Hello, Bill Belichick. Welcome to the quarterback market. May the odds be ever in your favor.
In the aftermath of the New England Patriots' stunning trade that sent speedy wideout Brandin Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for the 23rd-overall pick in this month's draft (other picks were involved), the Patriots, who also sit at No. 31 in the draft order, are unofficially in play to draft Tom Brady's heir to the throne. After all, the Patriots' succession plan evaporated within the past year after they decided to trade both Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo, both of whom looked like starting-caliber quarterbacks with their new teams, with Garoppolo looking like a future superstar.
As it stands, the Patriots' backup to Brady is Brian Hoyer, a more than fine short-term replacement who has absolutely no chance of succeeding Brady. Meanwhile, Brady himself is suddenly talking as if there's a possibility he could retire in the short-term, which shouldn't inherently come as a surprise given that he will turn 41 in August, but is definitely a surprise considering this is a guy who once sounded like he wanted to play well into his mid-40s.
Regardless of when Brady chooses to step away from football -- nobody should be surprised when he inevitably decides to play until he's 45 -- the Patriots need to begin planning for life after Brady. Just ask Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who recently acknowledged that the Patriots "obviously" have to consider taking a quarterback.
So, in this iteration of my mock draft, I have the Patriots drafting a quarterback in the first round.
When CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora wrote about the Patriots' foray into the quarterback market, he speculated that Baker Mayfield could be the Patriots' man if they can find a way to move up in the draft order. I love that idea. Mayfield is my top quarterback in the draft so the idea of him learning from Belichick, Brady, and Josh McDaniels is an enticing one. However, I couldn't mock Mayfield to the Patriots because I ultimately found it too difficult to find a way for them to move up that high considering I have Mayfield going fifth overall to the Buffalo Bills, who do find a way to move up with a draft-day trade.
Another candidate for the Patriots is the polarizing but underrated Lamar Jackson.
Everyone’s gonna be stupid enough to pass on Lamar Jackson and let the Patriots pick him to be Brady’s successor right?— Sean Wagner-McGough (@seanjwagner) March 2, 2018
This might be my favorite fit, but I don't see it happening either. I don't think Jackson makes it past either the Broncos at No. 12 (after their trade down with the Bills) or the Cardinals at No. 15 (Sam Bradford isn't their long-term answer). Both teams are perfect landing spots for Jackson in the sense that they already have bridge quarterbacks on their rosters, which means Jackson can sit for a year or two.
A trade up for Jackson from the Patriots' perspective would make more sense given they'd only have to move up roughly 10 spots, but I guess what I realized during this process is that I don't think the Patriots are going to be trading up to take a quarterback who won't even factor into their plans in the immediate future. This is still a team in the middle of their Super Bowl window, a team that also needs to fill a ton of roster holes after getting completely gutted in free agency. I don't see them giving up draft picks to move up for a player who won't help them win a Super Bowl in the short term. Instead, I see them staying put and hoping their guy drops to them. If that quarterback isn't there, they'll be more than fine taking a developmental prospect later in the draft and using their first-round picks on players who'll help them win in the near-term with Brady at the helm. If that quarterback is there, they'll take him.
Which brings us to Mason Rudolph.
Ben Volin of the Boston Globe thinks the Patriots could be targeting him.
"They have some flexibility to move around. I think they're realistically looking at the teens and the second tier of quarterbacks. I've got my eye on Mason Rudolph," Volin told the Pick Six Podcast (subscribe here). "I've heard some people say they like him the best of any of the quarterbacks in the draft. He's a big kid, a pro-style type of kid. Just the type who can sit for a year or two and learn from Belichick. So that's who I've got my eye on."
Rudolph has been overshadowed by the top five quarterbacks in this draft, but he deserves to be recognized as a backend first-round talent. During his final season Oklahoma State, he completed 65 percent of his passes, averaged 10 yards per pass, and collected 37 touchdowns to go along with only nine picks. He's the top quarterback on CBS Sports NFL Draft writer Chris Trapasso's big board. In most of my mocks, I've had the Saints plucking him off the board at No. 27, but in this version, I have the Saints -- who are in a similar win-now situation as the Patriots, but don't have the luxury of two first-round picks -- opting to take a player who'll help them win with Drew Brees. In this version of my mock draft, I have the Patriots waiting patiently for Rudolph before grabbing him at No. 31, which would be tremendous value.
Here's how the rest of the board plays out ...
1. Cleveland Browns
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming. It's a toss up between Josh Allen and Sam Darnold. The Browns can't resist Allen's big arm, even if he's not quite NFL ready. But that's OK because the Browns have the perfect bridge quarterback in Tyrod Taylor.
2. New York Giants
Sam Darnold, QB, USC. The Giants have a bevy of options. They can take a quarterback, trade down with a quarterback-desperate team, or take the best non-quarterback prospect available. I don't think they can resist drafting Darnold to be Eli Manning's replacement if the Browns don't take him first overall. The Giants probably aren't bad enough to be picking in the top five again next year, so they get a quarterback while they can.
3. New York Jets (from Indianapolis)
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA. That leaves Josh Rosen for the Jets, who are more than happy with any of the top-three quarterbacks. Rosen's been scrutinized this draft season, but he's still a top-tier prospect who might not even need a full season to sit behind Teddy Bridgewater or Josh McCown.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston)
Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State. Well, that worked out nicely for the Browns. Not only do they get the quarterback of their choosing, but they also get the best non-quarterback in the draft. Chubb paired with Myles Garrett has a chance to be a scary pass-rushing combination in the years to come.
5. Buffalo Bills (via mock trade with Broncos)
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. Mock trade! Could the Broncos stay here and take guard Quenton Nelson, running back Saquon Barkley, or quarterback Baker Mayfield? You bet. But they might also decide that Mayfield isn't their long-term quarterback and that it makes more sense to acquire both of the Bills' first-round picks and a future mid-rounder so that they can reload at more than just one position. The Bills are more than happy to get rid of a haul of picks if that means they can draft Mayfield to be their quarterback of the future. Mayfield will compete immediately with AJ McCarron in Buffalo.
6. Indianapolis Colts (from New York Jets)
Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame. The Colts crush the Bears' hearts by passing on Barkley for Nelson, who will bolster an offensive line that allowed the most sacks in football a year ago.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State. The Buccaneers don't have a starting-caliber running back on the roster. Barkley is one of the best running back prospects ever. This one's a no-brainer.
8. Chicago Bears
Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia. After barely missing out on Nelson, the Bears turn their attention to their hole at inside linebacker which was created by the release of Jerrell Freeman. Smith is the consensus top inside linebacker and he'll start immediately alongside Danny Trevathan in Vic Fangio's 3-4 scheme.
9. San Francisco 49ers
Derwin James, S, Florida State. The 49ers keep building a strong defense. Suddenly, with Richard Sherman and Derwin James running the secondary, the 49ers' defense doesn't look too shabby. James checks in at No. 6 on Pete Prisco's big board.
10. Oakland Raiders
Vita Vea, DT, Washington. The Raiders were eyeing Roquan Smith, but they'll settle for Vita Vea considering they need to fix their 29th ranked defense and defensive tackle is a clear need. The Raiders might've been blown off by Ndamukong Suh this offseason (key word: might), but they rebound by drafting the top prospect at defensive tackle.
11. Miami Dolphins
Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama. The Dolphins, who cut Suh this offseason, wanted Vea. So, they're forced to change their plans. Here, they settle for an incredibly versatile defensive back who will bring an added dimension to their defense.
12. Denver Broncos (via mock trade with Bills (from Cincinnati))
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville. Even after trading back, the Broncos still get their quarterback of the future in Jackson. He'll sit behind Case Keenum for a season or two.
13. Washington Redskins
Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama. Defensive tackle is one of their biggest needs, and Payne is an elite talent at the position. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein compared him to Suh.
14. Green Bay Packers
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State. The Packers are stunned to see Ward, the consensus top cornerback, fall to them at No. 14. Cornerback is a clear need after trading Damarious Randall. Plus, the Packers reside in the same division as Allen Robinson, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Marvin Jones, and Golden Tate. Cornerback is a huge need here and there's an argument to be made that Ward is also the best overall player available at this point.
15. Arizona Cardinals
Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA. The Cardinals were in the market for a quarterback but couldn't find a way to move up high enough for a top prospect. Instead they get Davenport, who registered 8.5 sacks in his final college season and ranks ninth on Prisco's big board.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama. Suddenly, with Calvin Ridley and Michael Crabtree, the Ravens' receiving corps doesn't look so pathetic. Ridley's the top receiver in the draft and he fits the Ravens' plans considering Mike Wallace led them in receiving a season ago.
17. Los Angeles Chargers
Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan. The Chargers are building one scary defense. They were already threatening around the edges with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Here, they beef up the interior of their line with Hurst, who is good enough to start immediately. He should be an upgrade over Corey Liuget, who is facing a four-game suspension.
18. Seattle Seahawks
Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia. They could also go cornerback here in the aftermath of their decision to release Richard Sherman, but offensive line should remain a priority. This is Russell Wilson's team now. Time to give him the protection he needs. Wynn is the second-best guard in the draft behind Nelson.
19. Dallas Cowboys
Courtland Sutton, WR, Southern Methodist. Dez Bryant is on his final days with the Cowboys. Sure, they signed some nice depth behind him in Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson, but the Cowboys' receiver depth chart is still lacking a quality playmaker. Sutton is Trapasso's top-ranked receiver.
20. Detroit Lions
Harold Landry, DE, Boston College. The Lions need more pass rushers even after franchise tagging Ezekiel Ansah. Landry demonstrated his high upside in 2016, when he notched 16.5 sacks. You can never have enough pass rushers in a division that features Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Buffalo)
Tremaine Edmunds, ILB, Virginia Tech. Edmunds shot up draft boards after a more than impressive showing at the combine. He's the best inside linebacker behind Smith, so the Bengals are eager to scoop him up here. Vontaze Burfict is, once again, facing a suspension to begin the season and truth be told, he simply can't be trusted anymore to stay on the field.
22. Denver Broncos (via mock trade with Bills (from Kansas City))
Will Hernandez, G, UTEP. With the second of the two first-round picks acquired from the Bills, the Broncos bolster an offensive line that allowed the third-most sacks in football last season. Hernandez will start immediately at one of the two guard spots. He might need some refining when it comes to pass blocking, but he'll help jumpstart the running game, which averaged 4.1 yards per carry last year (18th).
23. New England Patriots (from Los Angeles Rams)
Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame. The Patriots don't make a move for a quarterback yet, because taking Rudolph this high is probably a reach. With starting left tackle Nate Solder leaving for the Giants in free agency, the Patriots need a new left tackle. McGlinchey is the top-ranked tackle in this draft.
24. Carolina Panthers
Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa. Jackson would start immediately with James Bradberry holding down the other side of the field. He racked up eight interceptions in 13 games last season.The Panthers clearly want another cornerback, evidenced by their decision to offer Bashaud Breeland a contract in free agency before they nullified the deal due to a failed physical. The Panthers have reportedly met with Jackson twice during the draft process.
25. Tennessee Titans
Leighton Vander Esch, OLB, Boise State. They just lost linebacker Avery Williamson in free agency, so this is an area of need. Vander Esch is a complete, three-down linebacker prospect. Did I mention he happens to be from a town called "Riggins." Everyone could use a little more Riggins in their life -- including the Titans.
26. Atlanta Falcons
Taven Bryan, DT, Florida. The Falcons lost Dontari Poe to the Panthers in free agency, so Bryan will start immediately on the interior of their offensive line. This is a great landing spot for Bryan, who goes to a team led by a defensive-minded coach in Dan Quinn.
27. New Orleans Saints
Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State. This is the spot that the Patriots are likely worried about when it comes to Mason Rudolph, who would also fit in well behind Brees while he learns from offensive wizard Sean Payton. Instead, the Saints know they need to add someone who can help them immediately if they're going to keep pace with the Eagles and Rams in the NFC. So, they fill their void at tight end with Dallas Goedert, who Zierlein compared to Zach Ertz.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers
Rashaan Evans, ILB, Alabama. Ryan Shazier's future in football is unknown, so the Steelers need to bolster their linebacker group. Evans ranked first on Ryan Wilson's Steelers-specific big board. In this scenario, the Steelers watch their guy fall to him.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland. The Jaguars lost Allen Robinson and Hurns in free agency. Pete Prisco, who also happens to be a Jaguars expert, recently called Moore "the best receiver in this draft."
30. Minnesota Vikings
Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida. Cornerback might not seem like a pressing need, but hear me out. Terence Newman has yet to re-sign with the team and even if he does, he'll turn 40 in September. The Vikings already have a top-notch CB1 in Xavier Rhodes, but CB2 Trae Waynes has been inconsistent. He's still worthy of starting, but it's not like the drafting of Hughes would impact his starting spot. In today's NFL, you need three starting-caliber cornerbacks. That's what the Vikings get by drafting Hughes here. And oh, it's tremendous value considering Hughes ranks 19th on Prisco's big board.
31. New England Patriots
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma St. The Patriots get Brady's successor in Rudolph, who lands in the best possible situation.
32. Philadelphia Eagles
Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA. Jason Peters is 36 and coming off a major knee injury. Time to draft his replacement, someone who will protect Wentz's blindside for the majority -- if not the entirety -- of his career.