The New England Patriots are in the market for a new quarterback and find themselves in a good position to go after a top-tier talent heading into this year’s draft. Sitting at No. 15 overall, the club is slated to select higher than it has at any point over the last decade. If there ever is a time to go after a top-tier QB now would therefore be it.
Of course, nobody knows what the Patriots are really going to do. And head coach/general manager Bill Belichick, as usual, did not tip his hand either during his annual pre-draft press conference on Thursday. In fact, Belichick’s statements about the group of passers available this year are essentially the same he made during the 2020 pre-draft cycle when his team ended up forgoing the quarterback position altogether.
“As always, there are some interesting players. Some players didn’t play. Some players played a full season. Some players played a partial season. When you look at the players at that position, I think you see a lot of differences in the 2020 season. A lot of it’s by conference but there are some other circumstances as well,” Belichick said.
“It’s an interesting class. It’s an interesting group of guys. Some are very strong in some skills. Some seem very strong in other skills. It’s definitely an interesting group.”
Belichick is saying quite a lot in terms of word count, but he is not giving away any real information of value. That becomes even more evident when comparing his answer to what he said about last year’s crop of QBs.
He too called last year’s class an interesting one, and also pointed out that circumstances differ for each prospect based on a variety of factors.
“There’s quite a range of players and some of the systems that they play in in college are different, either than what we run or what traditional NFL systems would look like, and some are more closely schematically to that. Each guy has his own set of skills; he has his own circumstances,” Belichick said ahead of the 2020 draft.
“There are always a variety of things you have to try to put together and look at, but certainly there’s a lot of interesting players and guys who have really good arms, can really throw the ball and some very athletic players, some players that have won a lot of games and have shown their competitiveness and instinctiveness. So, interesting group and probably one that has decent depth to it.”
With the exception of Belichick’s reference to the 2020 season, you probably would not know any difference if you swapped the two statements. The word interesting is really not saying a lot without any proper context, while it is obvious that no two players are alike coming from different systems, environments and backgrounds.
Be it 2020 or 2021, the Patriots’ ultimate decision maker is not willing to share too much insight with the media. That is no critique of him either, he has no obligation to give away any information beyond the basic level on which he is operating anyway.
So, how do the two quarterback classes compare?
Last year, four passers were picked in the first round: Joe Burrow to Cincinnati (1-1), Tua Tagovailoa to Miami (1-5), Justin Herbert to Los Angeles (1-6) and Jordan Love to Green Bay (1-26). Burrow, Tagovailoa and Herbert were widely considered as the top three quarterbacks on the board, with Love in the second tier behind them.
This year, there is a chance that five passers come off the board before Day 1 is even halfway over. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is the presumptive first overall pick, with BYU’s Zach Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, and Alabama’s Mac Jones behind him. While the latter in particular is a wildcard of sorts, it is not unrealistic to think that all five hear their names called in Round 1, with the first three spots on the board all reserved for quarterbacks.
Whether or not one of those ends up in New England remains to be seen, but Belichick did not categorically rule out potentially over-drafting a player at quarterback or any other position.
“You’re obviously betting on the outcome there; you’re betting on the player’s development versus what you might actually see from another player. But in some cases the upside might be greater and the downside might be greater, too;” he said.
“But at some point you decide to make that investment and then we all see how the player turns out. But that’s fairly common at every position. There are always players at every spot that fall into that category that you feel like you’re going to have to draft higher than what they’ve done. But if you’re willing to do that and get the player, then you draft him at a higher spot and hope his production eventually reflects the potential that you saw.”