The 2024 NFL Draft does not begin until Apr. 25, but rumors are already flying. While conventional thinking has the New England Patriots taking a potential franchise quarterback with the third overall pick in the draft, speculation made the rounds yesterday that another position could be the primary target for the Patriots.
Jeff Howe of The Athletic opined, “If it’s (Eliot) Wolf running the show, expect the Patriots to give a long, hard look at drafting a left tackle with the No. 3 pick.”
Patriots executive Eliot Wolf appears to be the de facto general manager in New England. Thus, it is likely Wold would be the one to make such a decision. But assuming Howe’s report is accurate, what would that mean for the New England Patriots?
Options Being Passed Over
Howe only says Wolf would “give a long, hard look” at a left tackle, but for these purposes, assume the Patriots go that route. New England is selecting third in the 2024 NFL Draft. In Mock Draft 1.0 New England selected North Carolina QB Drake Maye. Caleb. Williams (QB, USC) and Marvin Harrison, Jr. (WR, Ohio State) were already off the board.
In Mock Draft 2.0 the Patriots opted for LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels, with Williams and Maye having gone first and second respectively.
So, if New England opted for an offensive tackle at three, they would leave two of those four prospects on the board to do so. Harrison might be the safest bet of any prospect in this year’s draft to have a successful NFL career, but picking up a wide receiver elsewhere would not come as a big surprise. Not taking a potential franchise quarterback with such a high draft pick, with no such quarterbacks on the roster, would.
Notre Dame’s Joe Alt
Taking a left tackle third overall would likely mean Joe Alt coming to Foxboro. Penn State’s Olu Fashanu was the top-rated offensive tackle before the season, but Alt has since taken over the top spot. Fashanu is still an excellent prospect who should go in the top ten. However, taking an offensive lineman that early is not a pick that the Patriots can afford to get wrong. Joe Alt is one of the three safest picks (along with Harrison and Georgia TE Brock Bowers) in the entire draft.
Pro Football Focus ranked Alt as the top tackle in college football this past season. He graded out at 90.7 for the year, He excelled in pass blocking (91.2 grade) allowing only one sack on five pressures in 2023. He earned an impressive 86.5 grade in run blocking as well. Alt would be a starter in Week 1 as an NFL rookie, immediately improving any offensive line he joins.
Joe Alt is listed at 6-foot-8 and 322 pounds. He is massive and has a frame capable of putting on more weight. His athleticism will be tested further at the NFL Combine, or Notre Dame’s Pro Day, but he appears very fluid on film. He moves smoothly and bends well. Alt is as complete and pro-ready of an offensive line prospect as has entered the NFL Draft in years.
The New England Patriots would be a better team in 2024 if they select Joe Alt. But does that make him the best option at three?
History of Top Three Tackles
Since the 1970 NFL merger, there have been 20 offensive linemen taken with a top-three pick in the NFL Draft. Five of these players have been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Anthony Munoz, Gary Zimmerman, Tony Boselli, Orlando Pace, and Joe Thomas. Among that group, only Orlando Pace won a Super Bowl with the team that drafted him.
Several other very good players among the 20 selections fall just outside of Hall of Fame consideration. Among these are Pro Bowl selections Jerry Sisemore, Bill Fralic, Chris Samuels, Leonard Davis, Jake Long, and Eric Fisher.
Several offensive linemen selected this high have missed. Green Bay famously selected Tony Mandarich second overall in 1989. The next three picks were Hall of Famers Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Deion Sanders.
Over the past 15 drafts, only four offensive linemen have been picked as high as third overall. The Rams selected Baylor’s Jason Smith second overall in the 2009 draft. He played 45 NFL games over four seasons with 26 starts. In 2013 Eric Fisher (No. 1, Chiefs) and Luke Joeckel (No. 2, Jaguars) went 1-2 in the draft. While Fisher enjoyed a solid if unspectacular career as a right tackle, Joeckel was out of the NFL after five seasons.
Auburn’s Greg Robinson was the second pick in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Rams. He played for three franchises over six seasons. Robinson never played in a playoff game or made a Pro Bowl. No offensive lineman has gone in the top three since.
If three feels too high to select an offensive lineman, there is the option of trading down in the draft to select a left tackle. To secure selecting Joe Alt, New England would need to stay near the top of the draft. Alt was taken at seven by the Tennessee Titans in the most recent mock draft on Patriots Football Now there were seven offensive tackles chosen in Round 1. So, it is possible that the Patriots could trade down, get a starting left tackle, and pick up additional draft capital in the process.
The biggest problem with trading down is that there is no guarantee that the player the Patriots would want to select will still be there. There are also no obvious trade partners who would be able to offer multiple first-round picks in return. What type of haul would the number three pick bring back to New England? Would the Patriots trading No. 3 to the New York Giants for No. 6, No. 36, and No. 108, for example, be considered a win-win?
Who Would Play Quarterback?
If the New England Patriots opt to go with Joe Alt at third in the 2024 NFL Draft, who will be their starting quarterback next season? They still have three quarterbacks under team control: Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe, and Nathan Rourke. Based on the results last season, none of those seem like particularly attractive options. The only possibility there would be hoping Jones can revert to his rookie form with the departure of Bill Belichick and a new coaching staff in place. However, the odds of that happening don’t seem worthy of passing up a quarterback at three.
One possibility worth monitoring is the Patriots pursuing Baker Mayfield in free agency. The Cleveland Browns selected Mayfield first overall in the 2018 NFL Draft when Eliot Wolf was their assistant general manager. Mayfield also worked with New England offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt while with the Browns. In 2020, Cleveland went 11-5 with Van Pelt as their offensive coordinator and Mayfield playing quarterback. One drawback here is the cost of acquiring Baker Mayfield, especially with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reportedly interested in bringing him back.
Ultimately, as good of a prospect as Joe Alt might be, the option of selecting a franchise quarterback that high in the NFL Draft seems too good to pass up. No quarterback prospect is a guarantee to succeed either, but if they hit on the QB pick the team will likely succeed as well. Even if an offensive tackle like Alt hits, New England will still have to find a quarterback. Will one be available beyond the third selection? Is Baker Mayfield that guy? And if he is, is the cost worthwhile? From this perspective, the answer is no. Time will tell if Eliot Wolf and the New England Patriots agree.