I want this to promote healthy discussion. Please refrain from personal attacks if you disagree with opinions in the comments section.
ESPN's Mike Reiss is trying to be the voice of reason on the selection of Jimmy Garoppolo.
Jimmy Garoppolo, 62nd.
Ryan Mallett, 74th.
Strip the rounds, Reiss says. Ignore them. If you look at the players just based upon what their overall draft pick was, the distance between the two selections is negligible. The draft value chart measures that distance as the equivalent of the Patriots 4th round pick.
The Mallett pick was heralded with fanfare; Belichick was a genius. Almost 90% of Pulpiteers thought the selection of Mallett would be better than our initial reaction. Either Mallett takes over for Brady, or the Patriots get four years of service with an elite back-up quarterback that only cost them a third round pick.
But then there's Jimmy Garoppolo. He's a second rounder. That's making all the difference. Instead of viewing the opportunity cost as 12 picks, or a third of a round, we're viewing the selection as the difference of a second versus a third rounder.
Technically correct. In this case, it's not the best kind of correct.
Our reasoning behind this is that Garoppolo is a potential quarterback of the future- and he very well could be- but that might not be the primary season for this second round pick; and that fact might make people even more upset.
What if the main reason for the Garoppolo pick is to take over Ryan Mallett's spot?
Keep in mind that no team drafts back-ups. They draft players they believe can be starters, even if the opportunities don't arise. Mallett wasn't selected to be a back-up; he was expected to be able to start if needed.
Whether the player is a first round pick, or a seventh round pick, Bill Belichick and the Patriots took them with the impression that each had the potential to be a starter. If Tommy Kelly reinjures himself, first round Dominique Easley should be ready take on a heavier load, just as if Josh Boyce reinjures himself, seventh round Jeremy Gallon should have a chance to earn time on the field.
Now quarterback is a fickle position. There are always exceptions, with Tom Brady as exhibit A, but quarterbacks of starting quality are generally selected earlier in the draft. If the Patriots were going to select Mallett's replacement, it would have to be with an early pick (say, 12 picks earlier than when Mallett was chosen).
This argument is generally answered in three ways. 1) Why do they need to draft a player who will never see the field?; 2) Why couldn't they have waited until next year?; and 3) What about the talent they bypassed for this pick?
1) Why do they need to draft a player who will never see the field?
Mike Reiss presented the Aaron Rodgers scenario with the Packers last season. Rodgers was 6-3 as a starter and would have been a lock to lead the Packers to a division title and to the playoffs. He was injured for seven games, where the three back-up quarterbacks went a collective 2-4-1 in their starts. That almost derailed their season.
It's important to note that Rodgers missed time and it wasn't a season ending injury. What if Brady is concussed? Or he sprains his ankle from scrambling too much? Or he mangles his throwing hand on a facemask just slightly worse than he did last season? Brady might only miss a couple weeks of time, but those two weeks could be the difference between a division title, or homefield advantage, or a multitude of other possibilities.
A player you can trust to step on the field, especially at the most important position in the game, is a valuable commodity. That's why they're worth having on the roster, even if they don't see the field.
For a similar reasoning, what about cornerback Logan Ryan? The Patriots had Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, and Kyle Arrington on the roster. Barring an injury to the three of them, Ryan could have never seen the field. Would he have been a wasted pick then? Luckily, when injury hit all three of those corners, Ryan was ready because he's of starting caliber. He was selected 83rd overall.
Or what about Nate Solder, in the first round? Incumbent left tackle Matt Light had just signed a two year deal and was still playing at a high level. What if a first round pick ended up sitting on the bench for two seasons? In his case, Sebastian Vollmer was injured (as was Light) and Solder was ready to step on the field. Then Light retired in the off-season.
The point is, the pick is questionable, until they see the field. And in all of these cases, there's no way to know ahead of time when that will be. The team just has to be prepared with a contingency plan.
2) Why couldn't they have waited until next year?
The Patriots have always loved to have a transition year between talent. Whether it's hitching up Vince Wilfork with Keith Traylor as a rookie, or giving Jamie Collins a season of overlap before Brandon Spikes walked in free agency. It allows for more seamless transitions and gives the team a chance to see if the player is up to the task for a starting role, prior to them needing to fill a starting role.
So this is a transition year with Ryan Mallett still on the roster. Just like how Mallett had the transition year with Brian Hoyer. It allows the third string player to grow for a season, while a more experienced player fills the emergency starter position as the second string.
The Patriots couldn't have waiting until next year, because at that point they're filling the emergency second string role with a rookie with no time in the system. That's asking for a situation where the team won't be in a position succeed.
3) What about the talent they bypassed for this pick?
Who'd they skip before their third round pick?
Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz. Centers Marcus Martin and Travis Swanson. Guards Gabe Jackson and Trai Turner. Linebacker Christian Kirksey. Defensive ends Scott Crichton, Kareem Martin, and Will Clarke. Defensive tackles Will Sutton and Louis Nix III.
Those are the players I see fitting in New England so I will count those as names the Patriots missed out on taking.
It's clear from the post draft process (and by paraphrasing Reiss) that the Patriots didn't hold this tight end or linebacker class in high regard, nor would they have interest in the defensive tackles having selected Dominique Easley in the first. Additionally, the team had their eye on center Bryan Stork in the third round, which would eliminate the other interior linemen from being a second round option.
In my opinion, the only players they truly "missed out" on were the three DEs Crichton, Martin, and Clarke- and that's just because I've been pounding the table about the need for a third reliable defensive end. For me, Zach Moore in the 6th is a consolation prize.
But now I have to weigh the value of the positions. What are the odds that the team can find a quality player, at the position I think they bypassed, in free agency? Or when players are cut? The drop-off between a replacement defensive end or a replacement guard is much less than that of a replacement quarterback.
So balancing risk, the Patriots bypassed those other positions because they were committed to taking a quarterback in this draft. They would be far more likely to find an impact player at alternative positions than they would find at the quarterback position.
And that's the nature of the draft. You can't get every player you like in the scouting process. The importance of the quarterback position supercedes any other on the roster.
The Patriots wanted to find a player who could start at quarterback in this draft class in order to provide a transition season. They found their guy. Even if it was in the "second round."