FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When University of Florida quarterback Kyle Trask went through his pro day last week, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was present to watch his every move.
McDaniels' on-site visit served up an important reminder that the team's scouting at the game's most important position is going much deeper than top 2021 NFL draft prospects Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones. Scheduled to pick at No. 15 overall, it's more likely the Patriots will wind up with a second-tier prospect at the position -- unless they trade up.
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So who, similar to when the Patriots selected Jimmy Garoppolo in the late second round in 2014, would be the best fit?
Reese's Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy, a former Patriots scout, believes the conversation should start with Stanford's Davis Mills and Texas A&M's Kellen Mond.
Senior ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. sees it similarly, even though the 6-foot-4, 211-pound Mills has 11 career starts, which includes a three-interception game against UCLA. Mills was a top recruit coming out of the Greater Atlanta Christian School, but his college body of work is thin.
'Was he elite? No. But he has talent. He had a great pro day [throwing in the rain]. All the guys beyond the big five, he may be the next quarterback taken and it will probably be in the second round. He could possibly drop to the third,' Kiper said.
NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said Mills has had a couple of ACL injuries, and 'he's not as athletic as maybe he would have been without the injuries, but he's got poise, he's incredibly intelligent, and I thought you saw him get better throughout the year. He can really drive the ball. He's a really smart kid who's got quick eyes and makes good decisions.'
Kiper and Jeremiah slotted Mond (6-foot-3, 211 pounds) as the next possibility, with Kiper comparing him to Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who was a fourth-round pick in 2012. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay is high on Mond, predicting he'll go to the Washington Football Team in the second round of his latest mock draft.
Jeremiah noted Mond is 'not the thickest guy,' but highlighted his progression over his career.
'I thought he really got better and played well this year, culminating with a great Senior Bowl week where he was MVP of the game,' he said, adding that his size and early-career inconsistency might be of concern to some teams.
'I like him, and I think he's got a live arm. He can create and extend a little bit. Talking to the guys down there at A&M, they said when they would get on the plane after games he would be standing up in the aisle with [coach] Jimbo Fisher already watching the tape with him, so he was always dialed in, always around the facility.'
Then there's Trask, who at 23 years old is the same age as Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold.
'Second round is high. I think third or fourth round is where I'd look at [Trask],' Kiper said. 'He has the size [6-foot-5, 236 pounds]. He throws the deep ball very well, very good touch. But he doesn't have an elite arm. He has very limited mobility.'
Trask's 68 touchdown passes are the most of any draft-eligible quarterback over the past two seasons, but he's also thrown 15 interceptions. His hand size, 10 1/8 inches, is one of the biggest in the draft and fits well if the Patriots place a higher value on that with Northeast conditions in mind.
'There's some things to like about him, and some things to make you wonder if he can be an effective starter,' Kiper said. 'But I would invest a fourth-round pick in him. He's basically [Washington QB] Ryan Fitzpatrick -- a pocket passer.'
Wake Forest's Jamie Newman (6-2, 235), who transferred to Georgia in 2020 but opted out of last season, is another consideration.
'[Newman] looked good in 2019, needs to become a little more accurate with some throws, cutting down on some mistakes/interceptions. But he has talent,' Kiper said. 'You're talking about a fifth-, sixth-rounder, but had he played at Georgia this past year, he could have been a second- or third-round pick.'
Texas' Sam Ehlinger (6-1, 222) is also part of the conversation, likely on Day 3 (fourth through seventh round). McShay raved about Ehlinger's competitiveness and toughness, while noting his consistency as a passer needs improvement, particularly on deep throws (ranking last on throws of 21-plus yards among the top 15 draft-eligible QBs, according to ESPN Stats & Information).
'He can run, has great pocket presence, is physical, tough, and takes care of the football. He has great experience,' McShay said. 'But throwing the deep ball, that's where I struggled the most with him.'
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Finding Edelman: Former Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli shined a spotlight on how the team found Julian Edelman at Kent State, posting a tweet noting that area scout Jim Nagy put Edelman on the team's draft board and then advocated for him as part of the cross-check process.
When reaching out to Nagy, now the executive director of Reese's Senior Bowl, he deflected any credit following Edelman's retirement last week. Nagy said it should all go to Edelman and others, such as former longtime receivers coach Chad O'Shea.
In revisiting his work as an area scout in 2008, Nagy helped paint the picture of how Edelman first landed on the Patriots' radar at Kent State. It's a good look at the essence of college scouting.
'I was living on the west side of Cleveland at the time, so the MAC schools were a big part of my territory. This is coming off the Josh Cribbs era at Kent State, so I was rolling through there. It was an easy stopping-off point. I could hit Kent on the way home from Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Akron. I probably went in there three times that fall of .
'You develop relationships with people at schools when you visit often -- their pro liaison was Casey Wolf. Dean Pees was there when Josh Cribbs was there. Scouting Julian, it was pretty clear he was going to be a hard guy to generate interest in the building as a quarterback. At that time, we were really looking for the 6-3, 6-4, 6-5 pocket passers. We had Tom [Brady]; we had [Matt] Cassel.
'But Julian was a heck of a football player, and you don't want to discard really good football players. So you think outside the box and try to get creative, try to find a role for him. There were reasons you thought it could work. He had incredible short-area quickness. He had really good reactive cutting ability. He had great football instincts in terms of feeling people -- spatial awareness, things of that nature. Extremely tough with the ball in this hands.
'Digging into the background part of it, he was extremely competitive. The fact he was a California [Junior College] kid and assimilated at a school in the Rust Belt, that's not easy to do. He'd come out to practice and B.S. with the wideouts, so you could tell he was comfortable with that position group, and that made you feel good -- that he was one of the guys.'
Nagy recalled that Edelman just wanted to play football, and bought into the idea of a position switch in the pros -- which doesn’t always happen with prospects. The Patriots had December scouting meetings, and then their standard cross-check process in February, with Pioli assigning Nagy wide receivers as his cross-check position. Through that process, Edelman landed on the team's draft board.
Soon after the combine in 2009, Nagy departed the organization for the Chiefs, where Pioli had been hired as general manager. Director of player personnel Nick Caserio took the baton from there and made sure the Patriots had representatives at Kent State multiple times for pre-draft workouts.
When the Patriots were on the clock with the 232rd pick, with 256 total selections in the draft, they had a decision to make.
'You have to give them a lot of credit, because you have a lot of guys graded in that later-round area that you have to decide as a group; 'We have 20 guys here, which one are we spending a draft pick on? Which one don't we want to get in a bidding war [to sign] in free agency?'
Still, Nagy could have never envisioned the way things unfolded for Edelman.
'I wouldn't have thought he would become one of the franchise's all-time greats. No way,' he said. 'In hindsight, it's really cool to look back. It's a credit to Julian.'
2. Draft exam: Bill Belichick didn't sound like a coach strongly considering a move into the top five of the 2021 NFL draft (April 29-May 1 in Cleveland, on ESPN and ESPN App). In his pre-draft videoconference Thursday, he said: 'I think the best thing we can do is do our homework, know the players, know the board, and when we walk into the room for the final exam and then we see the questions on the test when it comes our turn to pick -- or maybe a few spots in front of our pick -- then we have to potentially start making some decisions.'
3. Trade winds: Since Belichick was named coach in 2000, the Patriots have made 82 draft-day trades. Minvoice. That's easily an NFL high, with the Philadelphia Eagles second (61).
4. Intrigue at all-time high: When Belichick logged in for his videoconference Thursday, he was greeted by 83 media members. 83! As Judy Battista of NFL.com noted, that has to be some type of offseason record as those looking to ask a question had to take a number like they were at the deli at their local supermarket. The 83 media members reflect the intrigue surrounding the team's draft plans.
5. Groh-ing into role: Belichick highlighted national scout Matt Groh as one of the leading staffers in the Patriots' pre-draft preparation, along with Dave Ziegler, Eliot Wolf and Matt Patricia. Groh (now in his 11th season in New England) is the son of former Patriots assistant Al Groh, and he has an interesting career path: He played quarterback at Princeton, graduated with a degree in psychology, and then went on to earn a law degree at Virginia. A career in football ultimately trumped one in law.
6. Patriots and OTAs: A statement last week regarding how players will approach the offseason program, released through the NFL Players Association and attributed on behalf of 'New England Patriots players,' seemed to be a case of threading the needle. It essentially said that some players will be attending the workouts and others won't. That isn't a huge newsflash. The workouts, after all, are voluntary. My viewpoint: Players wanted to show support to their union, and by extension, to their peers who are seeking more clarity and transparency on what the program will entail from a health and safety standpoint. But come mid-May, barring an unexpected event, I'd be surprised if the majority of the Patriots' roster isn't present.
7. Newton's bonus: Cam Newton has a $100,000 workout bonus as part of his one-year contract, which ties him with core special-teamer Brandon King as the richest among Patriots players. Newton would forfeit that amount if he doesn't attend voluntary workouts, but after everything he said last year, he would forfeit something much more important: On-field time to work in the offensive system. In perhaps a hint that Newton will be attending on-field workouts in mid-May, he's been in town the past week working out.
8. Adams in town: Former Packers defensive tackle Montravius Adams, who signed a one-year deal with a base value of $1.095 million in New England, has been a regular visitor at Gillette Stadium over the past week as he integrates into the team's system. He has a $25,000 workout bonus as part of his contract. The 6-foot-4 and 304-pound Adams was a third-round pick in 2017 out of Auburn who hasn't met his draft-slot expectations, and the hope for him (and the Patriots) is that a fresh start helps turn things around.
9. Thin UDFA class: The Patriots have 76 players on their roster, and if they make all 10 draft picks, that would lead to a thinner-than-usual four-player undrafted class to reach the 90-man limit. Here's a point one agent made in conversations last week -- because the overall volume of players who signed with agents is down this year as a result of the pandemic, the quality and depth of the undrafted class is expected to be lower than usual.
10. Did You Know: The Patriots have had a rookie free agent make the 53-man opening-day roster for 17 straight seasons, the third-longest streak behind the Chargers (24) and the Colts (22). The streak was in jeopardy last year when no undrafted rookie made the initial 53-man roster, before the Patriots signed running back J.J. Taylor (Arizona) from the practice squad two days later.