Drew Lock

Will Patriots suffer similar fate as Broncos have post-Peyton Manning?

Will Patriots suffer similar fate as Broncos have post-Peyton Manning?

Editor’s note: In the coming weeks our Patriots insiders will be speaking with beat writers from around the NFL to get an outside view on what the future holds for the Patriots. Today’s team: The Denver Broncos with Ryan O'Halloran of the Denver Post.

The Denver Broncos took a chance on an aging Peyton Manning before the 2012 season and it paid huge dividends.

Manning played the final four seasons of his Hall of Fame career with the Broncos, and Denver made the playoffs each year, highlighted by two Super Bowl appearances.

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The legendary quarterback retired after winning Super Bowl 50 during the 2015 season, and the Broncos have yet to fully recover. Denver has failed to reach the playoffs in each of the last four seasons, and oddsmakers don't expect the Broncos to end that postseason appearance drought in 2020.

The New England Patriots soon could be in a similar situation.

Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady recently left the Patriots in free agency after playing the first 20 years of his career and winning six Super Bowl titles with the franchise. Like the Broncos after Manning's exit, the Patriots likely will turn to a young quarterback to lead the offense.

Will the Patriots suffer the same fate as the Broncos have post-Manning and struggle to make the playoffs?

"Maybe there's that initial little backtrack, which is understandable," O'Halloran told our Patriots insider Phil Perry. "But I think the Patriots are probably constructed better than the Broncos at that point with the continuity of Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels, and Jarrett Stidham at least having been there for a year, if he ends up being the starter, or Brian Hoyer being a veteran.

"The Broncos, I think the real thing for them was Gary Kubiak retired a year after Manning retired, for health reasons, and that started a cycle they're still trying to get out of, having missed the playoffs four straight years."

The quarterback of the present, and potentially the future, for the Broncos is Drew Lock. He had a very good finish to his rookie season in 2019, and after the Broncos drafted two of the best wide receivers in the 2020 class in Alabama's Jerry Jeudy and Penn State's KJ Hamler, expectations for Denver's offense are high entering 2020.

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"(Lock) deserves to be the guy, and he is the guy, for this year," O'Halloran said. "All bets are off, I think, because it's a second-round contract. If he struggles, then you go back to the drawing board. He went 4-1 as a starter down the stretch last season, granted it was the equivalent of NFL garbage time, but he showed mobility, he showed a willingness to throw into traffic, and throw guys open and make plays on the run.

"I think what you saw, especially, was guys rallied around him, saying, hey, this could be their quarterback for the next couple years, and definitely in 2020. So, I think he gave a lot of reason for optimism, while also saying, OK, he has to learn a new offense from (offensive coordinator) Pat Shurmur, he has a new quarterbacks coach in Mike Shula, and a lot of new players he has to learn without the benefit of an offseason program."

Lock will get an early challenge from the Patriots defense in 2020. Denver is scheduled to visit Gillette Stadium in Week 5. Fortunately for the Broncos, they play on "Thursday Night Football" in Week 4, so they'll have a few extra days to prepare for their matchup with the Patriots.

Prototypical Patriots quarterbacks in the 2019 draft class: Finley tops the list

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NBC Sports Boston illustration

Prototypical Patriots quarterbacks in the 2019 draft class: Finley tops the list

What does a prototypical Patriot quarterback look like? Ideally, like Tom Brady — though finding a future Hall of Famer in the NFL Draft is no easy feat... not by a long shot. 

Whereas at other positions where there are measurables to help us come up with a "prototype" -- things like heights, weights and 40-yard dash times -- what goes on upstairs is obviously tantamount to thriving at quarterback. Physical traits are important, but qualities like anticipation, reaction time, leadership skills, competitiveness, a love of football -- they're all vital, and they can be harder to quantify.

Yet, here we are, trying to come up with features of a prototypical Patriots quarterback. The easiest way for us to go about it -- for this exercise, at least -- is to take those unquantifiable aspects of a player's game and put them to the side. That's obviously where much of the work has been done this offseason by Patriots scouts and coaches looking at potential fits. But we'll stick with the measurements and a handful of important quarterbacking numbers -- figures that will help us come up with an idea of a passer's accuracy and decision-making, the two key factors to playing the position, per Bill Belichick -- to get as close as we can to the ideal Patriots passer.

What NBC Sports Boston's Phil Perry found, based on prior drafts, is that the Patriots have typically drafted quarterbacks who played in Power 5 conferences, stood 6-foot-3 or taller, spent four years in college, had a career TD-to-INT ratio of around 2.2-to-1, with a yards per attempt of 7.5 or better, and a completion percentage of at least 60 percent.

With those characteristics in mind, let's take a look at quarterbacks who look like the best fits in this year's draft class . . .

Click here for the prototypical Patriots QBs in the 2019 draft class.>>>>

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Perry: Could Patriots' 'Next Guy' be drafted next year?

Perry: Could Patriots' 'Next Guy' be drafted next year?

In all likelihood, Danny Etling isn't going to factor into how the Patriots handle their search for Tom Brady's successor. Never say never, but as a seventh-round pick, the LSU product probably isn't going to be the next face of the franchise. 

Many wondered if the Patriots would be all-in on finding that guy in this year's relatively deep class of quarterbacks. And according to Baker Mayfield's agent, they might've been all-in had Mayfield fallen to the No. 2 pick. 

But maybe that move is coming next year. 

The Patriots finished the draft last weekend having added future second and third-rounders, which provides them with all kinds of ammo to move up the board in 2019 if they so choose. At the moment, they own a first-rounder, two seconds, three thirds (including two projected compensatory selections), a fourth, a fifth, a sixth and three sevenths next spring.

It's impossible to know where exactly those picks will be slotted, but if the Patriots make it to the conference finals for the eighth consecutive season, they could move up from the bottom of the first round into a range that would be in or around the top-five if they were to package their first, both seconds and all three thirds. 

That's a haul, and more than the Patriots have ever dealt away to land one player under Bill Belichick. But the Patriots have never been in a spot under Belichick where the clock is ticking down on their search to find their next great quarterback.

Knowing that they could trade up - and jumping off of Tuesday's headlines that they might've been willing to trade up all the way from No. 23 to No. 2 for Mayfield - we took a look at a handful of the draft-eligible quarterbacks for next season to see which ones might be the best fits. 

Going off the criteria we used for this year's Prototypical Patriots series - the Patriots have typically drafted tall passers with good production in Power 5 conferences (though Jimmy Garoppolo bucked two of those three trends) - here are some quarterback names to keep in mind if you're watching college football this fall...All heights and weights are pulled from DraftScout.com.

PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOTS
RYAN FINLEY, NC STATE, 6-3, 210


Finley is another tall-enough, strong-armed quarterback with good production who the Patriots could find intriguing. For a team that typically likes at least a 2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the passers it drafts, Finley hits that on the nose (38-to-19). He's also averaging 7.4 yards per attempt and he's completing 62.6 percent of his passes - both strong marks from a Patriots perspective. He runs a pro-style offense at NC State, Jacoby Brissett's former home, and looks like one of the best Patriots fits in next year's class.

JUSTIN HERBERT, OREGON, 6-5, 225
Herbert has plenty of size compared to quarterbacks the Patriots have drafted in the past. And his production, when on the field, has been tremendous. His touchdown-to-interception ratio over his career is 34-to-9, he's averaging 8.5 yards per attempt, and he's completing 65.3 percent of his passes. Those all slot in range for what the Patriots have sought in the past. His issue has been durability. He's played in 16 games at Oregon over the last two seasons.

IMPERFECT BUT INTRIGUING
DREW LOCK, MISSOURI, 6-3, 225


Let's start with Lock in our "imperfect" grouping. He's among the quarterbacks who look the part, but whose numbers in college are slightly below the ideal marks for a team that values accuracy and efficiency. (We'll later get to the quarterbacks who don't meet some of the team's typical height standards but have great numbers.) Lock's rocket arm has helped him post a 71-to-31 touchdown-to-interception ratio and rack up a 7.8 yards-per-attempt average, but his 54.5 career completion percentage could use a bump. Even some of the sub-60 percent quarterbacks the Patriots have drafted before weren't that low: Kevin O'Connell (57.7), Ryan Mallett (57.8), Brissett (59.5).

JACOB EASON, WASHINGTON, 6-4, 235
Eason left Georgia after suffering an injury early last season and losing his starting job. Will his time under Kirby Smart help him in Belichick's eyes -- the Patriots just drafted two of Eason's offensive teammates in the first round -- or will the fact that he split the program hurt him? He has the size to succeed at the next level, and he sports a 2-to-1 ratio (16 touchdowns to eight picks), but he's also well below 60 percent completions for his career (55.2). 

NICK FITZGERALD, MISSISSIPPI STATE, 6-4, 230
Good size, great conference, OK production. That's Fitzgerald at this point. Can he keep his pick total low in 2018? Can he boost his 6.7 yards per attempt and 55.4 percent completion percentage? If he puts together a big year, who knows how far up boards he may climb. He has prototype size. 

CLAYTON THORSON, NORTHWESTERN, 6-3, 225
Thorson hasn't had the talent that some of the others on this list have had around them, but he's widely considered a draftable quarterback in next year's class. He's a sub-60 percent completions quarterback for his career, but accuracy may not be his biggest question mark at the moment. Thorson tore his ACL in last season's Music City Bowl making a catch on a trick play. He holds the record for wins as a starting quarterback at Northwestern (27).

JARRETT STIDHAM, AUBURN, 6-2, 214
Garoppolo was 6-2 coming out of Eastern Illinois so the Patriots aren't totally averse to taking passers who measure in less than 6-3. It's just that when you look at their draft history under Belichick, they typically lean toward taller players at the position. (Another reason why trading up for Mayfield, who's almost two full inches shorter than Garoppolo, would've been a break from the norm.) Stidham has been very productive (67 percent completions, 9.2 yards per attempt, 30-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio), and if he can keep that up in the SEC he should get some consideration at One Patriot Place.

JAKE BENTLEY, SOUTH CAROLINA, 6-2, 220
Bentley beat up on Harbaugh's squad in the Outback Bowl back in January. He completed 19 of 32 passes for 239 yards, two scores and a pick in the 26-19 win. He's completed 63.4 percent of his passes and if he's really as tall as the Gamecocks website says he is (6-4), then he'll end up much closer to the top of this list than the bottom by next spring. 

WILL GRIER, WEST VIRGINIA, 6-1, 214 
Grier can launch it deep, and he has some ability to extend plays with his legs and find open receivers down the field. A transfer from Florida, he's produced in a big way throughout his career, hitting about 65 percent of his passes and accumulating a nearly 3-to-1 (44-to-15) touchdown-to-interception ratio over his career. His size and style of play will draw some comparisons to Mayfield this time next year.

SHEA PATTERSON, MICHIGAN, 6-1, 193
Another undersized, athletic quarterback who transferred from the SEC. Patterson played seven games for Ole Miss before transferring and is expected by many to be one of the more exciting signal-callers to watch in college football next season under Jim Harbaugh.

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