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NFL draft QB rankings: Who makes most sense for Patriots?

April 22, 2018 - 2:06 pm


By Pete Davidson

With the NFL Draft less than a week away, it’s time to get into this  year’s crop of skill talent. Today we are ranking quarterbacks, but I will be back in the coming days with the running backs, wide receivers and tight ends. I’ll also be doing more podcasts with my co-host, Jim Hackett. You can listen to our discussion on the rookie passers right here.

In addition to the pre-draft rankings, I will be posting some of my “winners and losers” after round one and then again after the draft’s completion. Look for those articles next Friday and Sunday, respectively. And then, once the dust settles, I’ll be delving into landing spots—trying to get a good feel for how all these players will fit with their new teams. Look for that in early May when I submit my post-draft dynasty rankings. It will get you up to speed for those rookie drafts.

By the way, if you want a solid cheat sheet for all seven rounds of the draft, I wholeheartedly recommend using Thor Nystrom’s rankings over at Rotoworld.

They are as comprehensive as you will find, and you’ll have a good feel on who the high priority free agents are when the draft ends. Thor ranks all the positions. He’s a beast.

I’ve been scouting rookie quarterbacks since 2009 and this is definitely one of the better classes I have seen. It’s got more than its share of high-end options, but it’s also a deep class overall. I’d be really surprised if we didn’t see a few successful starters who are not ranked in the top five. If your team is in the hunt for a quarterback this 
year, you are in a pretty good position. Yes, I’m talking to you, Patriots fans. I’ve ranked all of the quarterbacks who I think have a shot at NFL success, at some point, for a total of 17 prospects. It’s not a nice round number, but it’s an honest one.

While the Jimmy Garoppolo deal undercut the Patriots’ future at the position, it did give them the ability to reload due to the second round pick they got in return. Combine that with the first rounder (23rd overall) the Patriots received as compensation for Brandin Cooks, and you have a team that is in position to go after a premium option if they 
so choose. They could also do what they did with Garoppolo—trust their scouts and take a value option who they can develop. Personally, I don’t think the Patriots are beholden to any script. I think they are beholden to their board, so it would not surprise me if you saw them go after a passer any time after the top ten picks are off the board. They 
have enough firepower to move up from 23 if they see a guy they have ranked highly who is still on the board.

As I said before the combine, there are a few guys in this class who I could see in Patriots colors. That group has evolved as I’ve worked through more game film. Here’s my group as we head into the draft.

Baker Mayfield
Lamar Jackson
Josh Rosen
Mason Rudolph
Mike White
Kyle Lauletta
Luke Falk

From where I sit, they are the most likely options. If I had to guess, my money is on Mason Rudolph, because he can probably be had without 
moving up and he projects as a potential long term starter if his NFL team brings him along properly. I have immense trust in the Patriots in 
that regard.

Mayfield, Rosen and Jackson, if my evaluations are correct, will require a trade up for the Patriots to select them. Mayfield is a pie in the sky option unless Belichick is willing to part with the team’s 2019 number one and both of this year’s number ones. That feels like a bridge too far. Jackson is the most realistic target in that he could 
be had by combining the 23rd overall with one of their second rounders. If the Patriots get real lucky, he could even slip to them at the 23rd overall selection. If that were to happen, I think they’d snatch him up. Jackson has the added benefit of being a solid chess piece as a backup or even as a third stringer if Brian Hoyer is the backup. 
Jackson’s open field ability is so top shelf, that he can be a satellite skill player while he learns his long term position behind Tom Brady. Having Brady starting for another year or so and then transitioning to Jackson would be an exciting future for sure—something the fan base could get excited about, but make no mistake, it’s also a future where 
winning need not be compromised. Jackson has the talent to be a winning quarterback and I’m not just talking about the regular season.

As for White, Lauletta and Falk…. I see them all as quality developmental prospects who could be ready in a season or two. For an in depth take on all three, continue reading, and check out my QB podcast with Jim Hackett, which is linked above. In short, because I think Belichick wants to aim high, my money would be on either White or 
Lauletta in round two. Alright, let’s rank these quarterbacks.

Tier One (1-2)

1 - Sam Darnold, USC, 6’3”, 221

He’s in a dead heat with Baker Mayfield for the top spot in my ranks. I’ll give him the nod due to his size but again, I have them in a virtual dead heat. Darnold checks more boxes than the other prospects, and in time, he should be among the better quarterbacks in the league. He plays with some swagger and needs to learn to tamp things down just a bit. His aggression as a thrower is reminiscent of Jameis Winston. If he learns to eliminate the poor risk/reward throws, he’s going to be a good one. He also needs to learn to protect himself when he decides to run. He’s a good-sized quarterback, but he’s not Cam Newton or Ben Roethlisberger. Darnold’s trademark windup is non-ideal, but based on his game film, it’s not a fatal flaw in my view. The guy can flat out make throws—NFL throws. That being said, he needs to clean up his handle in the pocket, and carrying the ball higher is a mandatory tweak. Like all young quarterbacks, Darnold would benefit from some learning time, but he can play right away if need be. He’s got the mental 
toughness to handle some hard knocks and he’s shown an ability to play when things around him get chaotic. One of my favorite traits that he consistently displays is a short memory with regards to blunders. He just keeps coming at you, like most of the big name quarterbacks we all know. I fully expect Darnold to be around for a long time.

2 - Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma, 6’1”, 215

Forgive the pun, but Mayfield’s lack of optimal height is no small detail. It’s one of the very few negatives with this player. He’s listed at six one, but he’s actually a half inch shorter than that. Mayfield’s arm strength is easily NFL caliber. His release is lightning quick, thanks to a nice compact throwing motion. His footwork is downright sublime. His reads are advanced. He places the ball exceedingly well and is still getting better with anticipation. This guy’s film screams NFL. For those of you who read my Jimmy Garoppolo scouting report way back in the day, you may remember the traits I loved in his game and why I thought he was going to be a good one.

Quick release
Arm strength
Eye talent
Leadership traits

For all the reasons I was on board with Garoppolo, I am all-in on Mayfield. As I said, Sam Darnold’s size gives him the slimmest of edges at the top spot, but I absolutely love Mayfield’s game. He may have some transition issues depending on how much he’s asked to do as a rookie, but he’ll make the transition well in time. One key, as with 
many in this class, is that Mayfield must learn to protect himself. He ran into way too much contact at Oklahoma. He needs to put his body at risk less as a pro. Learning to slide and to get out of bounds is of huge importance for Mayfield from a longevity standpoint. By my eyes, Mayfield is by far the most game ready quarterback in this class.

Tier Two (3-5)

3 - Lamar Jackson, Louisville, 6’2”, 216

The talk of a position change for Jackson is silly, because you don’t mess around with a guy who could be a big time winner as a quarterback, and Jackson definitely has that potential. Having said that, the concerns are real and for me, they are twofold. Can he play smart enough to cash in on his remarkable athleticism while also protecting himself? 
We’ve seen many a mobile quarterback get hurt in this league, but that doesn’t mean Jackson can’t learn from the best, like Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson. Both of these Super Bowl winners use their plus mobility to crush defenses while knowing how to also use the rules to protect themselves. If Jackson learns how to slide and when to get out 
of bounds, he will have a shot at being a very dangerous quarterback for an extended period. If he tries to play like Cam Newton, who outweighs him by about 45 pounds, he will not last very long in my view. Jackson’s second hurdle is accuracy, where his stats and film leave plenty to be desired. I feel that he has some kinks that can be ironed out, and if he gets the time and the practice reps, he can be more accurate as a professional. Said accuracy will be the difference between being passable and being a big time winner. Jackson’s combination of top shelf athleticism and arm strength is a rarity. Rare enough that teams will pay first round prices for his services. As I said, forcing a position change on this player would be silly, but it certainly underscores his wide range of abilities. He’s a truly special talent, and as I said up top, he’d be a hugely compelling player if he  landed with the Patriots.

4 - Josh Rosen, UCLA, 6’4”, 226

Rosen is another passer with clear round one talent. He probably has the best arm in this class if we look at the total package. Josh Allen has more arm strength, but Rosen hits the target with a lot more regularity, plus he knows how to throw with some heat but also with some touch on the ball. I have Rosen graded similarly to Derek Carr. Carr has a bit more athleticism, and Rosen has a slightly better arm. My issue with Rosen is that his game slips when he’s forced off script or outside of structure. If he goes to a team that can protect him and give him some skill talent to work with, the results should be very good. All of the chatter about his personality being of the off-putting variety is, to me, nonsense. It may hurt him on a few NFL draft boards, but it won’t harm his career. Would he be a good fit for the Patriots? Absolutely! Give this kid time to learn behind Tom Brady and his odds of success only rise. My guess is that he will get taken a bit too early for their liking.

5 - Josh Allen, Wyoming, 6’5”, 237

Prospect. That’s the word to hammer into your brain with Allen. He’s a prospect, with a huge ceiling, but he’s not an NFL quarterback as we speak. Of all the quarterbacks in the top six on my board, Allen is the least prepared to play now and would suffer the most damage by playing now. He needs to iron out his kinks mechanically but also mentally. 
Allen’s well documented accuracy issues were caused, primarily, by three things. He makes bad choices—attempting too many low percentage throws. He also has some mechanical concerns like an intermittently inconsistent release—meaning that he has bouts with grab-bagging, but he also has streaks when he’s using a more consistent release point. He needs to make the latter the norm, or he won’t succeed. Allen also has issues when he rushes throws and must become more disciplined in terms of how he handles duress in the pocket. His back foot placement also needs some work. The final factor in Allen’s low completion percentage is where we have some good news. His receivers were usually covered and they also dropped more than their fair share of passes. This will almost assuredly get better at the next level. So why is this guy such a story? Because he’s a classic Johnny Bravo prospect. He “fits the suit” or, if you prefer, the NFL pocket passer archetype. Allen has all the coveted NFL traits. Size. Mobility. Arm strength. And, he has them in abundance. He’s a no-brainer pick in round two, but he’s definitely a risk/reward pick near the top of the draft. Coaching is going to be a huge factor with Allen, who will not succeed without making some improvements. If he’s afforded some time and gets good coaching, he has a 50/50 shot at being a very good NFL quarterback. Is that worth the number one overall pick? Not to me, no, but don’t let folks tell you this guy isn’t worth quite a bit. He is. It’s just that this is a draft with some really good options, most of which are safer plays. Further complicating Allen’s value is a shoulder that has sustained several injuries, one of them being a serious collarbone injury that required reconstruction involving seven pins and a plate. I guess we’ll find out what the NFL doctors think on draft day. If he’s a high pick, the shoulder most likely checked out fine.

Tier Three (6)

6 - Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State, 6’5”, 235

People focus on Josh Allen’s size to the point where some folks may forget that Rudolph is almost as big. Rudolph also has a lot going for him that Allen doesn’t. He’s got a better medical history. He’s got far more consistent mechanics, though he does have a few things to clean up. Allen’s ball placement is adequate for a college passer and 
incremental improvement would get him to where he needs to be as a pro. One area of concern are Rudolph’s feet. He’s athletic enough, but his back foot positioning could use some serious work and would probably help him clean up some of his accuracy issues. Rudolph needs some time, but he’s not a project. He could start somewhere and succeed by 2019—assuming he develops as expected. He’s worth a late first rounder in my view and I could see New England as a potential landing spot.

Tier Four (7-10)

7 - Mike White, Western Kentucky, 6’5”, 224

White is a big slow-footed quarterback who can absolutely sling it. He can make throws all day long, but he needs some help. He must have some protection and some playmakers around him. He could also use some time to get NFL strong, as Tom Brady did back in the year 2000, because with his kind of mobility, he’s going to take some big hits on occasion. At six foot four plus, White could probably add another ten pounds or so. The key is adding the right kind of weight. He’s got an NFL arm, NFL size and he appears to have enough game smarts to play NFL ball. White could definitely be a good fit for the Patriots, at the right price.

8 - Kyle Lauletta, Richmond, 6’3”, 222

Lauletta was an under-the-radar prospect going into the Senior Bowl, but he had a big week down in Mobile and he’s become a trendy name in recent months—particularly when it comes to linking quarterbacks to the Patriots. When you line the prospects up with their likely draft windows, Lauletta and New England seem like a good match, and I like the fit from a skills/scheme point of view as well. Lauletta is a smart quarterback who can definitely throw the ball with some authority. It’s also a perfect fit in terms of the ultimate transition. Brady wants to play a few more years, and Lauletta needs time, so why not learn from the best, right? He’s another kid who needs some strength and conditioning work, and few teams are better in this area than the Patriots. This goes all the way back to Belichick’s days with Bill Parcells. They really know what they are doing when it comes to transforming athletes and helping them compete on Sundays.

9 - Luke Falk, Washington State, 6’4”, 222

Falk has an NFL skill set, but, like Lauletta, he needs to build up his body a bit. I like his timing, anticipation and accuracy, but he’s on the skinny side and needs to bulk up to whatever reasonable extent possible. I’m thinking he can eventually play in the low 220s, which would be adequate in terms of holding up in an NFL pocket. The good news is that he’s a smart player who should be able to get the ball out quickly. When Falk is playing well and throwing in rhythm there are some hints of Tom Brady to his game. I would not be at all surprised if he is one of the guys the Patriots are considering. He’s a viable target late in round two or perhaps even early in round three.

10 - Riley Ferguson, Memphis, 6’3”, 212

Ferguson is a player who I should have taken more seriously going into the combine, but his listed height and weight was so troubling that I wasn’t all that moved by his solid film. Imagine my surprise when Ferguson showed up at the combine weighing 212 pounds rather than the 196 I had him listed at. Those are some very significant pounds when 
you are talking about the rough and tumble in a typical NFL pocket. It’s also worth noting that he’s a shade under six foot three. This kid has a chance now in my view. He’s a pretty good quarterback overall with wonderful timing on his throws and enough arm strength to play on Sundays. He also sees the field better than most professional prospects I’ve scouted. Ferguson redshirted at Tennessee due to a leg injury in 2013. He then played at Coffeyville Community College (JUCO) before going to Memphis for his final season. I’m not anticipating him as the Patriots’ choice, because, to me, he’s a lot like Brian Hoyer, so he wouldn’t exactly change the landscape for them. Perhaps he could be on their radar in the middle rounds, but it wouldn’t shock me if some team takes him a bit sooner. He’s a real competitor and he’s better than plenty of guys who’ve had some NFL success, like Ryan Fitzpatrick for example.

Tier Five (11-17)

11 - Nic Shimonek, Texas Tech, 6’3”, 225

Shimonek is my favorite deep sleeper in this quarterback class. I’m genuinely surprised that nobody is talking about him. He’s got the size you look for and the bulk to hold up to contact. He throws tightly spinning darts all over the field—showing the ability to make all of the NFL throws. What Shimonek lacks is game experience. He lost a season 
when he transferred from Iowa to Texas Tech. He played in 19 college games—starting just 11 of them. He’s clearly a long term prospect, but hey, that’s exactly what the Patriots need, right? If they wait longer than expected and take a quarterback on day three, Shimonek is the guy I hope they go after. Two years behind Tom Brady would be a gift from above for this kid, and if things break right, he could return the favor. I think NFL teams should take him seriously.

12 - Chase Litton, Marshall, 6’5”, 232

Litton has prototypical size for the position, but that’s where the good news ends as far as measurables are concerned. He’s slow and lacks any explosive traits … and that includes arm strength. I think he’s got a good shot at being drafted in the later rounds, but he’s a low probability prospect in my view. On the plus side, Marshall has given 
us a few good quarterbacks in recent years, producing the likes of Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich, but I don’t see Litton playing on that level. Perhaps with a year or two in a good NFL program, he can change my mind. You never know. I don’t view him as a good fit for the Patriots. At least, not as their primary prospect, and they already 
have Brian Hoyer there to compete with the rookie—assuming they draft one.

13 - John Wolford, Wake Forest, 6’1”, 200

I don’t have any hard data on just how big (or small) Wolford is, and that’s the main reason I am not banging the drum harder for him. Wake Forest listed him at 6’1” 200 pounds, but that seems a bit on the rosy side to me. The bottom line is that this kid plays like a pro. He’s got wonderful timing and accuracy and he sees the field well. He evokes comparisons to Drew Brees and I’d love to see New Orleans use a late rounder on him or perhaps target him as a high priority free agent. If you want another player comparison, he’s sort of Baker Mayfield light—quite literally.

14 - Kurt Benkert, Virginia, 6’3”, 218

I was intrigued by Benkert going into the combine, but the more I’ve watched the rest of this year’s class, the less enthused I’ve become with Benkert. He’s a plus athlete with a good arm, but he’s rough around the edges and his athleticism didn’t show up in Indianapolis. He’s looking like a late round developmental prospect to me. Definitely worth knowing about, but the relative strength of the 2018 class hurts him.

15 - Jeremiah Briscoe, Sam Houston State, 6’3”, 225

He’s got a great football name, which is always nice. He can also throw the football which his 57 touchdowns in 2016 can attest to. He followed that up with another 45 scores in 2017. He may not be a big name and he may not have played at a major program, but Briscoe should not be ignored. He started his career off at the University of Alabama 
Birmingham, but had to leave when the football program was terminated. He was then chased by some major programs before deciding to play close to home at Sam Houston State. Taking that long road leaves Briscoe as an old prospect, which is not good when you are going to require some developmental time. Briscoe has a bit of a soft body type, and a year in a good strength and conditioning program feels like a requirement for him. I’d love to see the Patriots nab him as a undrafted free agent to compete with whomever they opt to draft. This is a kid who is very easy to root for, and while he’s probably not worth a draft pick, he’s certainly worth a look.

16 - Austin Allen, Arkansas, 6’0”, 209

Allen is an undersized prospect who could make it as a career NFL back-up. If you watch his film, the game never gets too big for him. He’s a pretty cool customer. Allen played behind a poor offensive line at Arkansas. Due to this, and his toughness, his college career took a toll on his body. He was hurt a lot in 2017, but still got a look from the NFL at the combine. His junior year film shows above average arm talent, good movement as a passer and plus ball handling skills. He is familiar with pro sets and that will give him an edge if he lands in a pro camp.

17 - Kyle Allen, Houston, 6’3”, 215

Though he didn’t get a combine invite, I think Kyle Allen is a player to know about. His career path is a complex one so let’s start there. He was at Texas A&M for two seasons where he started 13 games and did some good things before deciding to transfer to Houston, where he sat out the 2016 season due to NCAA rules. He was the starter heading into 2017 but lost his job after three games and a few too many interceptions. Now it would be pretty easy to write him off at this point, but we’re looking for deep sleepers now, and Allen has shown some legit talent, albeit intermittently. To me, he’s a guy who could catch a team’s eye and get drafted late, but is more likely to be a high priority free agent. Allen has had visits with a few NFL teams, including the Texans, Titans, Cardinals and Seahawks.

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