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Patriots Analysis

Kelley: New England Getting a QB in the NFL Draft Would be Dope



LSU QB Jayden Daniels (5) drops back to pass in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Auburn in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

I am a middle-aged father of three girls who think I’m less cool every day. I still listen to 1990s hip-hop and use words like dope, which I’ve been told “nobody uses anymore.” Well, this week Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels proved by daughters wrong. He was asked about his interview with the New England Patriots and what it would be like to play for the organization.

“Yeah, it would be dope,” Daniels said in response to the possibility of being drafted by New England. “Growing up and seeing what Tom Brady did there; six Super Bowls, that’s tough to live up to. But it would be dope to come in there and see the success they had and help them get back on that track.”

It would be dope if New England selected Daniels. It would also be awesome if North Carolina’s Drake Maye ended up being their selection. While Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, Oregon’s Bo Nix, or Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. wouldn’t be as exciting of a selection for New England (and certainly not third overall) drafting any of them would beat the alternatives.

Baker Mayfield, Kirk Cousins, Justin Fields, Russell Wilson, I’m referring to you.

Veteran Free Agent Options

Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Baker Mayfield was going to be linked to New England at some point. Eliot Wolf worked for Cleveland when they selected Mayfield first overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. Alex Van Pelt was his offensive coordinator for two seasons there. The Patriots coaching staff makes it clear they want to bring in people they are familiar with. Mayfield fits that description.

Baker Mayfield played very well last season. He led the Buccaneers to the NFC South title and he made his first Pro Bowl. He finished with career-bests for completion percentage (64.3%), passing yards (4,044), and touchdown passes (28). Mayfield turns 29 in April.

Along with Cousins, he’s one of two quarterbacks in the top tier of free agency. His price tag begins in the three-year $75 million neighborhood of Geno Smith’s Seattle deal and could get significantly higher. Is that a commitment New England makes to a player a year removed from a one-year, $4 million contract?

To be fair, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Mayfield’s game. When Cleveland made him the No. 1 pick, I had a second-round grade on him as QB5. He did little after his rookie year to prove my assessment incorrect. Last season he was great, but are the Patriots in a position to gamble on that being his new norm? I think not.

Kirk Cousins will be 36 on opening day and is coming off a season-ending injury. As the top free-agent quarterback, he’ll get paid. If he wants to go to a contender there are options. If he wants to remain in Minnesota or go to his wife’s hometown of Atlanta, those are possibilities too. New England doesn’t seem like a great fit for Cousins unless they are willing to vastly overpay. But why would they do that?

Veteran Quarterback Trades

The two most obvious candidates to trade for a veteran quarterback are Chicago’s Justin Fields and Denver’s Russell Wilson. They are very different options.

Justin Fields is being traded by the Bears because they have the No. 1 overall pick and plan to take Caleb Williams. He has one year remaining on his rookie deal unless the Patriots are willing to pick up his fifth-year option already. There are multiple reasons this is not a great plan for the Patriots.

First of all, the Patriots would have to give up assets to acquire Fields. This could be in the form of draft compensation only, but even then it is what New England has stressed they want to use to get their roster back on track: young, cheap talent. Secondly, there is the financial commitment that comes with such a move. Justin Fields isn’t going to take a “hometown discount” to sign an extension with New England. Lastly, is anyone convinced based on his body of work that Fields is a better option than whichever quarterback the Patriots could draft at three? I am not.

As for Russell Wilson, Denver would need to eat the majority of his contract to get rid of him (similar to the deal that brought J.C. Jackson back to New England last year). While Wilson is still capable of being a starting quarterback in the NFL, he is nobody’s QB of the future. And if the Patriots bring him in as a stopgap solution, is it helping create the type of locker room environment Jerod Mayo hopes to usher in? Based on Wilson’s unpopularity with teammates at his previous stops, the answer appears to be no.

Caleb Williams is Not Walking Through That Door

Caleb Williams is almost certainly going to be the first overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Like other first-overall QB picks who scared me (Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Bryce Young) Williams is shorter than the franchise quarterback I’d prefer. That doesn’t mean he’s not talented and won’t have a great career, but like nearly everyone else he is far from a perfect prospect. Regardless, Williams won’t be an option for New England at three. The Patriots should not give up the type of package it would cost to move up two picks.

At least one of Jayden Daniels and Drake Maye will be available with the third pick. New England would be wise to select whichever one is still there.

Daniels Would be Dope

Jayden Daniels is a player unlike any the New England Patriots have ever employed. His Arizona State coach Herm Edwards compared him to former NFL QB Randall Cunningham, the 1990 NFL MVP. Daniels was dominant last year in his Heisman Trophy-winning season for LSU. He completed 72.2% of his passes while throwing for 3,812 yards. He threw 40 touchdowns against only four interceptions. Daniels also rushed for 1,184 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was the ultimate dual-threat QB in the college ranks.

While some have referred to Daniels as a “one-hit wonder” he played in 55 college football games. This is a much larger sample size than a player like Mac Jones, who started only 18 games for Alabama. Although he shot up draft boards with a fantastic final season at LSU, in 2022 he accounted for 28 total touchdowns and threw only three interceptions.

Two actual concerns for Daniels are inflated stats based on his supporting cast at LSU (specifically wide receivers Malik Nabors and Brian Thomas Jr.) and his size. He skipped the measurables at the NFL Scouting Combine. Although he is listed at 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4, his slender frame makes some weary of the pounding he will be able to sustain in the NFL.

Maye Would be Magnificent

Drake Maye met with the New England Patriots brass at the NFL Scouting Combine as well.

“I was really impressed with them,” Maye said about his meeting with the Patriots staff. He mentioned congratulating Jerod Mayo on getting the head coaching job in New England and how it is a great sports area.

Maye was a starter for two seasons (26 starts) at North Carolina. He does not turn 22 until August. The quarterback was so good in 2022 that expectations were extremely high entering the 2023 season. He failed to replicate his success despite a solid season. Maye regressed from 38 touchdown passes and seven interceptions to 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His primary receivers Josh Downs and Antoine Green were both selected in the 2023 NFL Draft. Devontez Walker became his favorite target in 2023 but missed five games.

At the combine, Maye weighed in at 6-foot-4 3/8 and 223 pounds. While certainly not as mobile as Daniels, Maye does move well in the pocket and can throw on the run. He needs to learn to get down better at the next level to avoid taking unnecessary hits. Maye has a strong arm. While Daniels has fallen victim to “coming out of nowhere” Maye has the opposite issue. He was under the spotlight entering the season, giving critics more time to pick him apart as a prospect.

Both have incredible high-end potential at the next level. That doesn’t mean both will wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The law of averages says neither will. However, both are worthy of being a high selection and worth whatever risk accompanies the selection.

Other Rookie Quarterbacks

There is no sure thing that any of the other top quarterback prospects will be available with the New England Patriots pick at No. 34 in the second round. Eliot Wolf stated that most NFL quarterbacks are first-round picks, perhaps tipping the team’s hand as to which direction they are leaning. However, if the team opts to trade back from No. 3, or trade up from No. 34, there are other prospects worthy of consideration.

I am higher on J.J. McCarthy of Michigan than many others studying the draft. I don’t believe he is an elite prospect, though I do think he can be an excellent NFL quarterback. Likewise for Bo Nix and Michael Penix, Jr. Even Joe Milton III of Tennessee is worthy of a mid-round look (early Day 3) based on his athleticism and arm. Milton could even be a worthy selection if the Patriots pick another QB in Round 1.

With McCarthy specifically, his age would warrant a long look at bringing in a veteran on a one-year deal for him to play understudy. Gardner Minshew, Joe Flacco, and Ryan Tannehill are among the options for that role. A veteran like Jacoby Brissett is a veteran who would come in knowing they would be a backup.

If the New England Patriots do not have the faith in Daniels or Maye that I do and can get a huge package for trading back, this is a solid option as well. But again, this option involves adding a rookie prospect as opposed to throwing a blank check at Baker Mayfield.

In-House Options

Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe, and Nathan Rourke are all on the New England Patriots roster at the moment. It would be shocking if any of them were the Patriots’ Week 1 starting quarterback. Eliot Wolf and Jerod Mayo are attempting to usher in a new era in New England. One way to make that extremely obvious to fans is a change at the most important position on the field.

The Patriots do not currently have a “face of the franchise” despite some quality players. Jayden Daniels or Drake Maye would instantly become just that. Whatever misgivings some fans have about either prospect will be tossed out the window for most if they perform on the field the way they are capable of.

Robert Kraft has owned the New England Patriots for 30 years. The post-Brady years are the first time they have largely felt irrelevant on a national level. The way to get back there is to win games and nothing will influence that happening more than competent play at the QB position. Jayden Daniels and Drake Maye are both capable of providing that for the Patriots. Handing over a huge pile of cash to a veteran journeyman on the other hand won’t be dope. It would just be dopey.