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Research shows Patriots are better off drafting best non-QB at No. 3

Research shows Patriots are better off drafting best non-QB at No. 3 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Patriots won't have their choice of quarterback in this year's draft, not with USC's Caleb Williams and UNC's Drake Maye projected to go 1-2 overall.

But selecting third, they'll have their pick of everybody else. And that's not a bad place to be.

If the last 25 drafts have taught us anything, in fact, it's that that the first non-quarterback taken can end up being the safest and surest pick, with tons of Pro Bowlers and two Hall of Famers (and counting) among their ranks.

Those who believe New England's rebuild would be better served by taking the best player available instead of gambling on the No. 3 QB have recent history on their side.

The pressure not to bypass a franchise quarterback is immense, but QBs taken third overall since 1999 include Trey Lance, Sam Darnold, Blake Bortles, Joey Harrington, and Akili Smith (and BC's Matt Ryan, to be fair). Needless to say, if the 49ers, Jets, Jaguars, Lions, and Bengals could respectively do it again, they'd pick someone else – and not a QB.

Over the last 25 drafts, the first non-quarterbacks taken have combined to make 66 Pro Bowls. All but eight have made at least one, and that doesn't include Texans defensive end Will Anderson, this year's third overall pick, who just recorded seven sacks and is a favorite for defensive Rookie of the Year.

The list is a Who's Who of superstars, especially on defense, where the likes of Nick Bosa (2nd, 49ers, 2019), Myles Garrett (1st, Browns, 2018), Joey Bosa (3rd, Chargers, 2016), Von Miller (2nd, Broncos, 2011), Ndamukong Suh (2nd, Lions, 2010), and Julius Peppers (2nd, Panthers, 2002) have been wreaking havoc in opposing backfields for years.

The offensive results are a little spottier, but that's partly because we've removed QBs from the equation. Even still, Hall of Famer receiver Calvin Johnson (2nd, Lions, 2007) and running back Edgerrin James (4th, Colts, 1999) were the first non-QBs off the board in their respective drafts, and recent years have also given us monstrous tight end Kyle Pitts of the Falcons (4th, 2021), yardage machine Saquon Barkley of the Giants (2nd, 2018), and four-time Pro Bowl tackle Jake Long of the Dolphins (1st, 2008), who'd be remembered more fondly if he hadn't gone before Ryan.

There are busts, but they're harder to find, and they've become less frequent over the last decade. Two of the lousier picks were Rams tackle Jason Smith, taken second overall in 2009, and Browns running back Trent Richardson, who went third three years later. But by and large, even weaker picks like Chiefs tackle Eric Fisher (No. 1, 2013, two Pro Bowls) and Jags linebacker Dante Fowler (3rd, 2015, 45 sacks) have shown some measure of usefulness.

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If Williams and Maye go 1-2 to the Bears and Commanders, respectively, then the next QB on most lists is LSU's explosive Heisman Trophy winner, Jayden Daniels. The Pats certainly could gamble that he's the next Lamar Jackson, but his game-breaking 4.4-second-40 speed is offset by a slender 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame, with a penchant for absorbing big hits rather than protecting himself via slide.

Is he really going to have a better career than Ohio State wideout Marvin Harrison Jr., a home run threat who totaled nearly 2,500 yards and 28 touchdowns over the past two seasons and has drawn comparisons to Randy Moss? It feels unlikely.

Chasing the next franchise quarterback based on some combination of hope that he's great and fear of missing out on that potential greatness is a recipe for extended mediocrity, as well as drafting another quarterback in three years. Just look at the Bears, who used the No. 11 pick on Justin Fields in 2021 and are already seeking to replace him.

Had they bypassed Fields, Pro Bowl linebacker Micah Parsons went to the Cowboys with the very next pick, and he has since established himself as one of the league's most dynamic defenders.

After watching Mac Jones regress for three years, it's understandable if Patriots fans want to solve the organization's quarterback problem in one draft. But ownership might be better served charting a different course, because with their pick of everybody else, they're guaranteed a shot at a future superstar, if they can just find him.