Just when you expect the New England Patriots to zig, they zag like never before.
That’s exactly what happened in the 2018 NFL Draft when it seemed like a foregone conclusion New England would take starting quarterback Tom Brady’s successor. They had plenty of draft capital to move around the board and grab the player of their choosing but wound up waiting until the seventh round to select Danny Etling.
The Patriots used high-to-mid round picks on quarterbacks in 2008, 2011, 2014 and 2016 when they didn’t necessarily need to think about the future of the position. Yet, they waited in 2018.
So, now we head into another offseason expecting the Patriots to grab a quarterback, and a pretty appealing one committed to football Monday in Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray.
Given Murray’s upside, it’s entirely possible he’ll be gone by the time the Patriots are picking 32nd overall. But he does have some limitations that could cause him to fall in the draft. No one exactly knows how tall Murray is, but he was listed at 5-foot-10, 195 pounds by the Sooners. If that’s accurate, he would be half an inch shorter than Russell Wilson and nine pounds lighter. He would be two full inches shorter than Drew Brees and an inch-and-a-half shorter than Baker Mayfield.
Height certainly matters at the quarterback position. If a quarterback is going to stand in the pocket, he needs to be able to see and throw over his offensive line. But given the success of Wilson, Brees and Mayfield, it might not matter quite as much as it did, say, 20 years ago. Murray would be the shortest starting quarterback since Doug Flutie, but Wilson has proven a short, mobile quarterback can produce wins and a Lombardi Trophy.
The Patriots had real interest in Mayfield last draft season, indicating height isn’t a deal-breaker at the position.
Since the Patriots currently have a statuesque quarterback in Brady, Murray isn’t an obvious replacement. But the Patriots, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, have shown interest in mobile quarterbacks in the past. McDaniels famously drafted Tim Tebow in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. The Patriots signed Tebow during the 2013 offseason.
Among quarterbacks drafted by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, Kevin O’Connell was the most mobile. No one would describe Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett as statuesque, however. All three quarterbacks have proven they can move as starters.
It’s worth noting the Patriots did pass on Lamar Jackson in the first round twice during last year’s draft.
The best place to take a future starting quarterback is at the very top of the draft. But since the Patriots likely won’t be picking No. 1 overall anytime soon, they might need to make some compromises in selecting their next starting QB. And height isn’t a bad concession to make. Murray proved to be one of college football’s most accurate passers in 2018, completing 69 percent of his passes for 4,361 yards with 42 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also ran 140 times for 1,001 yards with 12 more scores.
Given all his skills, the most likely scenario is Murray is gone by the time the Patriots are picking. But his decision to commit to football over baseball strengthened the quarterback class in general. If Murray rises to the top, then players like Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, Missouri’s Drew Lock, Duke’s Daniel Jones and West Virginia’s Will Grier could start to fall.
If the Patriots want to draft a quarterback this spring, which they should with only Brian Hoyer and Etling behind Brady, then Murray certainly helped them by committing.
Thumbnail photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images