INDIANAPOLIS -- After three days of bouncing around this fine city, let's unload some of the buzz we picked up on . . . both Patriots-related and otherwise.
Where to start? How about with this year's class of quarterbacks, which has been our focus for the last few weeks. We know the Patriots are doing some due diligence on the players at that spot, and so we're trying to do the same.
* As deep as the quarterback class this year seems to be, there are no perfect prospects. USC's Sam Darnold's decision-making has been questioned, as have the maturity levels of both UCLA's Josh Rosen and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield. Accuracy and consistency are the primary concerns when it comes to Wyoming's Josh Allen and Louisville's Lamar Jackson. As for Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph and Washington State's Luke Falk, arm strength is an issue for some. Bottom line: Even though there could be five or six passers taken in the first round, some believe this class has been vastly overrated . . .
* . . . And that's why it comes as little surprise that there is still lingering frustration from some around the league that the Niners received a franchise guy from the Patriots for a second-round pick. Even though it shoudn't be forgotten that San Francisco had to pony up a record contract to keep Garoppolo in town, "annoyed" would seem like an appropriate word to describe how one coach reacted when the Garoppolo conversation came up. A second-round selection was viewed a modest price to pay to have a shot at a long-term marriage with a good player.
* It was interesting to hear just how many teams are going to be in on the quarterback hunt this offseason. The Browns, Broncos, Jets and Cardinals are obviously looking. The Giants, Dolphins, Chargers, Bills, Panthers, Jaguars and Saints have also been rumored to be in on the action. Then there are the Ravens. We've been given indications that they'll be looking into drafting a quarterback this spring as well. That means 12 teams -- more than a third of the league -- ahead of the Patriots in the draft's pecking order could be looking for a player at the game's most important position. Two of those teams (the Browns and Bills) pick twice before the Patriots in the first round. If Bill Belichick has someone in mind he would like to back up Tom Brady, he may have to be willing to take the plunge early. Obviously free agency will change the landscape of quarterback needs across the NFL, but there will be plenty of competition for arms on draft weekend.
* At the top of the class, Darnold is consistently mentioned as the player with the best shot at going No. 1 overall, but there are plenty who see Rosen as the better player. Rosen can make every throw. His mechanics are more polished. What many believe prevents Rosen from being mentioned more consistently as an option at No. 1 is the question of how his attitude will play at the next level. The consensus is he will not be the world's easiest player to coach, and one story we heard this week did little to squash that notion. Asked in one of his interviews about an interception on his tape, Rosen shot back with another question, asking the interviewer if he'd ever played quarterback before. OK, then! For combine interviews, where coached-up answers are commonplace, that would qualify as a rare back-and-forth.
* Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta helped himself last week, building on the positive momentum he created when he had a strong week of Senior Bowl practices and won the Senior Bowl MVP. During his field workout in Indy, Lauletta was accurate, and he tested among the best at his position in the vertical jump (31 inches), broad jump (9-feet-5), three-cone (6.95 seconds) and short shuttle (4.07). His combination of athleticism and ball-placement led one coach -- a coach who knows Jimmy Garoppolo well -- to say Lauletta is probably the closest thing to Garoppolo in this year's draft class. Lauletta's release isn't what Garoppolo's is in terms of its quickness, but more than one person I spoke to said he could have a shot at being taken on Day 2. We'll see if that changes by the time we get into late April. Lauletta has met with Patriots scouts, but he said he did not have a formal interview scheduled with New England.
Kyle Lauletta says the Patriots aren’t on his schedule for a formal interview, but he’s met with Patriots scouts. pic.twitter.com/OtcxLXBhFx— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) March 2, 2018
* Spoke to Rob Gronkowski's agent Drew Rosenhaus toward the end of the week. He wasn't all that keen on discussing his client's future. He did tell PFT's Mike Florio, however, that there was no timetable on Gronkowski's decision to return to the field. That puts the Patriots in a tight spot. They could stand pat and hope for the best. They could hope for the best but prepare for the worst and make a significant investment in the tight end position during free agency and/or the draft. The issue there is that there are plenty of other positions on the roster that need to be addressed (left tackle, linebacker, end, corner), and the Patriots would probably like to avoid spending big to replace someone who may or may not need to be replaced. Trading Gronkowski doesn't seem like a realistic option -- unless Gronkowski gave assurances to another team he'd be willing to play for them -- since trying to ship off a player considering retirement would be difficult if not impossible. They could offer to give Gronkowski a raise. But if that doesn't work . . . then what? Hope for the best?
* It's hard to gauge just how much interest the Patriots have in prospects based on formal combine interviews. All clubs are allowed 60 interviews, which each last 15 minutes. By the time the pre-draft process is finished, the Patriots will have met with countless prospects at various different points -- Senior Bowl, combine, pro days, private workouts, Gillette Stadium visits, etc. -- but the combine interviews at least give us an early window into some of the players they want to get to know better. They've met with offensive tackles, slot receivers, running backs, safeties, ends and linebackers . . . at least. Many of the quarterbacks played it coy when it came to which teams they were scheduled to meet with. Both Lamar Jackson and Lauletta said they did not have formal interviews planned with New England. Luke Falk and Mason Rudolph were among those who chose to keep their formal interview plans quiet.
* We spoke to multiple evaluators who -- somewhat surprisingly -- pointed to Leighton Vander Esch of Boise State as the player they were most excited by when it came to off-the-ball linebackers in this year's class. Granted those conversations happened before Tremaine Edmunds of Virginia Tech (who is still just 19 years old) checked in with an impressive 4.54-second 40-yard dash at 253 pounds Sunday. But Vander Esch walloped his workout, too. He ran a 4.65 40 at 256 pounds and ranked among the best at his position in the vertical (39.5 inches) and three-cone (6.88 seconds). Vander Esch has just one full season as a starter under his belt, but his instincts are viewed as a cut above those of Edmunds. He's not a big-hitter, but he's long (6-foot-4, 34-inch arms), and he can cover. He could be in the conversation for the Patriots in the back end of the first round. Georgia's Roquan Smith is a smaller, quicker 'backer (6-1, 236), who is widely viewed as the best player at his position and one of the best players in the draft. He doesn't have the size of either Vander Esch or Edmunds and will likely be used differently at the next level. Alabama's Rashaan Evans (6-3, 234) is another intriguing linebacker prospect who is expected by some to go in the first round, though there is some concern about his ability to stay healthy. However the top-four stack up, the fact that there are four players at that position that could warrant first-round consideration has to be good news for the Patriots. They could benefit from a lift at the second level.
* One final note, a little reminder as to just how goofy the combine can seem. One part of the testing process at the combine is the rarely-publicized, rarely-interesting player flexibility portion. One of the flexibility tests is basically a sit-and-reach test. The measurement goes from your face to the floor, meaning the lower the number, the more flexible you are. Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, thought to be one of the best players in the draft and one of the safest selections because of his high floor, scored a zero. Impressive. But he dominates on tape. And he killed the bench-press testing (35 reps at 225 pounds). So how much would the sit-and-reach have really swayed his draft stock one way or the other? Probably not at all. But the fact that he annihilated every step of the combine -- including the flexibility station -- had evaluators giddy.