The Patriots have earned rave reviews for their 2021 NFL Draft class, and it all started with how the first round fell perfectly for Bill Belichick and New England’s front office.
The Patriots were patient and let Alabama quarterback Mac Jones fall to them at No. 15 overall. It was huge that New England didn’t need to give up any additional draft capital for the quarterback they coveted, and it allowed them to move up in the second round for a first-round talent (defensive tackle Christian Bamore), steal edge defender Ronnie Perkins away in the third round and hang back to take potential three-down back Rhamondre Stevenson in the fourth round.
NFL insider Michael Lombardi reported Monday on his podcast, “The GM Shuffle,” that the New Orleans Saints were looking to move up and jump ahead of the Patriots for Jones. That should dispel any negativity that New England might have reached for Jones at No. 15.
It helped the Patriots that the Chicago Bears traded up to No. 11 overall to grab Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, as well, and yes, we do know that sounds counterintuitive on the surface.
NESN.com was told last week that the Patriots weren’t enamored with Fields. If Fields and Jones were both there at No. 15 overall, New England was almost certainly still going to take the former ‘Bama QB. Fields was regarded as the player with higher upside, but Jones was viewed as the better fit for New England. There was nothing major to tweak mechanically with Jones, and if the Patriots were going to invest in a potential franchise quarterback, they wanted the arm angle and footwork to match up with their prototype.
So, they not only got the quarterback they wanted, but they also avoided a potential uproar from Patriots fans who were enamored with Fields for all the same reasons the Bears traded up to get him: He’s smart, fast, accurate and has a rocket arm. But he wasn’t the guy for New England.
The spot for the Saints to trade up likely was at No. 14 overall. But the New York Jets moved up in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings from No. 23 overall to take USC offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker. Prior to the draft, people around the league believed Vera-Tucker was in play for New England at No. 15 overall. Then New York moved up in front of the Patriots to take him away. You do the math. If the Saints had leapfrogged the Patriots instead, then that would have triggered the ultimate hypothetical.
New England could have taken Vera-Tucker, linebacker Zaven Collins, Miami defensive end Jaelan Phillips or moved down from No. 15 overall. But the quarterback they likely were going to land later in the draft was Stanford’s Davis Mills. The Houston Texans drafted him 67th overall. He likely would have come off the board sooner to New England, which owned the 46th overall pick with the ammo to trade up.
Mills has his fans, but on paper, Jones and Barmore looks far better than Mills and one of the other first-round options.
Only time will tell if the first round truly did work out perfectly for New England. Jones — and to a lesser degree Barmore — has to work out. But at the very least, the Patriots kept their future picks and landed two first-round talents because they stayed put at 15th overall.