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2020 NFL draft: Add Mel Kiper Jr. to those thinking the Patriots could go quarterback in round one

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Related: Patriots should try to get back into the second round of the draft

NCAA Football: Washington at Stanford Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The last time ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. released a mock draft, he had the New England Patriots add some youth and developmental upside to their defensive backfield: back in January, he projected the team to pick Alabama safety Xavier McKinney with the 23rd overall selection. McKinney would be a high-upside addition to the team’s defense capable of playing considerable snaps from day one and a foundational piece for the future.

The player Kiper has the Patriots select in his newest mock draft also has that potential, but he comes with a lot more risk attached: quarterback Jacob Eason out of Washington. Eason is a naturally gifted thrower that has experience working both in shotgun formations and under center, but also has been inconsistent in terms of his mechanics and when it comes to going through his progressions on a play-to-play basis. He certainly would be a gamble.

Kiper, however, is thinking long-term with this selection and has New England go after Eason even in case impending free agent Tom Brady eventually re-signs with the team:

23. New England Patriots

Jacob Eason, QB, Washington

Yes, that’s right, I’m now going with a quarterback for the Patriots, who still don’t know if they’ll have Tom Brady under center in 2020. Even if the 42-year-old free agent returns on a short-term deal, the Pats have to address the position on the first two days of the draft, so why not do it now? I like 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham’s potential, but I’m not sold on him as a long-term starter. Eason has been getting a lot of buzz from people I talk to in the NFL lately, though he’s not a lock to be the fourth quarterback taken; he’s still battling with Utah State’s Jordan Love, but I’ll give the 6-6 Eason the edge for now. He has the best arm of any signal-caller in this class, though he can be erratic at times. It’d be ideal if he got a year or two to sit behind Brady, but he has a much higher ceiling that Stidham. Safety and linebacker are other positions to keep an eye on for New England’s top pick.

Eason has the necessary tools to succeed at the next level and turn into a starting quarterback in the NFL, but he will need to improve numerous areas of his game: from his decision making to his mechanics to his lack of awareness in combination with an reliance on his raw arm strength. Add it all up and you get a quarterback that, as Kiper notes, would benefit from sitting behind a player like Tom Brady before being handed over an offense.

The question from the Patriots’ perspective is whether or not such an investment would be worthwhile. The team obviously trusts its process and the success of non-Brady quarterbacks groomed under Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels — Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett — confirms this. When it comes to Eason, however, there are factors at play beyond his skills and developmental upside.

We are talking, of course, about Tom Brady. If Brady returns in or before free agency, the Patriots might be better off investing the 23rd overall selection in another position to maximize their window of opportunity with him at the helm and maybe also fulfill his wish for an upgraded arsenal of weapons. If the future Hall of Famer leaves, meanwhile, the team might be better off rolling with Jarrett Stidham and seeing what he has to offer.

All those things considered, Eason would certainly be a polarizing selection for the Patriots — and one that seems unlikely to be made at this point in time all things considered. Kiper’s “safety and linebacker are other positions to keep an eye on for New England’s top pick” or a trade-down therefore seem like the better options.