Stephen A. Smith on Bill Belichick trading up for a quarterback: ‘He’d better’

The "First Take" host especially thinks the Patriots should target Justin Fields, a "better, younger" version of Cam Newton.

Patriots Justin Fields
Justin Fields throws during his Pro Day workout at Ohio State University in March. Paul Vernon/AP
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It doesn’t matter that the New England Patriots only have the No. 15 overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft and all the best quarterback prospects in the draft will likely be long gone by then.

The sports media landscape can’t stop speculating that the Patriots could be about to (and need to) do something big to address the quarterback position after a lackluster 2020.

During Friday morning’s “First Take” on ESPN, host Stephen A. Smith responded to comments Patriots coach Bill Belichick made about the team’s draft approach on Thursday, including whether or not New England would be prepared to trade up for a top quarterback in this year’s draft.

When asked if the Patriots should make a move for a quarterback, the longtime ESPN personality offered a simple answer: “He’d better.” 

Smith pointed to the fact that the 2020 Patriots offense, led by veteran quarterback Cam Newton, broke a 14-year streak of ranking eighth or better in total offense as a reason the team needs to focus on a passer in the draft.

“Then the one year Tom Brady leaves…they go from that to 27th [total] and 30th in passing,” he added, even while noting the effects COVID-19 played on Newton’s preparation and health last year. “The reality of the situation is that we don’t know what Cam is going to be able to give them. Bill Belichick needs a quarterback, plain and simple.”

The “First Take” host has one quarterback in particular in mind for Belichick and the Patriots: Ohio State star Justin Fields, whom the Patriots visited this week at his second Pro Day workout. Several recent mock drafts have had the Patriots trading up in the draft — even as high as the No. 4 overall pick — to select Fields, whom Smith called a “better, younger version” of Newton.

“When you consider this dude’s arm talent, his size, his athleticism, his speed, this is a guy you got to take a strong hard look at and see if you can do all you can to get him.

“If you can’t get it him, then go for Trey Lance or go for Mac Jones. But you better get somebody. Because Jarrett Stidham isn’t the answer in my opinion. And I don’t think Cam Newton is the long-term answer.”

Belichick played coy Thursday about his interest in this year’s quarterback class despite reports that the team has aggressively scouted the top prospects in the class.

But the Patriots coach did suggest in a pre-draft press conference Thursday that trading up in the draft is something the team will consider if he deems it necessary.

“If you’re willing to do that and that’s what you need to do to get the player,” he said. “Then you draft at a higher spot and hope his production eventually reflects the potential that you saw in him.

“There could very well be a player there that either you don’t expect to be there or…maybe at [pick No.] 12,13 he’s still on the board and you really thought that he’d be gone in the first six, seven picks. And then the question becomes, do you move up and try to get that player that’s fallen a little bit? Those are the kinds of scenarios you go through.”

ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, for his part, said Thursday morning — before Belichick’s comments — that Fields is exactly the player that would fit the situation Belichick described.

“I’m sure right now [Belichick’s] trying to figure out, ‘What would I need to do if this young man – particularly Justin Fields – starts falling?’,” Riddick said. “There’s no doubt that Josh was out at that workout yesterday to say, ‘Hey, let’s make sure we look at this young man so we know exactly what we would be getting.’ They both were at Mac Jones’s pro day in Tuscaloosa, talking to Nick (Saban) and getting the requisite information down there. They’re covering their bases. If it makes sense, New England will strike.”

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