The Patriots need a QB for the future, that much is obvious.
Even if the shell of Cam Newton that we saw last season can get back to average-to-above average play next year, the Pats would not be wise to expect that to keep up for years to come.
They drafted Jarrett Stidham in the fourth round in 2019, but two seasons into his tenure and he hasn’t shown enough to be given a fair shake at playing. With how poor the Cam Newton experiment was going last season, the Patriots opting to keep starting him over Stidham despite the playoffs out of the question was pretty telling.
Could it be possible that they didn’t want to trot Stidham out there in what was a rather improbable situation for success? Possibly, but the Patriots are the ones who see how Stidham practices, prepares, etc. and they decided to keep him benched.
Now, this is not an indictment on Stidham or Newton but all arrows point to the Patriots using one of their 10 draft picks in 2021 on a quarterback.
The question is; where and at what cost?
There is much speculation that they could be in the trade-up market with teams like Atlanta or Detroit to grab (what could be) one of Ohio State’s Justin Fields or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. That is however, as I said before, speculation (and I admit to be playing into it quite a bit.)
The harsh truth is, nobody knows what the Patriots will do. Recent history suggests they would be more happy trading back out of the 15 slot than mortgaging their future to trade up, but they also haven’t had many off-seasons without Tom Brady at the helm.
New England spent more money on free agents this offseason than in the past decade combined and patched up a lot of their holes going into 2021. Their many moves have created a much more quarterback-friendly environment for anyone that is under center next year. This is why a trade-up, despite the Patriots usual strategy, is not out of the question.
But what if they don’t?
Many fans view this draft as a trade-up for a quarterback or bust kind of situation, but would it even be worth it?
While I have been in the camp that the Patriots should trade up if Lance or Fields is available, I have since taken a couple of steps back on that stance.
Why, you ask?
Well, there are many layers to it but the biggest reason is because it goes against how the Patriots typically operate.
Unlike most other organizations, New England ignores all of the outside noise and ranks players regardless of their position or media hype. For example, if the Patriots are sitting in the first round and have their highest grade on an available player that the public views as a third-round guy, they will take them with their first pick. While their grading isn’t always flawless (like every other team) that is how they operate. They value players, not draft position.
New England wants to just flat-out have more better players than the other team to allow them to be so versatile from week to week and concoct game plans attacking opponents’ weaknesses.
This is important to note because if the Patriots have a higher grade on let’s say an offensive lineman over the available quarterbacks, they will follow their strategy and take the lineman.
The Athletic’s Michael Lombardi used to work for the Patriots’ front office and is a former NFL GM that is still very tapped in around the league. He outlined on his most recent podcast, The GM Shuffle, this exact strategy that the Patriots still use to this day. He also stated that he doesn’t think that Trey Lance or Justin Fields fits the mold of what would constitute a high enough grade from the Patriots to trade up from pick 15.
It is more fun to speculate but the truth is if what Lombardi says is true, the odds of any of those quarterbacks falling far enough to warrant a trade-up is miniscule.
Now, does this mean the Patriots are punting on the position and ruining their chances at being competitive for years to come? Not at all. I did some investigating of my own to see what the hit rates are for quarterbacks outside of the first round compared to the hit rates for quarterbacks drafted inside of the first round.
Before I share my results, I derived these numbers with a few key parameters:
- QBs drafted are graded on a scale:
- Elite: Franchise quarterback, yearly MVP contender
- Above Average: Very good quarterback that elevates his team
- Average: Team can win in spite of quarterback, keeps the team afloat but not over the top
- Below Average: Was a starter, but level of play brought the team down. Didn’t last very long on the original team and is a perennial backup with little starter potential.
- Not Good: Was a starter, didn’t last past his first team and is out of the league with almost no future starter potential
- Numbers come from drafts between 2010 and 2018 since the 2019-2020 classes are still too young to properly project and evaluate.
- First round QBs are picks 1-32, other QBs are picks 33-150.
- “Other quarterbacks” were only considered for this charting if they were given a fair chance to start and viewed as a possible franchise guy at one point in their careers.
Let’s get into the results.
From my charting, there have been 27 total first-round quarterbacks drafted between 2010 and 2018. Of that total, three have been elite, four have been above average, 10 have been average, six have been below average and 4 have been not good.
When shooting for a first-round quarterback, the chances are that particular franchise is looking for at the very least above average play. Anything below that (depending on the team situation) I don’t view as a very successful pick.
For reference: Patrick Mahomes is elite, Lamar Jackson is above average, Jared Goff is average, Blaine Gabbert is below average, and Paxton Lynch is not good. I believe most talent evaluators would agree with that scale but if not, hey, it’s my opinion.
With that in mind, the odds that your first round quarterback is going to return on investment and become above average or better is around 26%. The inverse of that, being average or worse, is 74%. Basically that means based on recent history, only one or two of these first-round quarterbacks are going to be worth the pick.
I would bet that one of those would be Trevor Lawrence, and the other spot is up for grabs between Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance and Mac Jones, if any of them. Statistics don’t play football and can’t be taken as gospel, I know, but the odds are not in the Patriots’ favor to begin with which makes it hard for me to believe they would mortgage their future for a guy unless they are SURE he is the one.
Now to the hit rates between picks 33-150.
Using the same scale and picking quarterbacks that were given at least a fair shake at the starting job to prove they were worth or not worth the pick, the hit rates are eerily similar.
From my charting there have been 22 quarterbacks from 2010 to 2018 that have matched the aforementioned criteria. There has been one elite, six above average, three average, eight below average and four have been not good.
When picking guys in the second or later rounds, you aren’t necessarily drafting hoping they are going to be elite, but rather average that can mold into above average.
This data shows that the odds of your quarterback being at least above average is around 31% with the inverse being 69%. If you change the expectation of a later-round quarterback to being just average or better, that number spikes to 45%.
With this being said, the data is extremely selective and a lot of the later-round QBs who are taken and “aren’t given a fair shot” receive minimal playing time due to trust issues stemming from what the coaches see. I tried to make the best use of context for this situation, showing that not all late-round QB situations are black and white. The guys who were given a fair shake to start range from Russell Wilson to Christian Hackenberg, so I promise the data isn’t entirely skewed just to prove my point.
The lesson to be learned here is that the draft is a crapshoot regardless of where you’re picking, and selling a good chunk of your future to get a guy that is almost just as likely to flame out as a later-round pick is not always the best long-term team building strategy.
There have been PLENTY of good quarterbacks that have come out of the second or later round. Here are some examples:
- Tom Brady | 6th round (cop out, I know)
- Drew Brees | 2nd round
- Kurt Warner | Undrafted
- Brett Favre | 2nd round
- Russell Wilson | 3rd round
- Dak Prescott | 4th round
- Kirk Cousins | 4th round
- Jimmy Garroppolo | 2nd round
- Derek Carr | 2nd round
- Colin Kaepernick | 2nd round
- Nick Foles | 3rd round
With the exception of a couple of names, I think a lot of teams would be ecstatic to have any of those guys in their primes starting for them.
Does this mean guys like Davis Mills, Kyle Trask, Kellen Mond, Jamie Newman, etc. are going to be great NFL talents? Not by any means. But they have arguably just as good a shot at flaming out as anyone in the first round does, so why take the risk?
To go back to my original argument, if the Patriots have a very high grade on a quarterback who starts to slip they should do whatever it takes to get them. However, if they don’t do that there is still hope.
They haven’t promised Cam Newton or Jarrett Stidham the starting job, and they haven’t promised them that they won’t draft a quarterback either. In New England, the best players play. That’s how it is now and how it has always been. Who’s to say they don’t find another Tom Brady in the later rounds of the draft? Only time will tell, but for now I’m putting my trust in anything they do. The Patriots know a thing or two about building winning football teams, I’m just a guy with a computer.
In Bill We Trust.