With three weeks to go until the NFL’s 2021 draft, the rumor mill is already working overtime. At no position is that more obvious than quarterback. From the San Francisco 49ers’ reported interest in taking Alabama’s Mac Jones third overall, to Ohio State’s Justin Fields possibly falling out of the top-10, plenty of rumors are swirling around these days.
Most information being reported at this point in time should therefore be taken with a grain of salt. That being said, some perspective are certainly more noteworthy than others.
Enter Mike Lombardi, a former NFL executive who spent eight seasons working under Bill Belichick with the Cleveland Browns (1991-95) and New England Patriots (2014-16). Lombardi has a connection to the Patriots organization few others possess, so his thoughts about the team’s pre-draft process are worth taking a closer look at.
He shared them earlier this week on his The GM Shuffle podcast, with a particular focus on the quarterback position: Lombardi noted that he has a hard time seeing the Patriots move up the board in order to select Justin Fields or fellow QB prospect Trey Lance out of North Dakota State.
“Obviously, they have to fix the quarterback position,” Lombardi said. “Cam Newton has to play much better. Where are they with Jarrett Stidham? And can they trade up? If Mac Jones goes three, which is what we all believe to be true ... where does that all fit? That means get to four.”
This year’s draft features five consensus first-round passers. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is expected to be selected first overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars, with BYU’s Zach Wilson as well as Fields, Lance and Jones making up the rest of the group. While unlikely given past precedent, there is a chance that all five of them come off the board before New England is on the clock 15th overall.
That would mean that the Patriots might have to invest additional resources to trade up the board to position themselves to draft one of those top-tier guys. Lombardi, however, is not convinced Belichick and company will do that.
“Do they like Justin Fields? I don’t think so. Do they like Trey Lance? I’m not sure, I don’t know. Just knowing how they operate, I couldn’t imagine they could get either one of Lance and Fields to a high enough point to justify trading up to get them,” he noted before explaining his thought process behind this statement.
Lombardi said that there is a difference between what talent evaluators think and how they think. This means that there could be a noticeable difference in grading within the Patriots organization and the media consensus in regards to Fields, Lance and other quarterbacks.
“If all you do is say, ‘He’s a first-rounder’ or ‘He’s a second-rounder’ then what are we saying? That doesn’t say anything!” Lombardi pointed out. “Descriptions tell you what he is, and that’s why it’s hard for me to see them drafting quarterbacks like Fields or Lance or even some of these other guys early because they can’t fit the description that justifies trading for them.”
What exactly those descriptors are for the two players specifically mentioned can only be guessed, but Lombardi has worked within the system long enough to know how they work. His prognosis could be wrong, but it is still worth taking into account when assessing the quarterback board from New England’s perspective.
So if the top-five quarterbacks are out of the Patriots’ range given that they will likely not be available at No. 15, what will the team do? Lombardi can see New England address the defensive side of the ball before going QB.
“I think this is a draft that can really impact their 2022 team when they won’t have any free agent money to spend,” he said. “So, they’ve got to really look short-term and long-term here. I think they need a 3-technique; if they can get a defensive tackle in there that would be certainly something that could really help them. More speed on defense; another corner that can cover, I think that can help them tremendously.”