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What are the Patriots’ post-Brady quarterback plans following the Brandin Cooks trade?

A look at how trading away Cooks might influence the Patriots' draft.

NFL: Super Bowl LII-Philadelphia Eagles vs New England Patriots Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After the bombshell trade on Tuesday night which saw wide receiver Brandin Cooks be traded to the Rams (along with a 2018 fourth round pick from New England) for their first (23rd) and sixth round picks (198th), the Patriots find themselves in quite a different spot than this time last year. After coming away with only four draft picks in 2017’s NFL Draft (the first not even being until the middle of the third round), the Patriots are set to enter this year’s event with five picks in the top 100 selections (23rd, 31st, 43rd, 63rd & 95th), with four of those picks being in top two rounds.

In a draft where as many as five quarterbacks could be selected in the first round, this recent trade may have something to do with the Patriots being interested in selecting one of those five. With that being said, let’s take a look at what New England may be planning to do to address their future quarterback needs.

After trading both Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo over the course of last season, both of the Patriots’ most recent draft picks at quarterback are on different teams. New England finished the season with 40-year old Tom Brady (the reigning NFL MVP, I might add) and 32-year old seasoned veteran, Brian Hoyer at the quarterback position. They have yet to add any other quarterbacks this off-season, so this upcoming NFL Draft seems like a ripe opportunity for the team to find their future (hopefully) franchise quarterback.

With what looks to be potentially a strong(er) class on paper at the position, it seems all the moons have aligned for the Patriots to attack this pertinent need of theirs’ during the draft.

While the Patriots were luckily able to find Brady in the sixth round of the 1999 NFL Draft, they have shown in recent years that they are not afraid of using high draft picks at the quarterback position. Garoppolo was selected in the second round of the 2014 draft while Brissett was a third-round pick of the 2016 draft. And as mentioned before, quarterback is in high demand this off-season for a number of teams besides the Patriots. So let’s delve deeper into the top prospects at quarterback and what their chances are of New England selecting them.

Sam Darnold, USC

Darnold is projected by many draft analysts to be the first quarterback taken off the board, perhaps as early as first overall by the Cleveland Browns. He has shown a lot of play-making ability during his time at USC but did struggle with interceptions (22 in the past two seasons). Despite that, he boasts arguably the most upside at the next level of any quarterback in this class.

To this point, the Patriots have not been reported to have met with Darnold at the NFL Combine, USC’s Pro Day or for a private work-out. However, Bret Bielema “in Patriots attire” attended USC’s Pro Day in late March. In order for the Patriots to even have a shot at drafting Darnold, that would likely require a trade up into the top two picks of the draft (maybe even number one overall). That would prove to be an unprecedented for Bill Belichick and is an almost certainty to not happen.

Josh Rosen, UCLA

Rosen is widely considered to be the most “pro-ready” quarterback in this class of gunslingers. He has all of the tools to be a franchise quarterback and could be ready to start week one for a team. There have been some questions of his “maturity” because of comments he has made in the past and even more recently because his former head coach at UCLA, Jim Mora, called him a “millennial” (shocking!). Rosen’s “maturity” questions are wildly overblown and it doesn’t appear to be more than hyperbole at this point.

Rosen would seem unlikely as a likely target for the team as he has been projected to go perhaps as early as second overall to the New York Giants or third to the New York Giants. There has been no reported interaction with the Patriots to this point (that includes UCLA’s Pro Day), but Benjamin Allbright, known for breaking stories in the past, tweeted Tuesday night about a possible Rosen-Patriots connection. Like with Darnold, the Patriots would likely need to move up into the top two or three in the draft to have a shot at Rosen. With the four draft picks in the top two rounds, it’s more possible than it was a couple of days ago. However, as of right now, this seems like an unlikely and also uncharacteristic move by the Patriots. But… never say never.

Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Mayfield presents a polarizing case as a quarterback prospect. While he was highly productive for the Sooners (12,292 passing yards, 119 passing touchdowns and only 21 interceptions in three seasons), he does come with some baggage. He was arrested before his senior season before last season for a DUI and drew some ire for some of his on-field antics as well. On-field though, he was an absolute play-maker and difference-maker for Oklahoma. His height at 6’1” is below what the typical quarterback height threshold usually is but it doesn’t make him any less of a strong quarterback prospect who proved he can make plays on the ground too with 893 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns in his three years at Oklahoma.

Based off several Pro Day reports, it doesn’t appear that the Patriots had a strong presence to see Mayfield and there have been no reported interaction between Mayfield and the team either. His draft projection is a little more up in the air as some have mocked him to go as early as first overall (unlikely) to the low double digits like 11th to the Dolphins. So the Patriots may have a better shot of trading up into that range if they wanted to pick him. But considering their lack of interest thus far and the possibility of Mayfield going to potentially the Jets at third overall or the Broncos at fifth, it seems unlikely that the team would make that kind of move at this junction.

Lamar Jackson, Louisville

Now this is where things get interesting. Even before the Cooks trade, Jackson had been mentioned as someone that the Patriots could target. There is no doubt that Jackson was uber-productive while at Louisville with 7,203 passing yards, 57 passing touchdowns and 19 interceptions in his two full years as a starter. But what makes Jackson so intriguing is his top-flight ability as a mobile quarterback. He had 3,172 and 39 (!) rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons, which was a big reason why Jackson won the 2016 Heisman Trophy. Jackson has proven to be a very polarizing draft prospect due to some draft analysts (*cough* Bill Polian *cough*) saying he won’t make it as a quarterback at the next level.

Don’t mistake it, Jackson is a bona-fide quarterback prospect. And because of that, he has been mentioned as a mid-first round prospect who could go to as early as 12th overall to the Bills and as late as the end of the first round. That would be ideal for the Patriots, whose first pick is at 23rd overall. However, Jackson has been mentioned as a suitor for teams such as the Cardinals, Ravens or the Chargers, who all pick before 20th overall. The Patriots have definitely shown interest in Jackson, as director of player personnel Nick Caserio was seen at Louisville’s Pro Day to watch Jackson. It’s possible that Jackson could make it to 23rd but more likely he is picked before then. He is a legitimate target for the Patriots in the first round and it wouldn’t be nearly as hard to trade up into a position to grab him if they wanted to. He is a solid candidate for this at this point.

Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State

Rudolph has long been a quarterback prospect connected to the Patriots. Highly productive with the Cowboys, Rudolph finished with 12,765 passing yards, 86 touchdowns and only 22 interceptions in three full seasons as a starter. While Rudolph finished with only 28 career rushing yards, he had a whopping 16 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons. Rudolph isn’t mentioned in the same tier of a prospect as Darnold/Rosen/Mayfield/Jackson but is definitely someone who could go at the end of the first round. His ideal size at 6’5”, 230 lbs. is a plus and he is coming off arguably his best season but does face a lot of questions about his arm strength and if he can adapt to more than a spread offense, which is what he played at Oklahoma State. He is definitely a prospect who would need a year or two of development before getting a shot at starting.

Rudolph is mostly talked about as a day two prospect, mostly in the second round but has been mocked by some analysts for the late first round potentially. That is mostly because of the demand at quarterback rather than where he may actually deserve to go. There isn’t any reported interaction between Rudolph and the Patriots besides team representatives attending his Pro Day. Rudolph will continue to be mentioned as a target for the Patriots and is a feasible target at either pick 23 or 31, with a decent chance of him being available at 43 as well. He wouldn’t require the team trading up, which is a plus. Like Jackson, he is one of the likelier targets for team as of right now.

Kyle Lauletta, Richmond

Perhaps the most talked about quarterback prospect for the Patriots, Lauletta checks off so many boxes for what we have seen the team target in the past. Like with Garoppolo, Lauletta plays at smaller school, is a little bit smaller than prototypical size at 6’3”, 222 lbs. and has family ties to the military (uncle played at Navy). But the biggest component here is Lauletta comes from a lacrosse family and played it in high school, which Belichick is a big fan of. Lauletta is coming off of a season where he set career highs in completion percentage, passing yards, passing touchdowns and rushing touchdowns. He doesn’t have the best arm strength but does get positive marks for his accuracy and has experience playing in different types of offenses and formations.

Lauletta is not a first-round prospect and is not seen by many as a second-round talent either. But because of demand, Lauletta could be drafted as early as the end of the second round. It is more likely that he is drafted in rounds three or four. So in regards to where the Patriots could select him, he is a target at the 63rd pick or the 93rd pick. As it stands right now, the team does not have a fourth round pick after sending it as part of the Cooks trade. Per Doug Kyed of NESN, Patriots’ scouts met with Lauletta at his Pro Day, so they have shown some interest. Lauletta is definitely someone the Patriots could target at some point during day two and might be the favorite right now, even over Jackson or Rudolph.

Luke Falk, Washington State

Another mid-round prospect that has been linked to the Patriots is Falk. A highly-productive quarterback for the Cougars, Falk accumulated 12,622 passing yards, 106 passing touchdowns and 32 interceptions in his three years as a starter. He also finished with at least a 66.9% completion percentage during that time frame as well. Falk is coming off of his worst year as a starter with his lowest yardage and touchdown total along with completion percentage and his highest interception total among those three years. Falk profiles as an accurate passer with a little below ideal height (6’3”) that doesn’t really push the downfield a lot. He has a lot to do in order to become a viable starter in the NFL, including working on his decision-making and patience as a thrower.

Falk isn’t projected to be drafted before the third round at the earliest and is most likely to be a day three selection by a team. He met with scouts from the Patriots at the Senior Bowl, so there is some established communication there. While Falk is projected as a day three pick, he probably won’t be there when the Patriots select in the sixth round, which is the first selection they have after their third round pick. But knowing the Patriots, they could either move down to accumulate more draft picks on day three or even trade up on day three if they really like someone. He is a possibility for the team but I wouldn’t rank him in the top three of likely selections at quarterback.

There are some other names like Mike White (Western Kentucky), Logan Woodside (Toledo), and Chase Litton (Marshall) that could be day three possibilities for the Patriots as well. But overall, with some serious draft pick ammunition on day one and two, the Patriots have a real shot at landing a quarterback early on. There are some potential targets on day two and three for the team as well. But when it comes to the Patriots, they are a true wild card on when they will select a quarterback. And in this draft, they have plenty of opportunities to do.