Is the Heir to Tom Brady in the 2019 NFL Draft?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistApril 15, 2019

Tom Brady (12) de los Patriots de Nueva Inglaterra festeja tras un touchdown ante los Rams de Los Ángeles durante la segunda mitad del Super Bowl, el domingo 3 de febrero de 2019, en Atlanta. (AP Foto/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

At first, way back when Tom Brady was still a member of that coveted "18-to-34" demographic, it was the big-armed Ryan Mallett—the New England Patriots' highest-drafted quarterback since they took Drew Bledsoe first overall in 1993. 

The 2011 third-round selection was supposed to have a chance to eventually succeed Brady under center in Foxborough. 

Then, once it became apparent Mallett was a bad decision machine with a blind spot for broad sides of barns and a scrambling ability that made even Brady look like Steve Young, it was Jimmy Garoppolo. 

Picked 12 spots higher than Mallett three years later, Garoppolo was widely viewed as the heir apparent on New England's QB depth chart.

And if it wasn't Garoppolo, it had to be 2016 third-round pick Jacoby Brissett.

But then it became apparent Brady wasn't joking about playing into his mid-40s, and when the Patriots realized their indestructible franchise quarterback had placed Father Time in a firm headlock in 2017, they traded both Garoppolo and Brissett in a span of nine weeks. 

John Raoux/Associated Press

And so here we are again, wondering who might one day relieve Tom Brady. The Patriots' draft history indicates not even they know when exactly the 19-year veteran will walk away. And though Brady has consistently insisted that he doesn't plan on leaving the game any time soon, he's neither immortal nor bionic. 

Even Tom Terrific lacks full control over his football destiny, and Mrs. Brady could eventually persuade her hubby to make a move before destiny does so on his behalf. 

With that in mind and only the 33-year-old Brian Hoyer and second-year seventh-round pick Danny Etling supporting Brady in the New England quarterback room, the Patriots are unsurprisingly kicking the tires on signal-callers from the 2019 draft class. 

Per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the team met last week with Duke product Daniel Jones and West Virginia's Will Grier, both of whom are expected to be first- or second-round picks in this month's draft. 

If the Pats are going to use a first-round selection on a quarterback for the first time in a quarter-century, this could be the year. This class contains a handful of solid quarterback prospects, including Jones, Grier, Oklahoma's Kyler Murray, Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins and Missouri's Drew Lock, but it isn't considered to be as strong as the top tier from the 2018 draft. 

Will Grier (pictured) met with the Patriots last week.
Will Grier (pictured) met with the Patriots last week.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

And because 11 signal-callers were selected in the first round of the last three drafts combined, fewer teams than ever are starved for franchise quarterbacks. That should give New England a shot at a member of that top tier late in the first round or even early in the second round. And with six selections in the first three rounds, the Patriots have the draft capital to move up the board for somebody they believe in. 

The question is whether they'll be convinced to believe in Jones or Grier, or even Lock or Haskins (ESPN's Todd McShay suggested recently that the latter could slide). 

You'd think Bill Belichick would prefer Jones over Grier. The former appears to be better-suited for New England's offensive approach because he gets the ball out quickly and accurately in shallow areas. That's sort of become Brady's thing. He's not an elite downfield passer, but neither is Brady at this point. And most importantly, he's pretty disciplined and careful for a quarterback who probably remains a bit of a project. 

That last part could be key. Jones will need time to develop his ability to work through progressions. Some teams either aren't patient or smart enough to embrace that, but the Patriots know a thing or two about player development and are in no rush to replace Brady. 

Grier, on the other hand, might be too wild for Belichick's taste, and he has a long way to go mechanically for a quarterback who will likely require a top-50 pick. So while Jones might be worth a late first-round trade-up for New England, Grier might only be a viable candidate if he slides deep into Round 2. 

While the ceiling is much higher for both Lock and Haskins, both quarterbacks possess enough red flags that New England won't likely break from character and trade way up for either. Lock's decision-making and accuracy could be problematic in a place like New England. Haskins is a one-year starter with flawed mechanics (although his skill set would probably make him the the highest-ranked quarterback on New England's board, excluding Murray). 

Of course, it's also possible New England will hold out and spend less draft capital on a middle-to-late-round pick like North Carolina State's Ryan Finley, Auburn's Jarrett Stidham, Northwestern's Clayton Thorson or Boise State's Brett Rypien.

Brett Rypien is an intriguing potential Patriots draft pick.
Brett Rypien is an intriguing potential Patriots draft pick.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

They might figure they can find their next quarterback as far down the draft board as they found Brady, even if that's hubris getting the best of them. 

If they're wrong, at least the price tag is low. Besides, they don't need a quarterback immediately, and next year's QB class should be stacked. 

To boot, some of those low-risk, third-tier quarterbacks are pretty intriguing.

Finley and Rypien, for instance, are the only two quarterbacks in this class who meet all seven of Bill Parcells' rules for drafting a quarterback. Garoppolo also met all of that criteria in 2014, and Brissett received an endorsement from Parcells himself in 2016, despite not matching the criteria. 

Rypien would seem like a tremendous middle- or late-round fit. He possesses similar traits to those of Jones and is a four-year starter with field-general tendencies. 

Expect the Patriots to at least swing the bat on a potential successor for Brady, but don't expect them to fall in love with one guy in one spot. 

As Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio noted after the Pats took Etling last year, "There's no template like, 'Well, we're going to take one here, we're going to take one there.'"

Ultimately, it might all be moot anyway. In a recent interview with Deadspin's Amos Barshad, Brady's personal trainer, Alex Guerrero, wouldn't rule out the possibility of the league's oldest position player sticking around until he's 50. 

How many more heirs apparent will he have between now and then? 


Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.