The New England Patriots’ need to find a long-term solution at quarterback has been well-documented by now. Even Robert Kraft acknowledged that his team has to address the most important position on the field. After unsurprisingly not doing that in free agency — the crop of free agent QBs this year was a weak one — all sights are now set on the draft and a class considered one of the deepest in recent memory.
What exactly the Patriots are looking for when evaluating quarterbacks only head coach/general manager Bill Belichick and his scouting department know. One of Belichick’s former associates, however, recently gave some insight into his mindset: Michael Lombardi, a former executive who spent a total of eight seasons working under Belichick and who has a connection to the Patriots organization few others possess
Speaking on his The GM Shuffle podcast, Lombardi pulled out the scouting points Belichick and company used to emphasize during their time together with the Cleveland Browns in the 1990s.
“We tried to define exactly what we were looking for at the position. So, quarterback, and I’m going to read this to you: ‘Quarterback, we wanted somebody who was at least 6027, weighed 220, could run 4.81, had a test score of 25 and we understood that his decline would start at 31 and probably his career would end at 35.’ Now, those numbers are obsolete. This was written back in 1991. So, we know that age is different,” Lombardi said.
He acknowledged that some of the benchmarks would be obsolete by now given that they were formulated in the early 90s. Despite that, however, the general framework of evaluation could still be relevant some three decades later: Belichick’s baseline principles have hardly changed, as a series of scouting questions Lombardi presented also illustrates.
In total, 30 of those were mentioned on the podcast:
- Does he watch tape?
- Does he watch it alone with the coach?
- Does he watch it with the gameplay?
- How much time does he spend, and how long does he need to get the gameplay?
- Is he thick-skinned, can he handle the pressure of the position positive and negative?
- How many times does he come back and lead his team to a win?
- How often does he play with the lead?
- How often does he play from behind?
- When do turnovers occur?
- Can he secure the ball?
- What are his cold-weather ball habits?
- What is his eye level like during the game?
- Can he see down the field?
- Is he quick-minded?
- Does he change plays at the line of scrimmage or is everything coming off the cardboard box?
- What was his production in college, and who was his production against?
- Can he throw touchdown passes, and where on the field do they go?
- What are the main coverages he faces each week?
- Critical play of the game, who has the ball in his hands?
- What is his third-down quarterback rating?
- Can he make plays on all downs?
- What was his high school won-loss record?
- Was he the best athlete in high school?
- Does he have incredible eye-hand coordination?
- Could he go play golf or some other sports?
- Can he come back and be effective after a big hit?
- What’s his body language like after being hit?
- How often is he in the facility? How many days a week?
- Is he a gym rat?
- What kind of ball — old, new, used, same — does he throw in practice and the game?
A ton has obviously changed for the NFL and Belichick since the 1990s. That said, the core principles he and his scouting staff have been looking for three decades ago still seem to be relevant: the Patriots are also placing a premium on intelligence, work ethic and leadership skills especially at the quarterback position. While it seems likely those points of emphasis have been adapted over the years, the foundation still being in place would not be a surprise.
The same goes for another scouting principle Lombardi mentioned on his podcast. Reading from his notes, he noted that this particular Belichick-led team would shy away from picking quarterbacks with a negative evaluation in three other key areas.
“‘We will never take a quarterback with a low test score who plays at a poor level of competition and is not capable of leading the team. Those three areas are vital to us when we’re looking for a quarterback. Without mentioning size and speed, the scout must first answer the mental and leadership question completely before you give a high grade,’” he read.
“‘If the quarterback is inaccurate, this will hurt his chances of getting a high grade on our draft board. The ability to throw the ball in the right spot is paramount to the success of the quarterback. Just looking at the test score is not going to answer the problem. Be prepared to face a lot of questioning if you grade a quarterback high with a low test score. The level of comp is a tough call, but it really applies to the quarterback position. It would be difficult for a small-school quarterback to get a good grade unless he played well in the postseason.’”
So, what does all of this mean for the Patriots and their ongoing search for a new franchise quarterback? While the scouting principles at the position have likely been modified quite a bit since the early 90s, the gist remains the same: there is a lot more to a quarterback prospect than the stars or film might say about him. Questions like those shared by Lombardi help paint a clearer picture for the team.
And even though they cannot be answered from outside the process, they might still help explain why the team’s evaluation might differ quite a bit from the public consensus.
Take Alabama’s Mac Jones and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance as an example. Both are considered realistic targets for the Patriots, but there are uncertainties surrounding both when looking at the questions above: How much of Jones’ production was due to scheme and supporting cast, for example? How much of Lance’s was due to opposition? Both those questions will be asked by the Patriots’ evaluators, and the answers will help paint a clearer picture.
At the end of the day, and whether those questions are still relevant or not, the goal still continues to be the same it was three decades ago: gathering as much information as possible to make the best possible decision come draft day. Belichick’s teams have always placed an emphasis on that, and the 2021 Patriots will be no different.