After releasing third-string quarterback Cody Kessler a couple of weeks ago, the Patriots cleared the way to draft a quarterback in this month’s NFL Draft.
With Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer expected to compete for the starting job, it is not likely that the team will invest a high draft pick in a top quarterback talent like Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, or Justin Herbert.
Instead, expect the team to be mining for gold on Day 3 of the draft, when Rounds 4-7 take place.
Here are five of the best quarterback fits in the middle rounds for New England.
Nate Stanley, Iowa, 6-foot-4, 235 pounds
After being coached at Iowa by Kirk Ferentz and his son, Brian, who are both close with Bill Belichick, Stanley is an intriguing fit from a physical standpoint and comes from a similar schematic background to New England’s.
Stanley played in a pro-style offense, one that closely mirrors the Erhardt-Perkins scheme that the Patriots run today. With prototypical size and good arm strength, Stanley is a dark horse pick for the team to target.
Stanley was the second player in program history to be named a three-year permanent captain, a sign of his makeup and intangibles. He has experience playing under center and in the shotgun in multiple personnel groupings, something that will aid his transition to playing in an NFL offensive scheme.
Stanley has a good arm but can be inconsistent with his accuracy. On some occasions, he can throw dimes to his receivers, and on others, he can miss easy throws. When pressured, his mechanics can break down and his accuracy issues tend to be exacerbated.
Another trait that will help him is his ability to avoid making turnovers. Stanley threw just seven picks last season, and his ability to make sound decisions in the pocket and keep the ball away from the other team is something that Belichick and Josh McDaniels value greatly.
The ending of @UMichFootball vs. Iowa was wild. 😳
Nate Stanley completed a desperation pass with his left hand, but it came up short: pic.twitter.com/sryAGfex3g
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 5, 2019
Jacob Eason, Washington, 6-foot-6, 227 pounds
Eason is one of the more polarizing quarterback prospects in this year’s draft. Those who love Eason highlight his prototypical size, rocket of an arm, and experience playing in a pro-style offense. His detractors highlight his inconsistent mechanics, major struggles when under pressure, and his lack of touch on throws.
For all the talent in his right arm, Eason’s issues with handling pressure could derail his NFL career if he can’t fix them. According to Pro Football Focus, Eason had by far the worst passing grade when under pressure at 37.6. On tape, the panic is noticeable when he has defenders closing in on him. It’s something that needs to be addressed quickly for him to have any success against an NFL defense.
On the flip side, when things are clicking for Eason, it is pretty to watch. He has one of the prettiest deep balls in the draft, and his ability to get his players into favorable positions with his pre-snap reads is advanced for a college quarterback.
But still, his mechanics can slip at a moment’s notice, and that is a concerning trait. Eason has a tendency to fade away on throws with any defenders near him, and his lower half can be erratic at times, affecting his throws as a result.
There is a lot to clean up with Eason, but he has one of the higher ceilings in this quarterback class, and that will lead to one NFL team likely picking him earlier than he deserves to go.
— Brock Huard (@BrockHuard) November 6, 2019
James Morgan, Florida International, 6-foot-4, 229 pounds
Morgan, who reportedly had a virtual visit with the Patriots recently, is another developmental prospect with some NFL-ready traits.
Morgan has nice size and a strong arm, and he created some buzz by stringing together good performances in the East-West Shrine Bowl and the Senior Bowl. He’s an accurate downfield thrower whose throwing motion could use a little tweaking in order to take some loft out of his deep throws, but he’s otherwise adept at making most throws.
Where Morgan needs to improve is on the mental side of things. FIU operates a spread scheme, making his learning curve in the NFL steeper than it would be for prospects like Eason and Stanley who come from pro-style offenses. His mental processing and ability to move quickly through his progressions has to improve, as Morgan tends to lock on one receiver and wait too long for a play to develop.
Other than his inclination to wait in the pocket a few seconds too long on slow-developing plays, Morgan otherwise makes solid decisions with the ball. In his final two seasons as a Panther, he threw only 12 interceptions.
As he learns how to play the game at the pro level, it could all come together for him if he quickens his release, moves through his progressions faster, and improves his poise in the pocket. He will need time to learn the intricacies of the position in the NFL, but with good coaching, Morgan could have starting potential.
QB James Morgan will try to make a splash at the #NFLCombine. We spent a few minutes getting to know the former @FIUFootball standout on @CampusInsiders…#PawsUp | #PantherPride pic.twitter.com/IyDL3OMQpR
— Stadium (@Stadium) February 27, 2020
Jake Fromm, Georgia, 6-foot-2, 219 pounds
Fromm is one of the more well-prepared quarterbacks in terms of his ability to run an NFL offense right now, but also has perhaps the lowest ceiling of all the quarterbacks in the draft.
With his lack of size and poor arm strength, Fromm will struggle to win games for whichever team drafts him. Fromm had a very successful career at Georgia as a three-year starter, but was also surrounded by a wealth of talent that made it easier for him to put up the stats that he did in his career.
Fromm is a sound decision-maker who excels in pre-snap reads of defenses and finding soft spots in coverages. He has a good feel for his progressions and throws with nice anticipation on most routes. His mechanics and placement on throws are solid all-around. He also doesn’t turn the ball over much, having thrown four times as many touchdowns (78) as he did interceptions (18) in his collegiate career.
The lack of arm strength and size limits his potential to be a starting quarterback, however. While he likely will have a successful career as a backup quarterback, it’s hard to see Fromm having the ability to be a starting quarterback unless he can unlock some more power in his arm as he develops in the NFL.
Fromm would still make sense as a developmental pick who could provide depth behind the team’s starter. Just don’t expect him to give the starter a run for his money any time soon.
— Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) February 28, 2020
Anthony Gordon, Washington State, 6-foot-2, 205 pounds
Quarterbacks who come from the Air Raid offense typically struggle to make the transition from college to the NFL, but Gardner Minshew, Gordon’s predecessor at Washington State, may give teams pause when evaluating Gordon.
The tape on Gordon is limited, but the stats he put up in just one full season as the starter at Wazzu are eye-popping. Of course, a lot of that is due to Air Raid inflation, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the fact that Gordon was second in the FBS to the projected top overall draft pick Burrow in passing yard (5,579) and touchdowns (48).
According to PFF, Gordon was the best passer in FBS on throws within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He is an accurate thrower to the short and intermediate parts of the field, and he throws with anticipation and touch.
He is best as a quick passer due to his processing speed and quick release, and he could be a fit in a Patriots offense that emphasizes getting the ball out quickly.
However, like Morgan, Gordon faces a steep learning curve in moving from the Air Raid scheme to a pro-style scheme. The Air Raid does not ask its quarterback to play much under center, and its reads are much more defined than at the next level.
Gordon also needs work on improving his footwork and overall mechanics, something that impacts his ability to hit receivers deep down the field. But with what he accomplished in just one year as a starter, there is potential with Gordon, if he can successfully learn an NFL offense’s playbook.