When Bill Belichick proclaimed that the New England Patriots enjoyed the best quarterback situation in football the past few years, he wasn’t lying. In fact, it might have been an understatement.
Tom Brady remained entrenched as the starter and was coming off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. Behind him was Jimmy Garoppolo—a former second-round pick out of Eastern Illinois who many believed was not only the best backup in the league but also the perfect successor to The GOAT. Throw in 2016 third-rounder Jacoby Brissett — it was easy to see why every other franchise would envy New England’s quarterback depth chart.
Oh how times have changed.
Between Brady’s continued dominance and Garoppolo’s impending free agency, Belichick shipped the coveted young signal-caller to San Francisco for a second-round pick despite refusing to take calls throughout the offseason. Oh, and that fateful transaction came about two months after the Patriots sent Brissett to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for former first-round pick Phillip Dorsett.
Entering the offseason, the Patriots’ quarterback depth chart consists of two names: Brady and Brian Hoyer. While Hoyer is a respectable backup with plenty of experience in Josh McDaniels’ system, he has proven to be nothing more than a solid No. 2.
While Brady might be winning the battle of Tom vs. Time, the war will ultimately be lost one day. The reigning NFL MVP will be 41 in August, having battled several injuries throughout the past season.
All of that leads to one major question: How can the Patriots find their next Jimmy G?
Unearthing a successor to the best quarterback in NFL history is a task far easier said than done, especially considering how the draft can be a complete lottery. After all, finding a franchise quarterback is one of the most difficult jobs in sports, which partially explains why Garoppolo himself got a five-year, $137.5 million contract after starting just five games for the 49ers.
Drafting a quarterback is an inexact science in itself. For every success story like Garoppolo, there are dozens of high draft picks who have fallen well short of expectations. Just look at all the quarterbacks taken in the first or second round in the last five years:
|2017||Mitchell Trubisky (1st round, 2nd overall)
Patrick Mahomes II (1st round, 10th overall)
Deshaun Watson (1st round, 12th overall)
DeShone Kizer (2nd round, 52nd overall)
|2016||Jared Goff (1st round, 1st overall)
Carson Wentz (1st round, 2nd overall)
Paxton Lynch (1st round, 26th overall)
Christian Hackenberg (2nd round, 51st overall)
|2015||Jameis Winston (1st round, 1st overall)
Marcus Mariota (1st round, 2nd overall)
|2014||Teddy Bridgewater (1st round, 32nd overall)
Derek Carr (2nd round, 36th overall)
Jimmy Garoppolo (2nd round, 62nd overall)
|2013||E.J. Manuel (1st round, 16th overall)
Geno Smith (2nd round, 39th overall)
Out of that group, there is not one bonafide star with multiple years of proven production. Watson looked like an MVP favorite before tearing his ACL. Mahomes has generational arm talent, but he enters 2018 as a first-year starter. Goff performed a 180 in Sean McVay’s first year as head coach, but let’s not forget he was historically bad as a rookie.
Wentz, like Watson, was playing at an MVP level before suffering a serious knee injury of his own. Bridgewater is a complete toss-up after a knee injury nearly cost him his leg. Garoppolo and Carr have all the tools and are being paid like elite quarterbacks, yet the sample size is still too small. Lynch and Hackenberg have done nothing to justify their draft status. Ditto for Manuel and Smith.
All of that leads us back to the Patriots, who have shown no aversion to spending draft capital on the quarterback position even with Brady’s starting status etched in stone.
Besides Garoppolo and Brissett, New England has drafted several quarterbacks during Belichick’s tenure: Ryan Mallett (2011 third-round pick), Kevin O’Connell (2008 third-round pick), Matt Cassel (2005 seventh-round pick), Kliff Kingsbury (2003 sixth-round pick) and Rohan Davey (2002 fourth-round pick). Though none of those quarterbacks turned into anything special—Cassel has been able to earn starting jobs in several places—it still shows that Belichick and his personnel staff aren’t afraid to invest in the most important position in sports, even with an MVP at the helm.
Looking ahead to the 2018 draft, it is all but assured the Patriots will once again dip into the quarterback pool. Given their immediate need for defensive talent, it would be an upset for Belichick to spend the 31st pick on a quarterback. However, Hoodie has a knack for surprising fans with personnel decisions, especially on draft day.
If the Patriots plan on finding their next Jimmy G, utilizing one of their second-rounders could be the sweet spot. Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta has drawn comparisons to the NFL’s newest $100 million signal-caller due to his quick release, intelligence and leadership skills. Like Garoppolo, Lauletta is also a small-school star who will face questions about the jump in competition.
Other intriguing names who could be in play on Day 2 include Washington State’s Luke Falk, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, and Marhall’s Chase Litton. All three have their flaws, but that’s the very reason they should be available after Day 1 of the draft.
With McDaniels staying as offensive coordinator and likely succeeding Belichick as head coach one day, there is even more incentive for him to find the next Garoppolo in this draft. McDaniels has received a lot of credit in developing Garoppolo into a franchise-caliber quarterback. Part of the reason he is being paid above his pay grade is to repeat the process.
At the end of the day, finding the next Jimmy G could be a futile effort. There are only so many people on the planet capable of playing quarterback in the NFL. But the triumvirate of Belichick, McDaniels and Nick Caserio is exactly the group to take on the challenge of drafting and developing the next franchise quarterback in New England.