After trading away Jimmy Garoppolo in October 2017, the Patriots now face the same question that they did last April: Is it time to select a quarterback in the NFL Draft?
The organization technically has a backup quarterback on its roster — two, in fact — but neither Brian Hoyer nor 2018 seventh-round pick Danny Etling is the heir to the club’s future. With a league-high 12 selections in the 2019 draft, it’s possible coach Bill Belichick and company use one of the dozen to lock down six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady’s replacement.
The Patriots hold a first-rounder (No. 32), two second-rounders (Nos. 56 and 64), and three third-rounders (No. 73, 97, and 101). The abundance of picks also gives Belichick ample ammo to move up the draft board via trade.
Here’s a look at five players who could be in a Patriots uniform next season:
Daniel Jones, Duke
New England checked out Jones at Duke’s Pro Day in March, and the 21-year-old was also one of the 30 prospects the team hosted for a pre-draft visit in April.
“Obviously that organization — the Patriots are at the top, year in and year out — being a part of that culture, being able to watch Tom Brady day in and day out would be another opportunity for growth,’’ he said recently, via the Boston Globe’s Jim McBride.
Jones put up solid numbers as a three-year starter at Duke, where he threw for 8,201 yards, 52 touchdowns, and 29 interceptions. He averaged 6.4 yards per attempt, and his completion percentage hovered around 60 percent each season. Jones also showed he can put it on the ground, rushing for 1,323 yards and 17 touchdowns.
During his college career, Jones learned from Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe, who also coached both Manning brothers (Peyton at Tennessee and Eli at Ole Miss) in college. Under Cutcliffe’s guidance, Jones seems confident in his preparations for the NFL.
Some of Jones’s strengths include accuracy on routes in the 10-to-20 yard range — his deep ball, on the other hand, can sometimes be a bit wobbly — as well as his mobility and pocket presence. At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, his size is awfully similar to that of Brady. The two seemingly share a few other characteristics, including high intelligence and strong work ethic, but Jones appears to be more naturally athletic than Brady.
If the Patriots are interested in drafting Jones, they’ll likely have to trade up, given the interest he’s garnered from other teams.
Will Grier, West Virginia
Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio got a look at Grier at West Virginia’s Pro Day, where the 24-year-old, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, “put on a show.”
In one season at Florida and two at West Virginia, he tallied 8,556 yards, 81 touchdowns, and 23 interceptions. He averaged 9.1 yards per attempt, and his worst completion percentage was 64.4 percent. Grier was prolific as a Mountaineer, throwing for more than 3,400 yards and 30 touchdowns each season.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Grier told reporters that he and WV offensive coordinator Jake Spavital watched a lot of film featuring Brady and that they modeled some of their offense off of what they saw from the Patriots.
“The opportunity to learn from a guy like that would obviously be priceless,” Grier said.
Like Jones, Grier also visited with the Patriots ahead of the draft. He is projected to be available at the 32nd pick, although he seems to think he’s worthy of going higher.
“I’m a very confident person,” he said at the combine. “I feel like I’m the best quarterback in this draft. I would’ve felt that way if I came out last year. I’m very confident in my abilities, and I think it’s not just about my tape — which is really good and I think it’s the best tape that there is — but it’s also everything else that goes into playing quarterback that I take pride in.”
Grier is the older brother of former Vine stars, Nash and Hayes Grier. He is also married and has a daughter, Eloise.
Ryan Finley, NC State
After two years at Boise State, Finley transferred to North Carolina State, where he threw for 10,501 yards, 50 touchdowns, and 25 interceptions in three seasons. His senior year was by far his best, as he boasted a 67.4 completion percentage and was just 72 yards shy from eclipsing 4,000-passing yards.
Like several other quarterback prospects, the opportunity to be Brady’s understudy carries significant appeal for the 24-year-old.
“Obviously, that would be a dream come true for me, going and just being able to learn from Tom Brady and just being able to have somebody of that caliber mentor you,” he said on NFL Network. “I think that’s what all of us quarterbacks are looking for. Just a great situation to learn and continue to grow as players. Obviously, learning from Tom and a number of other guys in the league would be really a blessing.”
As a player expected to be available in the third or even fourth round, it’s possible Finley could be New England’s pick.
“He operates the way [the Patriots] like to operate,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah recently said on a conference call. “He’s smart. He’s efficient. He gets the ball out of his hand quick. I think he fits offensively what Josh McDaniels wants to do and likes to do. I think he’d be a great fit there.”
Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Stidham’s body of work likely isn’t reflective of his ability. The 22-year-old began his college career at Baylor, where he played in 10 games and threw for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns. After head coach Art Briles was fired in the wake of a sexual assault scandal, Stidham announced he would be transferring from Baylor.
He then spent a semester at McLennan Community College in his home state of Texas, before officially transferring to Auburn. He thrived in his first year as a Tiger, throwing for 3,158 yards, 18 touchdowns, and six interceptions. With an SEC-best 66.5 completion percentage, Stidham led Auburn to victories over conference powerhouses Alabama and Georgia.
His numbers dipped his second year, however, in part due to lack of protection and poor fit within the offensive system. But Stidham’s talent is still very apparent. He was also among the prospects to nab a pre-draft visit with the Patriots.
“Stidham is one of the true wild cards because he spins it as well or better than anybody in this entire draft class,” Jeremiah said. “Just throwing the football, he’s a great athlete. I think it’s going to take a little bit of time to develop him.”
Stidham’s draft stock took a hit after his most recent season, but Jeremiah thinks the situation could play to New England’s advantage.
“I could make a case he makes a lot of sense for the Patriots because they’ve got a little bit of time, no pun intended, with Tom there,” he said. “He’s not going anywhere right now. That would give you a chance to really develop a guy like this with a potential huge upside — really as much upside as any quarterback in the draft class. Stidham is very talented, so that might be a risk worth taking.”
Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals
Rosen, of course, is already in the NFL, having been drafted 10th overall out of UCLA in 2018. But if the Cardinals use the No. 1 pick to select Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray, then it’s possible Rosen could be on the trading block.
His name has already been linked to the Patriots via the rumor mill, but the buzz seems to have died down as of late.
“I know people are expecting the Cardinals to make trade calls regarding Josh Rosen,” NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported earlier this week. “I talked to several teams that need a quarterback, and they haven’t called any of those teams. They simply have just not. We are still wondering what actually is happening about the Cardinals’ quarterback situation.”
Rosen appeared in 14 games, 13 as a starter, last season, throwing for 2,278 yards and 11 touchdowns. He had the lowest average yards per attempt (5.8), worst quarterback rating (66.7), as well as the second-worst completion percentage (55.2) behind only Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills. He also was sacked 45 times and threw 14 interceptions.