacksonville, Dallas (if they can't resolve the Dak Prescott situation), Carolina, Atlanta, Detroit, San Francisco, Denver and Chicago.

 

A trade up would be costly. A stick-and-pick approach, particularly if Jones or Trask is around, might be more sensible. If the Patriots had a shot at either as The Next Guy, Jones seems like the better option. But there's still plenty of opportunity for both to try to sway front-office opinions.

That starts Saturday night.