The New England Patriots addressed a need on the offensive side of the football in the first round of the 2019 Draft, selecting wide receiver K’Neal Harry out of Arizona State. Looking ahead to the second round, the Patriots have five selections to work with, two in the second round and three in the third round. Might the organization look to address the future of the quarterback position with one of those picks? Here is a quick refresher on the QBs currently on the board as the draft enters its second day.
Drew Lock, Missouri
Lock was not a part of the pre-draft series on quarterback fits for the Patriots because, frankly, it was widely assumed he would be off the board by the time New England was on the clock at 32. A four-year starter for the Tigers, Lock has the kind of arm talent and easy velocity that traditionally gets NFL scouts and coaches excited. After a strong week in Mobile during the Senior Bowl practices, many believed Lock would come off the board as high as the tenth pick to the Denver Broncos.
But in a first round filled with many surprises, Lock woke up today still wondering about his NFL destination. Could he fit in New England? His ability to generate velocity and deliver on impressive throws like this one could fit in most offenses:
He will need some mechanical refinement, and time to develop mentally. During his first three seasons in college, Lock was running a facsimile of the Baylor/Art Briles offense, with the majority of throws coming along the sidelines on a handful of routes. Lock took a step forward last year under Derek Dooley, showing more of an ability to attack the middle of the field, but he’ll need to develop further his proficiency in reading coverages and attacking them. With the chance to sit and learn - and perhaps stew a bit over not being drafted in the first round - Lock could be the kind of developmental quarterback with upside the Patriots could covet at the position.
Will Grier, West Virginia
Grier was linked to the Patriots as early as the first round, with many mock drafts on the eve of the draft sending the confident passer to Foxborough. Grier’s calling card is his confidence, and his film is filled with plays where he makes what looks to be an aggressive, even risky, decision, but upon further review it was the right read for the moment and structure of the play. There were some questions about his arm strength, but from his film I came away believing he had everything necessary to play quarterback in New England’s offense. I’m on record as projecting him to the Patriots with that 97th pick, and that is certainly in play tonight.
Ryan Finley, North Carolina State
Viewed as a likely Day Three selection early in the draft process, Finley has generated some late buzz in the past few weeks, with some even believing he could sneak into the first round. He might be a player to watch come off the board earlier than expected tonight, as recent mocks from people such as Todd McShay of ESPN and Ben Standig of NBC Sports have the experienced passer coming off the board to the Dolphins with the 48th selection overall.
Finley’s strengths as a passer, from his mental approach to his ability to run timing and rhythm concepts, fit extremely well in the Patriots’ system. That might be why the Dolphins are a consideration, as new offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea is expected to install a similar system given his coaching background in New England. If, however, Finley makes it past the Dolphins tonight, the Patriots are likely in play. One of those last two third rounds picks would be the sweet spot for him in this draft.
Tyree Jackson, Buffalo
With his combination of arm talent, size, athleticism and potential, Jackson might have the highest ceiling of any of the passers left on the board. The question, however, might be what his floor looks like. His arm talent just jumps out at film and, let’s be honest, any chance you get to rewatch a play like this, you take advantage:
The scheme fit piece might work against Jackson coming to New England. He is a pure vertical passer at this point in his development, more a fit for an Air Coryell system (such as Carolina or Tampa Bay) than a timing and rhythm system like New England’s that stresses ball placement and accuracy. But if the Patriots envision running a different offense in a post-Tom Brady world, perhaps Jackson would be the quarterback they would develop to run such a system.
Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
As previously outlined, Stidham’s evaluation was hampered by the Auburn offense he was running the past two seasons. That system was likely not the ideal environment for a quarterback who is more of a traditional pocket passer like Stidham. Digging through the route concepts you saw flashes of how he would be used in the NFL, and he showed an ability to push the ball downfield as well as deliver on more timing based routes, designs he would be running in New England.
The best part of his draft cycle was the Senior Bowl, when a strong case could be made that he was the best passer down in Mobile. He looked very comfortable running Kyle Shanahan’s offense, and in talking with him you got the sense that he loved running a scheme that fit more with his talents as a passer. New England could be another great offense for him and throws like this one help bolster that case:
Stidham makes a snap read of the defense, and once he identifies the coverage he hits his drop depth and immediately delivers a strike on this post route to move the chains. This timing and rhythm throw, coupled with the quick read, have be thinking the Patriots could be the system for him.
Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
Thorson flew under the radar this draft cycle, likely due to the fact that he did not make the trip to Mobile for the Senior Bowl with an ankle injury. Despite that, Jim Nagy, the event’s executive direction, stated in a press conference that teams were viewing the Northwestern quarterback as a round three player.
Thorson is clean mechanically with a quick, crisp release. He shows decent footwork in the pocket and good velocity and ball placement in the short and intermediate areas of the field. He can also click and climb the pocket in response to outside or edge pressure. He showed the ability to learn from his mistakes over the course of a game, an example being some of the decisions he made early against Nevada in 2017 and how he ironed those out over the course of that one contest. He shows bursts of anticipation throws, even working the middle of the field, such as on consecutive throws in the second quarter against Minnesota. He is active in the pre-snap phase of the play, both coming from the sideline and on his own initiative. When pressured, he can keep his eyes downfield and scan for targets.
On the flip side, Thorson’s accuracy can be spotty on making anticipation throws. From his 2016 and 2017 tape there were not a lot of throws more than 10 yards downfield, but that seemed to pick up a bit in 2018. He can be late at times with decisions, and he will need to speed up his decision-making. In the first quarter against Notre Dame the Wildcats ran a Smash concept and he not only missed the open corner route, but his throw to the hitch was late and could have been intercepted. There are also many examples of him just being a beat late with throws. Even on moments when he works quickly and makes full field reads, sometimes the execution is lacking. Against Notre Dame in the third quarter this season Northwestern ran two different passing concepts, and he worked quickly through his reads and threw a dig route over the middle, but his throw was high and behind the receiver and fell incomplete.
There are other passers I would prefer New England select in this draft, including each of the quarterbacks listed here, but it would be a pick that would be understandable given what he brings to the table.
Brett Rypien, Boise State
I’m not giving up this ghost. Not yet at least.
So will one of these quarterback need to make travel plans to New England later tonight? Only time will tell. But with five picks to work with, Bill Belichick and company have a lot of options in front of them, and some interesting decisions to make.