NFL team visits with draft prospects came to an end this week with a bit of a shocker.
Kentucky quarterback Will Levis taking an official visit on Wednesday with the New England Patriots.
At first blush, it is a puzzling meeting to contemplate. Levis is commonly discussed as one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft, and according to up-to-the-minute odds from DraftKings, the Over/Under on his draft position next week is set at 6.5.
The Patriots pick 14th in the first round and have third-year quarterback Mac Jones entrenched as their starting quarterback.
Yet with just over a week before the draft begins, the two parties are taking a meeting.
This opens the door to the question: Could quarterback be in play for the Patriots in the first round next week?
According to reporting regarding the visit, the meeting was described as one of “due diligence” by the Patriots. With New England sitting 14th in the first round, there is a scenario — however likely or unlikely remains to be seen — where the Patriots are faced with Levis remaining on the board when New England is on the clock. Having a meeting with Levis puts them in a position to better gauge any potential trade offers that might come in for that pick (and the rights to draft Levis) from teams such as the Minnesota Vikings.
And we all know Bill Belichick’s penchant for trading down in the first round, if not out of the first round completely.
However, in recent weeks and days I have begun to believe that the Patriots might actually be in the mix for a quarterback with that selection, should one be available, and here is why.
It starts back in Indianapolis, and a room at the Indianapolis Convention Center on a Friday morning in March. It was the morning where the quarterbacks were schedule to meet with the media before their workouts on Saturday, and the most popular place to be in Indianapolis at 7:30 a.m. that morning (besides the Starbucks in the J.W. Marriott) was at the podium where Bryce Young would be speaking.
As I settled in among the media members waiting for the Alabama quarterback I began to notice something.
Lots of Patriots beat writers.
I asked a few of my friends in the industry why there were waiting for Young — and if there was something I needed to know about — and I was told that they were all hoping to ask the Alabama quarterback questions about Bill O’Brien, who had recently been hired as the new offensive coordinator in New England. Fair enough.
Yet…when C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson, and other quarterbacks had their media sessions, they remained.
One of the more interesting aspects of the Combine, in addition to hearing from the players themselves, is seeing where the beat writers for each team set up each day, and what position groups they want to hear from. That is a great way to learn about how the teams themselves — through the reporters who have the most inside knowledge — view their rosters, and their needs.
So seeing a lot of New England beat writers in front of quarterbacks certainly caught my attention.
Then there is a discussion I had this week with my friend Michael D’Abate, the host of Locked on Patriots. We talked at length on his podcast about the quarterback position in New England, the hiring of O’Brien, and what it might all mean for Jones.
But Michael reminded me of what Belichick said when the team drafted Jimmy Garoppolo. Despite having Tom Brady in the fold, the Patriots went early on a quarterback. At the time Belichick had this to say: “We know what Tom’s age and contract situation is. I don’t think you want to have one quarterback on your team. I don’t think that’s responsible to the entire team or the organization.”
He also said this: “The situation we have at quarterback, we felt as an organization that we needed to address that to some degree in the future,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. “See how that all works. I think you’re better being early rather than late at that position.”
Sure, back in 2014 the future of the quarterback position involved potentially replacing Brady at the end of his career. Things are different right now in New England. The Patriots are hoping that Jones can live up to the expectations that were in place when the organization drafted him in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
But given the idea of “being early rather than late at that position,” is there a world where, in perhaps the ultimate hedge on Jones, the Patriots actually draft a quarterback in the first round?
Ultimately, I believe the Patriots go in a different direction, and look to help Jones rather than find a replacement for him. Adding O’Brien was viewed as a nod at getting the best out of their rising third-year quarterback, who showed signs as a rookie that he could be a very good NFL QB as he helped the Patriots to their first playoff appearance since the departure of Brady. That leads me to believe that when the Patriots are on the clock next Thursday — whether at 14 or elsewhere in the first round — positions such as offensive tackle and wide receiver are in play on the offensive side of the football.
But this is an organization that has gone off-script before, and even during the Brady years they continually added at the quarterback position.
And if there is any believe inside the building — and let’s not forget there has been much written and said this spring about supposed friction between Jones and Belichick — then the idea of how it is better to be early at finding the next QB could lead New England down a rather surprising path.
If I had to place a bet on what the Patriots do in that spot, then either OT or WR would be the bet.
Now ask me if I am going to place that bet, and you might get a much different answer.
Because I have been wrong about what the Patriots have done in the draft many, many times before.
And while I do not think QB is in play for them in the first round, there is a chance I could be wrong again. Slim, but still a chance.