Should Patriots trade down or draft a QB, WR with No. 3 pick?

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By jeenmediaa

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been part of 30 NFL drafts. He has pinpointed the 31st as unprecedented for his franchise, calling it the “most anticipated NFL draft of our tenure.”

Never in Kraft’s reign have the Patriots had a pick as high as they do this year — third overall, their highest since taking Patriots Hall of Fame defensive end/outside linebacker Willie McGinest with the No. 4 overall pick in 1994, months after Kraft purchased the franchise.

What they do at No. 3 will play a major role in defining the trajectory of a once-dynastic franchise. Kraft’s Patriots have spiraled downward the past two seasons — from 10-7 to 8-9 to 4-13. Gone is legendary coach Bill Belichick after 24 years with Jerod Mayo tapped as his successor.

The No. 3 pick sparks optimism for what Mayo said he expects to be a journey to help him “plant seeds and hopefully lead to the next dynasty.”

The possibilities are aplenty, and Patriots scouts view the 2024 quarterback class, along with offensive tackle, as deeper than some previous years.

Mayo said the plan will be “to take the best available player for the biggest need on the team — offensive line, receiver, quarterback; pick your [choice].”

Or perhaps another team presents the Patriots with a trade offer too good to turn down, providing a chance to parlay one selection into multiple picks for a team that is far from one impact player away from contending.

Should the Patriots take a quarterback at No. 3? Should they take the best non-QB available? Should they trade down from No. 3 to garner more assets?

Each scenario comes with significant risk and reward and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

“Our team has a tremendous opportunity to position itself right,” Kraft said.

Should the Patriots draft a quarterback?



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One high-ranking Patriots executive recently shared the organization’s belief that without the right coach and quarterback, it will be a long road back to respectability.

Kraft says he believes he has checked the first box with Mayo, and if the No. 3 pick checks the second, it might be the perfect scenario — much like the 2008 Atlanta Falcons, who had their hopes pinned on drafting Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan.

“It was pretty clear-cut for us,” recalled former Falcons coach Mike Smith, who like Mayo, was in his first season and part of a collaborative pairing with general manager Thomas Dimitroff (Mayo is paired with director of scouting Eliot Wolf and a revamped personnel staff in New England).

“We were in love with Matt in terms of his skill set and what he brought with intangibles. It’s a situation where if there’s someone that you think is a franchise quarterback, you better take him. Because if you do it right, you’re not going to be picking in the top 10 again for a long time.”

Ryan lasted to the third pick and quickly emerged as the Day 1 starter, the Falcons made the playoffs, Smith was NFL Coach of the Year and Atlanta had a winning record the following season — the first time the franchise had back-to-back winning seasons.

Ultimately, Smith posted a 67-50 record over seven seasons as coach, which included four playoff berths.

“Everybody understands: It was then, and it is now, a quarterback-driven league,” Smith said. “If you have the right quarterback, you have a chance to be successful and be around for a while as a head coach and administration.”

But Smith also cautioned that teams can fall into the trap of forcing a QB pick. In the Patriots’ case this year, they might be selecting the third-best quarterback in the draft.

Is the QB class strong enough at the top to justify that approach?

Multiple ESPN analysts believe so, with Mel Kiper Jr. slotting North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye to New England in his first projection, with quarterbacks going 1-2-3 (USC’s Caleb Williams, LSU’s Jayden Daniels, Maye). Matt Miller envisioned a scenario in which Daniels becomes a Patriot. Field Yates targeted Maye for the Patriots in his 1.0 mock.

Former Patriots safety Devin McCourty, an analyst on NBC’s “Football Night in America,” said he believes that could be the best-case scenario for the Patriots — assuming they have conviction in one of them as a franchise quarterback.

“New England getting a guy in the building like that would change the outlook for every player, every staff member, and give them something to get excited about,” he said.

Should the Patriots take the best non-QB available?

There’s another way for the Patriots to create excitement without selecting a quarterback No. 3 overall. New England could instead pick the highest-rated offensive player at a different position such as Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. or Notre Dame offensive tackle Joe Alt.

That approach — taking the best player available — has worked well for the Detroit Lions under third-year general manager Brad Holmes. The Lions were in a similar situation as the Patriots a few years ago — close to rock bottom and in need of an infusion of talent — and are now coming off a trip to the NFC Championship Game.

It was challenging to find many who were convinced the Lions had their long-term answer at quarterback after acquiring veteran Jared Goff in a 2021 trade with the Los Angeles Rams. But instead of selecting a QB early in the past three drafts, Holmes used top picks to support Goff: offensive tackle Penei Sewell (No. 7, 2021), receiver Jameson Williams (No. 12, 2022), running back Jahmyr Gibbs (No. 12, 2023) and tight end Sam LaPorta (No. 34, 2023) among them. He also struck midround gold with receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (No. 112, 2021).

As the parts kept coming together, Lions radio analyst Lomas Brown, the former 18-year offensive tackle, took note of the impact it had on Goff.

“The key was to bring in the right pieces so Jared could take off and go to the next level, like he did. It really showed this year,” Brown said. “There was only so much he could do before that.”

Goff’s transformation reinforced Brown’s belief that teams often force their quarterback decisions before and/or without building the necessary infrastructure around him.

“Look at some of the misses over the years at the top of the draft. There have been so many. To me, picking a quarterback is like a crapshoot unless it’s somebody generational. I think they overhype these guys and push them up the ladder too much,” he said.

“I focus more on the other pieces, the things you can put around the quarterback. It’s like having a good foundation. You can’t build a house on a rocky foundation — it won’t stand up long.”

So, could Mac Jones be the Patriots’ version of Goff?

It appeared the Patriots had their quarterback of the future after taking Jones No. 15 overall in 2021. He had a promising rookie season under the guidance of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the Patriots made the playoffs.

But high-ranking team officials point to several Belichick decisions over the next two years — from offensive coaching changes to regrettable personnel moves — that contributed to sabotaging Jones’ development and crushing his confidence.

New offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said Wednesday that “everything is on the table” when asked if he could envision a scenario in which Jones is the 2024 starter. And some within the organization seem hopeful Jones can make a U-turn in New England, but that hardly seems unanimous, which means Jones would have to win over many people.

“You have to give guys in the locker room a reason to believe you can win games with whoever you have at quarterback,” McCourty said. “You watch Kansas City, which was horrible at times this year, and those guys still believed because, ‘We have Patrick Mahomes.’ We had [Tom] Brady for a long time in New England and it was the same thing.

“This past season when you watched New England, across the board, it was a feeling of ‘No matter what we do, we won’t probably win because of what we have on offense.’ I’m not saying that was all Mac or [backup QB Bailey] Zappe‘s fault, but it starts with who you have at quarterback.”

Should the Patriots trade down?

If Belichick were entering his 25th season as the team’s coach and de facto general manager in 2024, the odds of trading down would be higher than under the new regime of Mayo and the Wolf-led front office. Belichick was known for wheeling and dealing, having traded down in the first round of each of the past two drafts.

Nonetheless, as draft analysts assess the Patriots’ possibilities, some say another trade down to accumulate more players can’t be discounted.

The Patriots own one pick in each round. Using those to improve the roster is naturally the No. 1 priority, but the No. 3 pick also is a chip that could better position the Patriots — who aren’t expected to contend in the AFC in 2024 — to do that and acquire valuable future draft picks.

The Miami Dolphins took that approach in 2021, shipping the third overall pick to the San Francisco 49ers for the No. 12 overall pick, a third-rounder and first-round selections in 2022 and 2023. The 49ers paid the hefty price to draft Trey Lance with the belief he would become their franchise quarterback.

Lance never emerged (he has since been traded to the Cowboys), but the framework of the deal nonetheless provides a roadmap for what the Patriots — who need a lot more than the third pick to spark their rebuild — could expect from a team looking to trade up for a quarterback.

“It’s always tough to say before free agency what a team should do in the draft, but the Patriots’ offense is far away. They have plenty of talent on defense and special teams, but there are a lot of question marks on offense right now. One offseason isn’t going to fix everything,” said ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid.

“I don’t think Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe is the guy [at quarterback] moving forward. They need offensive tackles. They have no weapons. I’m not saying [trading down] is necessarily the right way to go, but with so many holes, it’s at least something they have to consider.”

How strongly the Patriots consider that type of scenario is a mystery at this point, in part because of the new structure of the front office and also because the draft is still more than two months away. The team’s primary process up till now has been evaluating prospects, not necessarily contemplating draft strategy.

The risk of the Patriots potentially trading out of the No. 3 spot is they lose out on a franchise quarterback — whether it’s Williams, Daniels, Maye or someone else.

But history shows the odds of three quarterbacks from one draft elevating to that level is unlikely.

“Everybody wants a quarterback, but you can’t force it,” Smith said. “When you force the decision-making tree, however you’re weighing it, and it’s not done through the processes that are in place, you’re probably going to miss on it.”

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