Patriots at the NFL Scouting Combine: What we’re hearing about the No. 3 pick

INDIANAPOLIS — Despite an NFL trend of fewer coaches attending the annual scouting combine, new New England Patriots coach Jerod Mayo made sure to be here.

Why? The first-time coach wants to sit in on interviews with the top quarterback prospects. The Patriots are scheduled to chat with Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels and others, and they’re going to speak with them about something specific. Mayo wants to hear how these quarterbacks handled their more difficult moments.

“Honestly, you want to talk about some of the adversity,” Mayo said.

So as combine week continues, let’s reflect on what we’ve heard about the Patriots’ plans, starting with the No. 3 pick.

They want a QB at No. 3

The Patriots really want to draft a quarterback with the No. 3 pick. The front office wrapped up its pre-free-agency meetings a week ago and seems to be on the same page that the best way to jump-start this rebuild and yield long-term success is to find a young quarterback in the NFL Draft to build around.

The Patriots’ decision-makers know there are a lot of holes on the roster beyond the quarterback position. They know there’s one roster-building sentiment that suggests they’d be wise to improve the rest of the team before dropping a rookie quarterback into it — that a rookie quarterback won’t be set up for success until the rest of the roster is better.

But the Patriots look at it like this: If you get the rare chance to draft one of the top prospects at the game’s most valuable position, it’s worth taking a big swing even if the surrounding roster isn’t great. The quarterback position is simply too important to risk passing on one in hopes of maybe landing one a year or two later.

The opposite plan is what the Atlanta Falcons have done. They’ve had a top-10 pick in each of the past three drafts but have bypassed a quarterback each time. (They haven’t picked a quarterback in the first two rounds since Matt Ryan at No. 3 in 2008.) They’ve built up a solid roster in recent years — except at quarterback. Last season, even though they boasted good pass catchers, a great offensive line and a great running game, they still ranked 26th in points scored and finished 7-10, which led to the firing of coach Arthur Smith.

The Patriots don’t want to make the same mistake. And even better for them, taking a QB at No. 3 won’t solely be about filling a need. They’ll be getting a player they actually covet. According to several NFL executives unassociated with the Patriots, the top available quarterback prospects appear to align with top decision-maker Eliot Wolf’s preferred QB traits.

Which one they can draft at No. 3 will hinge largely on how this week goes. Williams is expected to be taken with the first pick, but it’s unclear whether the Washington Commanders favor Maye or Daniels at No. 2.

While there has been a longstanding assumption Maye would be the second pick, it’s not the consensus opinion around the league. Maye has a massive arm and has drawn plenty of comparisons to Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, but his inconsistent performances last season have given evaluators some pause. Rival executives, however, think the Commanders would be comfortable with Maye.

The Pats will likely question Maye, a league source said, about why his stats dipped in his final year as North Carolina’s starter, when his completion percentage and touchdown numbers dropped while his interceptions increased.

As for Daniels, a league source said New England (and other teams) will likely have questions for the Heisman Trophy winner about his transfer from Arizona State and grill him on the whiteboard to see how quickly he can memorize plays since, as the source said, the offense he ran at LSU wasn’t as complex. They’ll also be keen to see his weight considering his slight frame (he hopes to weigh in at 210 pounds or higher).

Daniels doesn’t have the same arm strength as Williams or Maye, and he still has room to grow with his anticipation as a passer, according to league executives. But coupled with his ability to create plays with his legs or buy time and make throws off schedule, the belief is Daniels has enough tools to start right away while continuing to round out his game.

On the idea of passing on a QB at No. 3 (or trading back), there’s growing buzz around the league the next tier of quarterbacks could be gone by the time the Patriots pick again at No. 34. Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy seems to be generating momentum as a first-round pick, and Oregon’s Bo Nix may not be far behind. Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. might be the only second-tier QB on the board entering Friday night of draft weekend.

The Patriots have also explored their options on the free-agent market, according to a league source, which is set to include Kirk Cousins, Baker Mayfield, Ryan Tannehill, Joe Flacco and Jacoby Brissett, but they’d all come with high price tags or fair question marks about their future performance.

That’s why the preference appears to be taking a QB at No. 3.

This week has been a major step toward the Patriots figuring out what to do with that top pick. They badly want a quarterback. If Maye and Daniels ace this week, it would go a long way toward ensuring the Patriots get their next quarterback in the draft.

Front-office structure still TBD

Wolf is the de facto general manager of the Patriots even if his title remains director of scouting. He’s the one who has led the most important meetings with scouts, and he is the one Mayo is trusting most for evaluations leading into the draft.

But he doesn’t hold the GM title, and that’s in part because things could change with the structure of the front office after the draft. The Patriots are navigating a strange post-Bill Belichick period without the man who made every single decision in football operations for 20 years. That will take some getting used to.

Members of the front office felt their voices hadn’t been heard in recent years. So this is an opportunity for owner Robert Kraft to evaluate how the front office is being run by Wolf (with Matt Groh effectively as his front office No. 2 and Alonzo Highsmith as the No. 3). After the draft, Kraft could make more significant changes. If he feels Wolf does well, then Wolf could land a bigger title that solidifies him as the top decision-maker in personnel.


Patriots scouting director Eliot Wolf will have final say on personnel decisions

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Patriots director of scouting Eliot Wolf spoke Tuesday at the combine in Indianapolis.

Jones probably headed elsewhere

The Patriots’ first-round pick in 2021 has dealt with a turbulent past two years in New England, which culminated in his (repeated) benching. A trade is seen around the league as a mutually beneficial move.

People close to the team said Mac Jones could benefit from leaving the scar tissue that has built up with the Patriots over three offensive coordinators in three years, poor play and several benchings. And the Patriots seem eager to begin a new chapter with a young quarterback who might be better served with an older, veteran backup who’s enthusiastic about helping the young quarterback understand the game and life as a professional.

They’re ready to spend

The Patriots could soon cut cornerback J.C. Jackson to free more than $14 million in cap space, and they will likely enter free agency in mid-March with more than $100 million in cap space.

Their top priorities in free agency, according to team and league sources, are, in order, wide receiver, offensive tackle and tight end.

But here’s the dilemma at wide receiver: This free-agent class of receivers isn’t deep, and there’s probably only one No. 1 receiver — Calvin Ridley — which means whoever signs him will likely be paying a premium. Wolf acknowledged this week that the Patriots will likely have to pay a tax, essentially overpaying, to get free agents to join their rebuild. But the question teams like the Patriots will have to grapple with is whether Ridley is worth potentially overpaying.

Ridley shined in 2020 with 1,374 receiving yards but dealt with injuries in 2021 and then was suspended for the 2022 season after betting on NFL games. In his return to the league last season, Ridley’s numbers dropped from his peak (though he still totaled 1,016 yards).

But the Patriots want a No. 1 receiver, so they might have to pay a premium for Ridley. If not, they are hoping the Indianapolis Colts don’t apply the franchise tag to Michael Pittman Jr.



Mayo on Pats post-Belichick: ‘It’s going to be different’

Parker on the move?

Speaking of wide receiver, the Patriots could soon be shopping DeVante Parker.

Due to the contract extension Belichick gave the now-31-year-old wideout last season, it’s not easy to cut Parker before June 1. If they do, they’d incur more than $6 million in dead cap while opening little additional cap space. But in what could be a bit of a loophole, they could clear more than $3 million in cap space if they trade Parker.

So look for the Patriots to dangle Parker in trade talks in the coming weeks even if they would get only a late-round pick in return.

New O-line focus

One of the biggest changes for the Patriots as they switch to a new offensive scheme under Alex Van Pelt concerns offensive-line technique. Their new offense will lean on a zone rushing attack, according to a team source, which means they will place more value on athletic linemen as opposed to bulldozing blockers who win with strength.

That bodes well for left guard Cole Strange, who has been just OK since the Pats made him a surprise first-round pick in 2022 after he posted top-end athletic scores during the combine.

(Photos: Kirby Lee / USA Today)

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