I don’t even know what drove me to so slavishly follow NFL draft news months before last week’s actual event. I’m not even sure I care so much about the NFL these days, but perhaps it’s a Pavlovian response. Past experience has gotten me so used to gobbling up any mock draft, that I went looking for them again.
The way draft choices are talked about by the networks -- ESPN especially -- is Pavlovian in itself. I think the experts are programmed, just like Pavlov’s dogs, to react in certain ways when it comes to these college athletes.
You hardly hear anyone say, for instance, that any of the “top five” quarterbacks in the draft might possibly be busts. The fact is that nobody knows for sure. Just as nobody knew (the Patriots included) that sixth-round pick Tom Brady would become the best quarterback in history, nobody knows what the future holds for 2021 quarterback options Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones. The football world is literally chest-deep in quarterback busts.
What are the chances that Lawrence doesn’t make it? Probably slim. But don’t just take Mel Kiper’s word for it. Mel’s long-term record on picking winners and losers is probably no better than your own.
In predicting which quarterback becomes a star, it usually helps to consider the teams that drafted them.
So let’s see. Zach Wilson went to the New York Jets. We are told it’s a great fit (of course we are). But the Jets have not fit particularly well with any quarterback they’ve drafted in decades. Their record in developing quarterbacks has been, to put it mildly, less than sterling. And I don’t think Joe Namath is ready to come out of retirement.
To me (and you can take it for what it’s worth, which isn’t very much), I’m predicting that if there’s any bust coming with the big five QBs, it could be coming with Wilson. His experience as a top-flite passer is only one season deep, he competed against lesser competition at BYU, and while there he had extra time to hang in the pocket thanks to a solid offensive line. He won’t have that with the Jets. Can his cannon arm be accurate when he’s running for his life? Hmmm.
I like Fields better as a player. He’s tough, he’s well-built. He outplayed Lawrence this year head-to-head. He’s very good at completing deep passes. But, of course, he’ll be taking his talents to the Chicago Bears.
The Bears’ history is defense. Offense, it’s not. And quarterbacks, it particularly is not. So while the talking heads rave about the way Chicago shocked the NFL with its bold move from pick No. 20 to 11 to snatch Fields -- who is arguably the second-best quarterback in the bunch -- the fact remains that they, historically, grow quarterbacks about as well as salamanders grow wings.
Lance? Great athlete. Needs seasoning. It’s probably a good thing for him that he was picked by the 49ers.
And then we come to Mac Jones. I like Jones. I like his attitude. I like that he handled adversity at the college level and has emerged shining. They tell us that he and the New England Patriots are the perfect match, and I really can’t disagree.
In fact, he’s practically a clone of Tom Brady coming out of the college ranks. A classic drop-back passer, but one who moves well in the pocket. Not the strongest arm, but strong enough. Processes information quickly. Is amazingly accurate. I don’t know about you, but I suspect head coach Bill Belichick knows exactly how to use a young quarterback with the skills of a Mac Jones.
I gotta roll my eyes, however, at the way EPSN and virtually every other so-called football expert reacted to Jones’ selection at 15th overall. Just like in every other draft year, they automatically assume that because it’s the Patriots, it’s pure genius whatever they do.
“How did they know he was going to drop to 15?” they asked.
Answer: They didn’t. They didn’t move up to get him because either they didn’t have enough draft capital to do it, or they didn’t think he was worth it. They took him because he was there, and he met a need. If they didn’t get him at all, they wouldn’t have batted an eyelash (not publicly, at least).
Remember, if the Patriots were as smart as everybody thinks they are, they would have taken Brady sooner than the sixth round. Or were they so intelligent that they knew he would fall to the sixth round?
Frankly, the Patriots should have been much better prepared in 2020 -- their first year without Brady -- when they stumbled to 7-9.