2021 NFL Draft: Belichick's track record at QB vs. rest of league originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The justified demand for the Patriots to identify a potential franchise quarterback in next week’s NFL Draft underscores how long it’s been since New England found itself in this position.
Quarterback purgatory is no place to be in the NFL, and thanks to the selection of Tom Brady in 2000, the position became an afterthought most draft weekends for the Patriots prior to his departure to Tampa Bay.
After punting on the position in the 2020 Draft, finishing 7-9 with Cam Newton and watching Brady win another Super Bowl, you’d think the sense of urgency for New England to pick out its next long-term signal-caller would be at DEFCON 1.
Instead, the team remains slotted to pick 15th next Thursday, likely out of reach to draft any one of the consensus top-five quarterback prospects: Trevor Lawrence (Clemson), Justin Fields (Ohio State), Mac Jones (Alabama), Zach Wilson (Brigham Young) and Trey Lance (North Dakota State).
“It’s an interesting class,” Bill Belichick said last week. “It’s an interesting group of guys. Some are very strong in some skills. Some seem very strong in other skills. It’s definitely an interesting group.”
If you’re a Patriots fan, it’s unquestionably frustrating. Another year of Newton -- even one in which he’ll have some semblance of an offseason program and real weapons on offense -- feels like another step away from relevance.
Here’s the thing: while New England absolutely, positively, 100 percent has to draft a quarterback at some point next weekend, it doesn’t necessarily have to be in Round 1. And while Belichick’s track record at the draft as a whole over the last five years is uninspiring at best, 20 years of history suggests he’s still in the same stratosphere as just about everyone else when it comes to drafting quarterbacks.
Surprisingly, only two teams -- the Jets (12) and Broncos (11) -- have drafted more quarterbacks than the 10 the Patriots have taken since selecting Brady in 2000 (the Ravens and Washington have also taken 10 QBs each), though that speaks more to a preference of having backup quarterbacks on rookie contracts rather than paying veterans.
The 10 quarterbacks drafted by New England since striking gold with Brady are Rohan Davey, Kliff Kingsbury, Matt Cassel, Kevin O’Connell, Zac Robinson, Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett, Danny Etling and Jarrett Stidham.
You roll your eyes at a name like O’Connell or Mallett, each drafted in the third round, but no future Pro Bowl quarterbacks went after O’Connell in 2008 and only one, Tyrod Taylor, went after Mallett three years later. The only honest-to-goodness second guess would be drafting Brissett in the third round in 2016 over Dak Prescott, who went in the fourth round to the Cowboys, but there is a long list of teams who took other quarterbacks over guys like Prescott, Russell Wilson (third round, 2012), or of course Brady himself in 2000.
In terms of who landed here via the draft, that’s one Pro Bowler (Cassel, seventh round, 2005) and one quarterback who’s started a Super Bowl (Garoppolo, second round, 2014). Perhaps not a murderers' row, but it’s still something less than half the league can claim to have done: draft at least one Pro Bowl quarterback and one quarterback to start a Super Bowl.
Thirteen of the NFL’s 32 teams have done that since 2001, six of which had just one player make both a Pro Bowl and start a Super Bowl: Chiefs (Patrick Mahomes), Packers (Aaron Rodgers), Panthers (Cam Newton), Rams (Jared Goff), Seahawks (Russell Wilson) and Steelers (Ben Roethlisberger).
The other seven, including the Patriots, have drafted at least one player to meet each criterion.
Drew Brees*, Eli Manning*
Nick Foles, Carson Wentz
Ryan, Matt Schaub*, Michael Vick
Derek Anderson*, Lamar Jackson, Tyrod Taylor*
*Denotes player never appeared in Super Bowl or Pro Bowl for drafting franchise
Not all of these teams have gotten the same bang for their buck, of course. Brees and Manning combined to win 17 playoff games and three Super Bowls, just none in San Diego, and the argument kind of loses its luster anytime you have to invoke Grossman or Trubisky as evidence.
Nevertheless, very few teams have established a bona fide quarterback pipeline over the last two decades while the Patriots were content winning six Super Bowls with their one. In addition to the Chargers, Eagles, Falcons and Ravens, only two other teams even have drafted two Pro Bowl quarterbacks: the Bengals (Carson Palmer, Andy Dalton) and Washington (Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins). Again, not inspiring fear into anybody.
Worrying about Belichick overvaluing a wide receiver or cornerback is a tried-and-true exercise that’ll pop up again next week.
There’s no need to lose sleep over his ability to pick out a quarterback, though, and that’s not to say wheels aren’t in motion to potentially move up the board for one of the prized prospects anyways.
That itself is an unknown, as the Patriots haven’t drafted a quarterback in the first round since Drew Bledsoe in 1993 -- seven years before Belichick became head coach and final decision maker -- but it’s impossible to say that there’s anyone definitively ahead of him in terms of tapping into the college quarterback market.
“At some point you decide to make that investment and then we all see how the player turns out,” Belichick said when asked about his willingness to “overdraft” a quarterback. “But that’s fairly common at every position. There are always players at every spot that fall into that category that you feel like you’re going to have to draft higher than what they’ve done. But if you’re willing to do that and get the player, then you draft him at a higher spot and hope his production eventually reflects the potential that you saw.”