Two separate NFL mock drafts published Monday have the New England Patriots selecting North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance.
The difference? One has the Patriots nabbing Lance with the 15th overall pick they currently own in the first round, while the other projects New England will trade up to No. 7 to choose the 20-year-old signal-caller.
This discrepancy, in terms of where Lance will go in Round 1, highlights the unpredictability facing the Patriots as they prepare to navigate the 2021 NFL Draft in less than two weeks.
Quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson are expected to go No. 1 and No. 2 to the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets, respectively. After that, the San Francisco 49ers almost certainly will draft a QB, as well, at No. 3. We just don’t know who: Mac Jones, Justin Fields or Lance.
The Atlanta Falcons, sitting at No. 4, really could go in any direction — draft a quarterback, draft a different position or trade the pick — but their decision obviously will have a trickle-down effect, potentially with huge ramifications for the Patriots’ QB search.
Let’s consider the first mock draft, via Pro Football Focus.
It’s important to note PFF’s Steve Palazzolo stood pat with the current draft order, opting to perform the exercise as if he was each team’s general manager. Rather than predicting what will happen, Palazzolo made picks based on what he believes is best for each franchise.
This led to Lance slipping down the draft board and falling into the Patriots’ laps at No. 15. Palazzolo has Lance as the fifth QB taken — behind Lawrence (No. 1 to Jacksonville), Wilson (No. 2 to New York), Fields (No. 3 to San Francisco) and Jones (No. 9 to the Denver Broncos). He has Atlanta drafting Florida tight end Kyle Pitts with the all-important No. 4 pick.
Here’s what Palazzolo wrote about Lance dropping to New England at No. 15:
New England is primed to move up for a quarterback on draft night, but the more I let this draft play out, the more comfortable I am with Lance in the middle of the first. He’s a dynamic runner who’s flashed the arm to hit every throw, but his accuracy is a notch below the other four first-round prospects. It’s a good play for New England, who have Cam Newton for one year, and they can take their time with Lance or throw him right into the mix when he’s ready.
Lance did his best work as a redshirt freshman in 2019 when he graded at 90.7 overall, but there’s some risk with a quarterback who has only 371 career dropbacks.
Now, let’s consider the second aforementioned mock draft, via The Athletic.
Interestingly, The Athletic’s Chris Burke, who seemingly took a more prognostic approach, has the same top six as Palazzolo: Lawrence to the Jaguars, Wilson to the Jets, Fields to the 49ers, Pitts to the Falcons, OT Penei Sewell to the Cincinnati Bengals and WR Ja’Marr Chase to the Miami Dolphins.
However, Burke believes Lance, not Jones, will be the fourth quarterback taken, with the Patriots leapfrogging the Broncos, among others, in a trade with the Detroit Lions.
Burke projects New England will trade the No. 15 pick, the No. 46 pick in the second round and a 2022 third-rounder to Detroit for the opportunity to select Lance at No. 7.
Here’s what Burke wrote regarding the chain of events:
An early defining moment for new Lions GM Brad Holmes, with a chance to replace traded-away franchise QB Matthew Stafford with a potential star. But, with Jared Goff as a safety net, the chance to stockpile picks might be too enticing. And in this range, the Patriots could come up for their prize without sacrificing too much beyond 2021. Let Lance sit and learn behind Cam Newton for a year, then turn him loose.
Of note: Burke has the Broncos passing on a quarterback at No. 9, instead choosing Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater. And he has Jones, the fifth QB selected in his mock draft, landing with the Chicago Bears at No. 13 following a trade with the Los Angeles Chargers.
Of course, the PFF mock draft is preferable for the Patriots, as they’d land their quarterback of the future without relinquishing the picks necessary to trade up. That might be a pie-in-the-sky scenario, however, with other mock drafts — including our own — projecting five QBs to go in the top nine.
We also must consider whether Bill Belichick even wants to draft a quarterback in the first round, regardless of how the draft shakes out. After all, the Patriots might have their sights set on an under-the-radar QB target and instead take advantage of whatever value presents itself at No. 15.