With Tom Brady in his 40s and no developmental backup option on the roster since the days Jimmy Garoppolo was traded away, the New England Patriots were expected to invest in a quarterback in the 2018 NFL draft. They did just that – but not in a player many had on the radar entering the draft: LSU's Danny Etling, who New England picked in the seventh round, was seen as better value than more “popular” players like Kyle Lauletta or Luke Falk.
This comes as the result of some thorough scouting on the Patriots' part, a process team director of player personnel Nick Caserio outlined during his final press conference of the draft. Caserio, when asked by ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss how Etling entered the Patriots' radar, began talking about how far back the team began taking a closer look at the 6'2, 215 lbs passer that started for Louisiana State the last two years.
“We kind of have our initial spring reports,” Caserio said when explaining that his team's scouting process of Etling began as early as the spring of 2017. “When we worked on LSU in the spring [...] they had some players that were playing at positions we were evaluating and Danny was the quarterback. [...] I mean, we’re watching everybody. You’re not necessarily just focusing on one particular player.”
Caserio pointed out that the Patriots are trying to get a feel for each team's upcoming senior prospects with its early scouting and were therefore watching Etling as well. “We did some work on him in the spring just as part of our spring process, and then we went through the fall, we did some work and then we just kind of continue to work through the process here a little bit,” explained Caserio.
“He went to the Tropical Bowl, which is kind of an off-the-radar sort of all-star game, but he had exposure there, was invited to the Combine,” Bill Belichick's right-hand man continued. “He had a pretty extensive pro day – I mean, I think he threw like 150 balls, honest to God, at his pro day – so, he threw a lot of balls. It was a pretty extensive workout. [...] It’s an accumulation of everything over the course of X number of years.”
In Etling's case, the accumulation includes stints at two schools: He started his career at Purdue, where he had limited success and exposure as the Boilermakers' second-string quarterback. After a transfer to LSU and sitting out the 2015 season, Etling earned the Tigers' starting quarterback job – a spot he held for the final two seasons of his collegiate career. According to Caserio, this change of scenery also plays a part in the Patriots' decision-making process.
“One of the things you look for too with some of these players is how they handle transition,” said Caserio. “In that particular case, multiple coaches, multiple coordinators, multiple offenses, so how do they handle that? Are they adaptable? Can they adjust? Look, this game is about being adaptable, being versatile and one week the game plan might be this, the next week the game plan might be something different.”
“How quickly can you handle that, can you process that, can you understand that, can you apply it and take that informatio? There are some examples and some evidence of him doing that,” said Caserio about the passer who finished his career at LSU having completed 59.7% of his 544 attempts for 4,586 yards, 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions. “That’s something that Danny worked on to his credit.”
“Especially with a quarterback, your mechanics are something you continually work on,” Caserio continued when talking about Etling's development as a passer. “You may notice from his play at LSU during the season and then through the spring even at his pro day, you saw some subtle adjustments or things that he did to help improve his mechanics.”
All added up, the Patriots decided that Etling – at least when it comes to the 2018 draft – was their choice at the quarteback position. And while he was an under-the-radar player that surprised many when he was taken, the 23-year old apparently fits what New England is looking for in terms of value, projection and ability. And so, after more than a year of thorough scouting, Danny Etling – not Jackson, not Lauletta, not Falk – became the Patriots' quarterback of choice this year.