Patriots Mailbag: Assessing the Top of the 2021 Quarterback Class, Trade Up Scenarios

The Patriots could find themselves stuck in the middle of the 2021 quarterback class.


Although the NFL playoffs are humming, the offseason dominos are starting to fall around the league. 

Starting with the Jets (Saleh), Jaguars (Meyer), and Falcons (Smith), the coaching carousel is taking shape with Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo squarely in the mix in Philly. 

Those moves are also sending off signals in the quarterback musical chairs, and over the last week, I did a film deep-dive on the top of the quarterback class in the 2021 NFL Draft. 

Based on the tape, here are my initial rankings and reports on the four quarterbacks that will likely be in play for the Patriots. My sense is that Ohio State’s Justin Fields will be the second quarterback off the board, meaning Trevor Lawrence and Fields will be out of the Pats’ range (I also have them as QB1 and QB2).

My focus wasn’t on career achievements but rather playing style on the player comparisons. For example, will Mac Jones ever win an MVP as Matt Ryan did? Probably not. But his level of arm talent, clean mechanics, fast processing, and work inside the pocket reminds me of Ryan. 

Lazar: Mac Jones is an enticing quarterback option for the Patriots

There are things to like about all four quarterbacks, but the Patriots could find themselves caught between the value with the 15th overall selection; too late for the cream of the crop (Wilson, Lance) and too early for the next wave (Jones, Trask). I don’t mind Jones in the first round, but I don’t love it at 15. 

If that’s the case, trading up or down in the first round might behoove the Patriots, which is where we’ll start with our first-ever edition of mail time at Patriots CLNS: 

In the draft, look at players in clusters or tiers. For example, Detroit wouldn’t get a player in the same tier at 15 as they would at seven. The team I’d look to do business with is Dallas (10). They don’t need a quarterback, could probably come away with a similar prospect at 15 and could use the extra picks to fill several holes on defense. The Chargers are another potential trade partner at no. 13 if a quarterback falls. I don’t expect any of the top four to get by the Niners at 12, which is why Dallas makes so much sense to leapfrog San Fran.

Going off my Dallas theory, I think the Cowboys would be interested in a package that included Gilmore. He’d cure a lot of ills for Dallas in the secondary with Dak and his weapons in their primes to compete right away. If it were me, I’d try to keep Gilmore for one more year and rebuild on the fly. But if Belichick looks at it as a multi-year rebuild, then packaging Gilmore to move up is a reasonable plan.

I understand the reservations people have with Jones at 15, but the reality is that the Patriots will be lucky to get him at 15. I know that sounds crazy, but Jones’s tape is impressive, and he checks a lot of boxes that NFL teams love at the position. They could trade down a few spots and still get him, but I think Jones is going in the first round.

Based on my eye test? Wilson. Based on my fandom of the player? Lance. Wilson’s tape was excellent and far more consistent, but the physical tools that Lance possesses are tons of fun. Plus, there’s a path to consistency for Lance that’s similar to Josh Allen’s in that his throwing motion is clean, but down-to-down consistency is lacking. I don’t think it’s insane to think Lance could slide in the Patriots’ range after we saw Jordan Love fall to no. 26 a year ago. As great as he was, Lance only started one season at North Dakota State. That could scare teams. 

Absolutely. If the Patriots miss out on the top four quarterbacks and aren’t in love with Jones, trading down to address more needs while still targeting a first-round talent is a solid idea. Some names to look for would be Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins or Virginia Tech left tackle Christian Darrisaw. Collins is 6-4, 260 pounds, and moves well. I’d be on board with trading down and drafting Collins.

I’d love to see the Patriots go Waddle/Smith/Pitts in the first round followed by a quarterback, but that would mean Trask is the guy. I think Trask can be a good distributor that’s propped up by the talent around him, but he’s not making plays on his own. Trask is in the day two conversation for me, and as we said earlier, Jones will be long gone by 47. 

Smith’s technical savvy, explosiveness and ability to operate in the slot makes him a perfect fit for the Patriots offense. Still, I think Waddle brings a three-level speed element that might be a more impactful addition. Waddle threatening the defense everywhere he goes would open the middle of the field for Jakobi Meyers and a tight end. I don’t think Smith brings that same dynamic. Chase is a good prospect, but his skill set scares me a bit for New England. I think he’ll struggle more than the other two to get separation and will need to win on contested catches. 

A good prospect that dominated the college football playoff, but where does he fit? Barmore is at his best as a penetrating three-technique, which isn’t a typical role in Belichick’s defense. His ideal role is close to how the Rams use Aaron Donald. You aren’t drafting him to play nose tackle, or as a two-gapping DE, so I’m not sure if I see the value there. 

I think we should all begin wrapping our heads around Surtain as one of New England’s top targets in the first round. If they trade Gilmore, Surtain would be a cheap replacement with CB1 upside and a perfect scheme fit as a predominantly press-man corner. He’s a very real option. 

Waddle, but I do see the fit with Paye, who can rush and set the edge. I just think Waddle moves the needle more. 

Andrews is looking at a 2-3 year deal with an average annual value of $7 million, per Spotrac. I would do that in a second. 

A Stafford trade will depend on how the new brass in Detroit views the quarterback class. I think the Pats would have some interest, but the starting price is probably a first-round pick and another mid-round selection. With Stafford’s salary, that’s a pretty steep investment. 

I know we all think Jerry Jones is a schmuck, but he’s not trading Dak.

I’m not a big Minshew guy. I’d be on board if they want to pair him with a draft pick and see who rises to the top, but Minshew isn’t a plan on his own. He’s in the 20-25 range of starting quarterbacks, and I think the Pats should strive to do better. 

Everett would be a good signing for the Patriots. He’s not a game-changer, but he’s a reliable veteran option that would fill that need. I’m not crazy about Samuel. He’s versatile and fast, but his downfield ball skills and contested catch ability aren’t great.  I’m already on the record as a Patrick supporter. 

It’s early, but it sounds like there’s mutual interest between Folk and the Patriots for a return in 2021. Folk told reporters that he wants to keep kicking, and the Pats are happy with his performance. 

Letting Brady walk, not signing a veteran tight end, and only having one layer of depth at nose tackle (Beau Allen). They were limited cap-wise but could’ve made a cheap signing or two. 

Unfortunately, the rumblings about Cajuste are not positive. I don’t think he should be counted on in any capacity moving forward. If they get something out of him, it’s a bonus. 

Onwenu had a great rookie season. His run blocking was consistently dominant, but I wouldn’t say they asked much of him in pass protection. He had plenty of one-on-one reps in pass pro, but there was a lot of action towards his direction—definitely an all-rookie team player, but still a tier or two below the studs at the position. I would like to see him at guard full time. 

Tough question to answer with Edelman’s knee injury. Meyers is the healthier and more reliable player, but I’d still give the nod to a healthy Jules in terms of explosiveness and route running. At this stage, my gut tells me that Edelman is on the roster in 2021. Maybe in more of a specialized role like Amendola. 

Harris, Michel, and White. I think White’s downtick in production had a lot to do with his off-field tragedy and quarterback play. He needs to play with a QB that gets the ball in his hands sooner so he can make moves upfield. Burkhead was the better player in 2020 but is always hurt. With their cap space, the Pats can bring back both White and Rex.

After the season, I took some time to study Jennings a little closer, and I’m underwhelmed. He was a rookie, so mental processing issues are expected, but he didn’t see things fast enough, and I’m not sure where his best position fit is in the defense. If I were him, I’d continue to bulk up and focus on setting the edge. 

Strong hands, good route runner on inside-breaking routes, but I’d like to hope the Patriots will have receivers on the team that are better than Lee. 

Cool question, but I wouldn’t sign anyone on the Patriots’ current roster to a ten-year deal. 

Sadly, not in person this year due to COVID. I’ll be covering both the Senior Bowl and combine virtually. As of now, it sounds like the combine might not happen with prospects working out at local pro days instead. Nobody knows what’s happening with the combine. It’s insanity. Not even the teams, prospects, or agents have any idea if or when it’s happening.