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Patriots need to study their history; a top-3 QB won’t be a savior

Patriots need to study their history; a top-3 QB won’t be a savior originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Hello, Bad Team With a Top-5 Pick in the NFL Draft.

A note of caution. Unless the quarterback you’re selecting has the last name “Manning,” you’re not taking a player who will bring you a championship.

Since 1998, 36 quarterbacks have been drafted in the top five. Only Peyton (1999, No. 1) and Eli (2004, No. 1) won Super Bowls with the team that drafted them.

Only seven — the Mannings, Joe Burrow, Jared Goff, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan and Donovan McNabb — have even gotten to the Super Bowl with their original team,.(Matthew Stafford went and won with the Rams after being traded by the Lions.) And only two players of the 36 quarterbacks selected even won a conference championship if they weren’t the No. 1 overall pick: Ryan (2008, No. 3) and McNabb (1999, No. 2).

To put an even finer point on it, one guy since the turn of the century has been drafted in the top five and won a Super Bowl (Eli). One guy taken in the top five who wasn’t the No. 1 overall pick has even made it to the Super Bowl (Ryan).

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I don’t know if that proves anything relative to this year’s draft, where Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye and J.J. McCarthy all might go in the top five. But what it indicates is that – aside from the presumed No. 1 overall pick Williams – the other three have a snowball’s chance in hell of even getting their sad-sack team to a Super Bowl.

Is there another position to take in the top five that makes it more likely to win a title? Not really. Teams in the top five stink. When you’re that bad, no single guy on a 53-man roster is going to wander in and be your savior. This isn’t the NBA.

You won’t get better until the team gets better. And the team won’t get better until it gets the right combination of talent, coaching, development, scheme, luck, chemistry and purpose. It’s all situation, and a very, very talented quarterback isn’t going to single-handedly improve the situation. To generalize, the 36 quarterbacks taken in the top five stunk a lot less than the situations they were drafted into.

The quarterback can – individually – be really good. Even great. But he will almost never improve the situation enough to give you the ultimate payoff. And in a region where the team has realized the ultimate payoff six times, that seems to be the expectation.

That the Patriots need to find the guy at the top of the draft who will deliver them back to the Super Bowl every other year and win a few. Not to get back to .500. Not to become a playoff team or rejoin the elite.

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There’s a notion the Patriots are sitting pretty at No. 3 and only an idiot would back away from that lottery ticket.

Sorry. Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks don’t live in the top three of the draft.

In fact, the Patriots have a much better shot at winning a Super Bowl with a guy taken outside of the top five than inside.

Let’s just list ‘em: Roethlisberger. Rodgers. Wilson. Flacco. Brady. Mahomes. Brees. Foles, fer crissake. All taken outside of the top five, some not even in the first round. Simply getting to the Super Bowl? Outside the top five has as good a chance as all those top-3 picks as evidenced by the lineup of Purdy, Hurts, Garoppolo, Delhomme, and Kaepernick. Throw in Rex friggin’ Grossman for the hell of it.

But all those guys had good teams!! Sam Darnold, Sam Bradford, Baker Mayfield, JaMarcus Russell, all those guys … you can’t use them as examples!!

Yes. Yes, you can. Because the “Well, that was a bad team, what do you expect” defense doesn’t fly. Good – or even pretty great – quarterbacks can only do so much if the team around them is poorly coached, poorly staffed or both.

Look at the current NFL hierarchy. The best teams don’t have top-5 draft picks. And the quarterbacks who’ve played the best, generally, are not top-five picks.

I did a deep dive on the quarterbacks taken with the first 50 picks since 2017 and threw in some strays. I looked at 32 of them and compared their Approximate Value (AV) as given by the site Pro Football ReferenceAV isn’t foolproof. Neither is QBR or QB Rating. But it does give what I’ve found to be a really reliable read on how effective a player was in a given season.

Here’s how the quarterbacks taken since 2017 stack up in average AV.

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OK, why is Joe Burrow barely ahead of Justin Fields? Games played. In two different seasons, Burrow’s played just 10 games because of injury. Availability is a factor.

Notice, the best teams in the league don’t have top-5 draft picks. Even the Bills, who took Josh Allen seventh in 2018, were a playoff team they year before he was drafted.

Four of the top five – Jackson, Allen, Mahomes and Hurts – went to good and/or stable teams. The other – Justin Herbert – had an offense stocked with talented skill position players like Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.

The bottom portion of the top 10 is 6-6 in the playoffs. Five of the wins are from Burrow.

Here’s the next tier.

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Everybody in there has some kind of reason for not playing to his draft status. In hindsight, maybe some were over-drafted. Or – OR – their franchise was too effed up to give them the proper structure and support.

Here’s the rest.

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So, please note. Six of the top 16 are taken 11 or later. Six top-5 picks are between 19-32. Four top-5 picks are in Top 10. Four top-5 picks are in the final tier. Three guys taken 32 or later are in the top tier.

What’s all this tell us? That nothing – not arm strength, intangibles, studiousness, size or dual-threat capability – matters more than situation. Which, on one hand, seems self-evident. Quarterbacks who go to good teams succeed at a higher rate than quarterbacks who go to bad teams.

On the other, it seems to me that teams are missing the point. Which is, if you’re really bad, you’re better off improving the vital, non-QB parts of the roster (offensive line, wide receiver, corner, edge rusher) than you are being wowed because some guy fits the suit.

The Patriots sit at No. 3. It seems like Drake Maye will be on the board when the Patriots pick. So will J.J. McCarthy. Does that mean either of them are destined to be, say, Blake Bortles (No. 3, Jacksonville in 2014) because they happen to sit in the same draft spot?

Of course not. This is less about Maye and McCarthy than it is about the Patriots. After whiffing on wideout and left tackle in free agency, they are still – on paper – the worst offense in the league. They have a new offensive coordinator, a new offensive line coach, a journeyman starting quarterback, a tight end coming off an ACL injury and wideouts who would mostly be hard-pressed to start for any other team in the league.

The draft is stocked, stinking to high heaven, packed to the gills and lousy with offensive tackles and wide receivers.

The Patriots can stay put at three and take their Bortles/Darnold/Trubisky or (if they are lucky) Herbert. Or they can trade down, add first-rounders to spend on OT and wideout, have more picks to ensure first-round mobility next year and ride with Jacoby Brissett and whatever else falls off the journeyman quarterback tree this year.

It’s inadvisable to draft a project quarterback onto a team in disarray. And the Patriots have been that since January of 2022. If they take a quarterback at No. 3, he won’t fix them. But the chance exists, they could break him.

It’s not a matter of softness. It’s a matter of confidence. Both self-confidence and the belief of his coaching staff and teammates. Mac Jones lost his coaches’ confidence first, it seemed. Then he lost his. Then he lost his teammates’. Now he’s gone.

Life would be easier for de facto GM Eliot Wolf if he just took the quarterback. Maye was billed as 1A to Caleb Williams’ 1 since last summer. It’s the most important position in the sport. Maye’s good. Everyone thinks so. Pull the trigger. Simple.

The hard thing to do is trade down. To go against “conventional wisdom.” To do all the work and say, “Nah. Not good enough. We can do better.” To trust your scouting staff to find the wideout and the tackle and the coaching staff to develop who you give them.

It’s easy to take the quarterback and then, when he comes undone, to just shrug and say, “What was I supposed to do? He didn’t have it. We had to take the shot.”

Did you really, though? Didn’t you ever look at what the returns were for everyone not named Manning who got taken in the top three?