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Prototypical Patriots: One QB fits the ‘Packer Way’ mold to a tee

Prototypical Patriots: One QB fits the ‘Packer Way’ mold to a tee originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

For a long time, putting together our Prototypical Patriots series was relatively self-explanatory. We had about two decades worth of drafts run by Bill Belichick to analyze what he preferred at certain positions.

What were the physical or production-related thresholds he seemed to value at quarterback? Receiver? Tackle? Pass-rusher? Cornerback?

The more picks Belichick made, the more information we had, and — theoretically — the more we could zero in on the players Belichick would want on draft weekend.

Now? The entire process will be less self-explanatory.

De facto Patriots general manager and director of scouting Eliot Wolf, has no track record as a franchise’s primary front-office decision-maker. It’s not entirely clear what he’ll prefer on a position-by-position basis.

All we can do, then, is work off clues from personnel chiefs whom Wolf has studied alongside in the past. That includes his father, Ron Wolf, who built the Packers in the early 1990s and beyond. The elder Wolf then tutored the likes of Ted Thompson, John Dorsey, John Schneider, Reggie McKenzie, Scot McCloughan and Brian Gutekunst. The younger Wolf worked alongside all of them, aside from McCloughan, who left the Packers in 1999.

All those names ended up as general managers of their own teams, with Eliot Wolf working directly under Dorsey during the latter’s run running the front office in Cleveland.

As we work through this year’s Prototypical Patriots series, we’ll use evidence from all the branches of the Ron Wolf tree, pointing out what they valued in their early-round selections.

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When it comes to the quarterback position, there are only eight players for us to look at who cost the above general managers first- or second-round picks. (That includes Brett Favre, for whom the Wolf-run Packers traded a first-round pick in 1992.)

The list includes Favre, Brian Brohm, Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love, Baker Mayfield, Patrick Mahomes, Derek Carr and Alex Smith. It’s a small sample, but from those selections we can come up with a composite of what the Wolf-inspired “prototype” at the position might look like.

Outside of Mayfield (6-foot-1), these quarterbacks were at least 6-foot-2. They weighed in at 214 pounds or more, and their hand size measured 9 1/8 inches or more. All were considered to be strong-armed passers with the ability to throw on the move. Five of the eight were 21 years old when drafted.

While the athletic-testing profile isn’t exactly uniform, Brohm and Love were the only two quarterbacks with a short-shuttle time slower than 4.32 seconds. All had a vertical leap of at least 30 inches except Mayfield. All had a broad jump of at least 110 inches.

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But then there are all the intangibles that Ron Wolf and those from his tree have valued.

Per the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, at the time of the Favre trade, it was made clear to reporters why Ron Wolf valued the second-year second-round QB from Atlanta as much as he did.

“What Wolf said impressed him most about Favre was arm strength, leadership and athletic ability,” it was written at the time. “He described Favre as a fierce competitor with the capability to run, although without the speed of Chicago’s Jim Harbaugh or Minnesota’s Rich Gannon. He said Favre would have to improve his accuracy, and indicated he didn’t know when he would be ready to play.”

Wolf actually liked the fact that Favre was stepping into a less-than-ideal situation, with the Packers coming off a 4-12 season in 1991.

“He does not have any easy situation of being able to walk right in and play, which is probably good,” Wolf said at the time. “He is not being handed anything.

“… We’ve answered what I consider the pressing problem of finding a young quarterback. I consider him a guy that has a chance in a couple years to be more than just a starter. His talent needs to be harnessed, but we have the best guy to harness it that I’ve ever known (head coach Mike Holmgren). It’s up to us.”

How does a team identify the right player at the most important position in the sport, then? Years later, in an interview with Sports Illustrated, Wolf explained just how hard it can be.

“It’s blind luck,” Wolf said. “If I knew how to put together a quarterback, I’d have my own island somewhere.”

Eliot Wolf, speaking during draft weekend in 2018, hinted at some of the intangible characteristics he appreciated in Mayfield after watching him at Oklahoma.

“The thing for me when I was scouting him, I just thought he was the best guy,” Wolf said at the time. “Obviously the organization thought that as well. He has tremendous anticipation. He has a great arm, a quick release. He can see the field. He’s a winner. All of those things throughout the process combined together and led us to our decision.”

Gutekunst, who worked with Wolf until Gutekunst was given the reins as Packers general manager, also highlighted winning as critical at that position.

“They’ve got to be winners,” Gutekunst said before taking Love in 2020. “They’ve got to be able to win. That’s the most important trait. And in the National Football League, I don’t know if anybody comes ready-made like that. I think that there’s got to be a learning curve. There’s no doubt about it. We were so fortunate back when I was a young scout to kind of watch Aaron (Rodgers) come in and have time to learn and develop like he did. Not everybody has that ability.”

Which quarterbacks fit every category, tangible and intangible? In this year’s draft class, it looks as though there is only one. But there are four more who hit the vast majority of categories, and all are considered early-round selections.

You won’t see Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. on this list because he’s not the on-the-run playmaker whom other Ron Wolf-tree types have invested in previously. Spencer Rattler of South Carolina isn’t big enough to be considered a “prototype” here, and Tennessee’s Joe Milton isn’t accurate enough.

Here are the five who best fit the profile and — for the purposes of this year’s exercise, at least — will be considered our Prototypical Patriots quarterbacks…

Drake Maye, UNC (6-foot-4, 223 pounds)

While we don’t yet have athletic testing numbers for Maye, who didn’t fully participate at the NFL Scouting Combine, he’s the lone player in this year’s class to check every other box established above.

Size. Arm. Athleticism. He’s 21 years old, and his hands come in at exactly 9 1/8 inches. Maye “won” the interview process during the combine, and he’s believed to have a high football IQ, per league evaluators.

He went 17-10 over two years as a starter at North Carolina so he has a winning record, but it’d be interesting to hear whether or not Wolf — or any others from the Ron Wolf tree — would consider him a “winner.”

Of the eight first- and second-round quarterbacks we’re considering from the Ron Wolf tree, the player Maye most resembles is Love. He won’t have the opportunity to sit the way that Love sat, in all likelihood, since the Patriots don’t have an MVP at the position already sitting there on the roster. But if he can learn on the fly to clean up some of the poor decisions he made in college, and if the Patriots can improve the situation around him in short order, he looks like the kind of player who could take off and become a top-10 player at the position given his physical skill set.

He also looks like the kind of player Eliot Wolf would be into.

J.J. McCarthy, Michigan (6-foot-3, 219 pounds)

McCarthy’s 9-inch hands — just one eighth of an inch shorter than what the Packers-connected general managers have drafted in the first two rounds — are the only things slotting him below Maye on this list. Otherwise? He’s big enough, and he’s certainly athletic enough with plenty of arm strength.

He had an almost 80 percent accuracy rate when throwing outside the pocket for the Wolverines last season. Like Maye, he’s 21 years old. Unlike Maye, he has a completely lopsided win-loss record — he was 28-1 over two years at Michigan — that one would think would have to qualify him as the kind of “winner” Eliot Wolf is looking for.

Of the eight quarterbacks listed above, McCarthy might be most closely compared to Alex Smith, who was McCloughan’s first overall pick back in 2005 for the 49ers. Smith was athletic, efficient, and viewed as a high-character, team-first guy. He never became the kind of player that his draft classmate Rodgers became, but he was well-regarded as the top quarterback in that year’s class leading up to draft day.

McCarthy isn’t viewed the same way. He’s making a late charge up the board. But there’s plenty to like about him, including his backstory as someone who has openly dealt with depression and how he’s tried to manage it, and it would come as little surprise if Eliot Wolf liked him enough to take him early in the first round.

Daniels was at the combine and took part in the interview process, but he didn’t weigh in, so we’re not entirely sure what his measurements will be prior to being drafted. He’s very obviously a thinly-framed quarterback, though, and in all likelihood he’s going to fall short of the 214-pound mark established by Carr when he was a second-round pick of McKenzie’s back in 2014.

Otherwise? Daniels might not have the strongest arm in the class, but he has enough. He’s a winner, having gone 38-19 as a starter at Arizona State and LSU. His mechanics seem to be tight, he throws with anticipation — to use a word used by Eliot Wolf when describing what he liked in Mayfield prior to the 2018 draft — and his speed is next level.

It’d be interesting to know if Wolf, when looking back at the 2018 class that included both Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, would look back at his favorite quarterback (Mayfield) and wonder if he shouldn’t have preferred guys with more physical talent (Allen, Jackson).

Daniels isn’t Jackson in terms of his athleticism, but he’s in the same zip code, and if he’s available at No. 3 overall, he’d be an easy choice. No matter how much he weighs.

The Patriots probably won’t have the ability to draft the consensus No. 1 overall pick in this year’s class. But he fits the bill as a “prototype” for this exercise.

When it comes to the physical talent Ron Wolf-tree execs are looking for, Williams has it in spades. There’s some Favre and Rodgers to his game with his ability to throw off platform and squeeze passes into tight windows with his big-time-talent-laden right arm.

Williams doesn’t hit the 6-foot-2 mark (he checks in just below), and he’s built a bit more like Mayfield — an outlier for early-drafted Wolf types size-wise. And there are questions about his ability to lead, which might turn Eliot Wolf or others from the Packer Way off to his potential as the next on-field CEO of a franchise.

But there’s no doubting his physical talent and his ability to manipulate the football. He also went 25-10 as a starter at Oklahoma and then USC.

Bo Nix, Oregon (6-foot-2, 214 pounds)

Nix bumps right up against the physical thresholds when it comes to his measurables, though his 10 1/8-inch hands are more than big enough when compared against the eight Wolf-tree passers who cost first or second-round picks. Nix has also won quite a bit, coming up with a record of 43-18 over his five years as a starter for both Auburn and Oregon.

The only marker that Nix doesn’t really reach for the purposes of this exercise? His age. He’s 23 years old. But that shouldn’t be a disqualifier, since Mayfield was the same age when Dorsey and Eliot Wolf took him first overall six years ago.

Nix is athletic enough to be able to throw on the move and create with his legs if he has to. And while his arm isn’t as electric as that of some others in this class, he has a snappy release and the natural talent to be able to strike on the move.

Sounds like the kind of player the Patriots could invest in if they believe trading out of the No. 3 overall selection is what’s best for them, instead taking a chance on Nix later in the first round or on Day 2.