Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray. Iowa defensive edge A.J. Epenesa. Alabama safety Xavier McKinney. LSU safety Grant Delpit. Texas Christian wide receiver Jalen Reagor. Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun. LSU linebacker Patrick Queen. Penn State defensive edge Yetur Gross-Matos. All those players are still available when the New England Patriots are on the clock with the 23rd overall selection of Mel Kiper Jr’s third mock draft.
ESPN’s veteran draft analyst has the team not pick any of them, however, but instead invest in a position that was in safe hands for the past two decades: Kiper sees the Patriots pick a quarterback in round one. With Tom Brady leaving New England in free agency, Kiper projects that the club will head into the 2020 season with more QBs on its roster than presumed number one Jarrett Stidham, as well as backups Brian Hoyer and Cody Kessler.
As a result, he projects the Patriots to select Utah State quarterback Jordan Love in the first round:
23. New England Patriots
Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
Are the Patriots really going to roll with Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer and Cody Kessler as their 2020 quarterbacks? I’m not buying it. I’ll stick with a QB here, although I’m moving Love back into the fourth spot in my QB rankings, ahead of Jacob Eason. At 6-foot-4, Love has all the traits that teams look for in a starter, but his 2019 stats — 20 TD passes, 17 INTs — will scare off some. I don’t put much stock in it because of all of the talent (and an entire coaching staff) that he lost from the 2018 season, when he had 32 TD passes and six INTs. It’s tough to know whether Bill Belichick is going to treat the season as a rebuild, but taking Love makes sense either way.
Love is the fourth quarterback to come off the board in Kiper’s mock — behind LSU’s Joe Burrow (No. 1; Cincinnati Bengals), Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (No. 5; Miami Dolphins) and Oregon’s Justin Herbert (No. 6. Los Angeles Chargers) — which is reflective of his status as the passer generally considered to be the most intriguing of the second-tier QBs available in this year’s draft. It is not hard to see why that is the case, and he might indeed hear his name called early in April.
After all, Love brings a promising skillset to the table and has shown that he can successfully lead an offense. While he took a statistical step back during his 2019 junior season, as Kiper points out, his natural arm talent and mobility in combination with a feel for the pocket and his releases cannot be denied: the 21-year-old has all the tools to develop into a successful franchise quarterback at the next level.
“Jordan Love has franchise quarterback qualities and should be regarded as a prospect with a Pro Bowl ceiling,” writes Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network about him. “Love’s statistical regression in 2019 isn’t indicative of a regression in skills or decision making — was a victim of poor supporting cast in many instances. Love will need patience and must go to a team with coaching staff able to nurture, develop and cater passing schemes to where he thrives. He isn’t plug and play but he’s a potential game changing QB.”
This last sentence is key when it comes to Love and his potential outlook with the Patriots. Would they really be willing to invest a first-round selection in a passer that will likely not be able to help them in 2020, especially if it means passing over some other promising candidates and possible Day One contributors? While New England has never shied away from making decisions like this, the present situation and transition at the most important position on the field complicates matters.
What therefore seems more likely is that the Patriots continue to train second-year man Jarrett Stidham to become their next starting quarterback and Tom Brady’s heir, while simultaneously trying to build a strong roster around him in all three phases. While it is still possible the team invests in another quarterback, the odds of them using a first-round selection to do so appear to be rather low — with a trade-down a more realistic scenario, for example.