Kessler ended his Trojans career as the school leader in completion percentage. Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports
With the NFL draft merely 2(!) days away, I'll be counting down the days with a positional review of each of the Patriots projected draft needs. Today, I'm going over a position where the need to add a player increased dramatically yesterday: quarterback.
Level of need: Short-term: Intermediate/high Long-term: Intermediate
Before yesterday's jarring deflategate ruling, things appeared to be set at quarterback. Tom Brady would return for his 15th season as the Patriots starting quarterback, with promising youngster Jimmy Garoppolo poised to take over should anything happen to Tom. Few teams could claim to have a better one-two punch at the position.
With Brady's four game suspension likely to be enforced, the team now has to prepare for the very real possibility of going through life without Tom. With only two quarterbacks currently on the roster, the team will need to bring up a backup to serve behind Garoppolo during the opening month of the season. They could approach this problem in two ways; either by drafting a developmental backup, or by signing a veteran (as they did last offseason with Matt Flynn and Ryan Lindley). Signing a veteran will cost more against the salary cap, but a veteran will be more likely to be ready to play if, god forbid, something happens to Garoppolo during his four game run as the starter. A veteran could also easily be cut loose once Brady returns from suspension, clearing up a roster spot to be used elsewhere.
However, there could be serious benefits to drafting and developing another quarterback. Doing so would not only fill the need for a third string QB, but would allow said draftee a full year to learn the offense and catch up to the speed of the game at the next level. If Garoppolo plays well enough to become intriguing to a quarterback needy team, the Pats could then flip him for valuable draft capital next offseason, when he'll be entering the final year of his rookie deal. With Brady now signed for the next four seasons, Garoppolo is likely to sign somewhere where he'll have a chance to compete for the starting job as soon as he hits the market. Under that scenario, the Patriots would have a backup with a year of experience in the offense already in place.
Out of reach:
Without a first round pick, the Patriots can't expect to land an elite prospect at any position. They obviously are out of range for California's Jared Goff and North Dakota State's Carson Wentz, who are expected to be taken with the first two picks of the draft. Memphis' Paxton Lynch is also expected to go in the first round, possibly as high as the top 10. While their surprising selection of Garoppolo in 2014 has taught us to never say never, it would be shocking to see the Pats take a quarterback in the second round either. That means the likes of Connor Cook (Michigan State), Cardale Jones (Ohio State) and Christian Hackenberg (Penn State) will also likely be gone before the team even begins to consider taking a signal caller.
Day three targets:
Cody Kessler: USC
Much like a famous late round Patriots draft pick at quarterback (you might have heard of him), Kessler has been dinged by scouts for a lack of special measurables despite an impressive resume of production at the college level. At 6'1" and 220 pounds, he's a bit smaller than the prototypical pocket quarterback, and he doesn't have the cannon-like arm strength to make scouts drool. What he does have in spades are accuracy and decision making. As a result, he holds the school record for career completion percentage (67.5%) and a sparkling 68/12 touchdown to interception ratio over the past two seasons. Those traits would serve him well in New England, whose short-passing based offense would mitigate scouts criticism of his perceived unwillingness to take risks. Kessler's likely to slide well into day three, as there are plenty of quarterback's with more upside who will get snapped up by team's looking to develop a starter. However, Kessler has the tools to develop into a quality backup with the ability to manage an offense if called upon for spot starts. The Patriots have already put him through a private workout this spring, indicating some level of interest.
Hogan can hurt a defense with his legs
Kevin Hogan: Stanford
Hogan was given the unenviable task of succeeding Andrew Luck at Stanford, where he performed well despite some physical limitations. Hogan improved each year as a passer, finishing his 2015 senior season with a 67.8% completion percentage, 2,867 yards and 27 touchdowns. He brings pro size (6'3", 218) and above average athleticism to the table, and comes with raves from coaches and teammates over his toughness and leadership. Many scouts believe he has "it", whatever "it" is that makes certain quarterback's career winners. However, Hogan is also a project that will need plenty of coaching before he's ready to play. His footwork and throwing mechanics were all over the place in college, and Hogan thus has spent much of the pre-draft process working to shorten his throwing motion. Even if he corrects those flaws, a lack of top-notch arm talent could make limit his pro ceiling to "backup/bridge quarterback" in the pros. That's still enough to warrant a later round pick for a team in the Patriots situation. The team reportedly likes Hogan's athleticism and smarts, which lead them to put in some extra work with him at the Senior Bowl.
Nate Sudfeld: Indiana
The younger brother of former Patriots tight end Zach Sudfeld, Nate brings pro ready size (6'6", 234 pounds) and a big arm to the table. He missed much of his junior season with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, but vaulted himself back into the draft conversation this fall with the best season of his college career, completing 60% of his passes for 3,573 yards and 27 touchdowns against just seven interceptions. Sudfeld throws with good anticipation and when given a clean pocket he can make all the throws. However, mechanical flaws (particularly with his footwork) led to inconsistent accuracy and touch, leading most scouts to believe he'll be a backup (albeit a higher upside one) at the next level. The Patriots have taken their chances on big quarterback prospects with "all-the-tools" before, but could land Sudfeld this year with a much lower pick than the one they used on Ryan Mallett years ago.
Driskell has upside as a former top recruit
Jeff Driskell: Louisiana Tech
Driskell was originally a highly touted recruit for Florida, where a solid season as the starter in 2012 as a sophomore suggested good things to come. However, he wound up taking a medical redshirt the following season due to a broken leg and returned in 2014 as just a part-time starter. That led to his transferring to La-Tech as a senior, where he put up impressive numbers (4,033 yards, 28 touchdowns, 7 picks) in playing his way back into the draft conversation. Driskell brings pro-ready size (6'4", 234) and excellent athleticism to the position, and was his best in college making the same accurate short throws that make up the bulk of the Patriots offense. While he has the arm strength to challenge defenses down the field, his normally reliable accuracy dips on deeper throws. That's a flaw the Patriots could certainly work around, and he'd be a tempting high upside developmental option if he lasts into the later rounds as projected.
Brandon Allen: Arkansas
Allen showed steady improvement throughout his career with the Razorbacks, playing his way from being a draft afterthought to a likely day three pick. After completing less than 50% of his passes for 1,552 yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore, Allen improved those numbers to 56% completions, 2,285 yards and 20 touchdowns the following season. The real jump came last fall, however, as Allen completed an impressive 66% of his passes for 3,340 yards and 30 touchdowns with only 8 interceptions. At 6'1" and 217 pounds, Allen is a little smaller than teams prefer at quarterback, and he'll certainly need some time to develop the mental aspects of his game after playing in a relatively simple, run-first offense in college. However, he has the arm talent, accuracy and mobility to develop into a solid backup with the right coaching.
Rudock improved greatly during his senior year at Michigan
Jake Rudock: Michigan
The Patriots have had success in the past with using a late round pick on an unheralded Michigan quarterback. In this case, Rudock showed steady improvement throughout his lone season under Jim Harbaugh with the Wolverines, throwing 12 of his 20 touchdowns in the season's final four games. Rudock previously was a two season starter at Iowa, where his production and development were limited by a run-heavy approach. A lack of arm strength limits his upside and probably puts his pro ceiling at "good backup" level, but his accuracy and anticipation will give a team something to work with if they make him a developmental late round pick.
Brandon Doughty: Western Kentucky
Doughty would be in the first round discussion if players were picked solely based on college production, as he threw for a whopping 5,055 yards and 48 touchdowns while leading the nation with a 71.9% completion percentage as a senior. Unfortunately for Doughty, there's a lot more than that going into teams draft projections, and his lack of prototype arm strength and athleticism have him largely expected to last deep into day three. He could be a bargain there, as he's a rhthym passer with good accuracy and anticipation, skills that will suit him in the pros. He needs to get better at handling the pass rush, which rattled him at times in college, but Doughty certainly has the talent to develop into a solid backup.