Bill Belichick’s decision to flip Brandin Cooks for the 23rd pick in this month’s NFL Draft has people speculating. The rumors are percolating more than usual because it’s quite a deep year for quarterback prospects – and some of them could drop to the Pats at the end of the first round.
If the Patriots are indeed serious about targeting a quarterback with one of their top draft picks, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson could be at the top of their list.
NFL writer Charles Robinson laid it all out in a detailed column for Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday, positing that Jackson could be pegged as Tom Brady’s heir apparent in New England. In summary, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner already knows the “base concepts” of the Patriots offense and Belichick “knows virtually everything he can” about Jackson due to an “inside pipeline” to Louisville.
Belichick’s connections to the Cardinals program come from the Lombardi family. Former league exec Mike Lombardi worked for the Patriots from 2014-16, during which time his son Matt was an assistant at Louisville. Robinson believes this gave Belichick a “sustained flow of information” on Jackson throughout his college career.
The Patriots’ potential interest in Jackson isn’t completely unfounded. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio attended Louisville’s Pro Day on March 29 to scout Jackson’s well-attended workout.
As for the Patriots’ offensive system, that ca be traced back to Charlie Weis. Josh McDaniels learned under the former Patriots offensive coordinator’s version of the “Erhardt-Perkins” system, which Louisville’s Bobby Petrino ran in a similar fashion with Jackson. In other words, Jackson would be more familiar than other prospects with the formations, personnel packages, and terminology of the Patriots’ offense.
There’s no guarantee that Jackson will even be available to the Patriots at pick No. 23 in the draft, which runs from April 26-28 at the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. But the Pats also have picks 31, 43, and 63. That gives them enough ammunition to slide up in the first round if they wanted to make an aggressive move.
It’s great that Jackson is both freakishly athletic and at least somewhat familiar with the Patriots offense. But clearly, they’d still have to tailor the system to his abilities and the offense would look much different from what Tom Brady runs.
One big question for Jackson is whether he can throw accurately and consistently enough in the pocket to be a good starter at the NFL level. There’s general concern about whether he’s built for the NFL game or plays a style that makes him a good long-term prospect. But that’s why he could slide to the end of the first round anyway. And the Patriots could be lurking.
An ‘Affinity’ For Baker Mayfield
Jackson appears to be a much more likely target for the Patriots. But Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield could also be on Belichick’s radar, even though he’s likely to go in the top half of the first round – perhaps top-5.
Thanks to a nugget from the New York Daily News’ Manish Mehta, the Jets and a few other teams in the top-10 are “fully aware of the Patriots’ affinity for Mayfield.” Mehta envisions a scenario where the Patriots trade with the Giants to jump all the way to No. 2 in the draft to take him – and block the Jets from doing so.
Now, that last part is simply impossible to believe at this point. The second overall pick would command an extremely steep price for any team, let alone the one that’s all the way down at No. 23 and 31. And it’s unlikely that Belichick would be that infatuated with a single player that he would move up to No. 2 just to take him and spite the Jets in the process.
But, if you go by Jimmy Johnson’s traditional Draft Value Chart, the 23rd, 31st, and 43rd picks would give Belichick more than enough to trade for the Browns’ No. 4 pick. So while such a move remains wildly unlikely for Belichick, it’s at least possible.
And if they made that kind of a jump just to draft Mayfield, it would be hard to put into words how confident the Patriots are in him as Brady’s successor.
Another QB On The Way?
Until the draft actually happens and the Patriots make their moves, the rumors and speculation won’t end. The Cooks trade has opened up too many possibilities for the potential of Belichick drafting a quarterback to be ignored. But there’s always the chance that they simply stand pat and stockpile the team with valuable rookies after a few years of mostly skipping the top two rounds of the draft.
Even 98.5 The Sports Hub’s own Scott Zolak says a “little birdie” told him the Pats are drafting on defense early in the draft. They have so many picks, they could even do a little of both.
But nothing will create more intrigue in New England than the possibility of landing Jackson, Mayfield, or another signal-caller.
— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.