The 2021 NFL Draft scenario that makes the sports world outside of New England roll its collective eyes can't be ruled out because, technically, nothing about the 2021 NFL Draft can be ruled out a full year ahead of time.
But at least one report suggests the idea of the Patriots landing what most believe is a can't-miss quarterback prospect in Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, one year after losing Tom Brady to the Buccaneers, is a thought worth taking seriously.
New England notably did not draft a quarterback in 2020, leaving the Patriots with Jarrett Stidham and his four career pass attempts as their default starter and Brian Hoyer as his presumed backup. They also added Brian Lewerke and J'Mar Smith as undrafted free agents. Anybody wondering what New England is doing at quarterback, an inquiry raised by SN's Mike DeCourcy during this year's draft, is asking a damn good question — one CBS' Jason La Canfora addressed Monday morning.
"There are plenty of people who believe (Patriots coach/general manager Bill) Belichick is willing to take his lumps in 2020," La Canfora reported on the topic of the Patriots' outlook for the upcoming season.
To be clear, those lumps will be necessary for New England to land Lawrence. Barring an unforeseen development related to the Clemson passer between now and the 2021 NFL Draft — like Joe Burrow jumping Tua Tagovailoa as the 2020 NFL Draft's top QB prospect due in part to the former's historic season and the latter's injury, for example — Lawrence will be the No. 1 prize in next year's selection process. Which makes the No. 1 overall pick that much more valuable.
While it's reasonable to anticipate a Patriots slide down the standings in the context of Brady's departure, a ton of roster overhaul and an increasingly competitive AFC East, their falling all the way to the bottom of the NFL and landing the No. 1 pick by default would be a bigger upset than any game result during the dynasty's 20-year run. But La Canfora raises an important point: This scenario is as much about other teams' needs as it is about New England's draft position.
As of now, the Patriots could be considered the most QB-needy team in the NFL.
In our way-too-early mock draft for 2021, the Jaguars land the No. 1 overall pick and select Lawrence. But what if Gardner Minshew has a big enough year to keep Jacksonville out of the market for a quarterback?
The Bengals, projected to land the No. 3 pick in 2021, are now set with Burrow. The Dolphins, projected to land No. 4, are set with Tagovailoa. Barring career-threatening injuries to either passer, Cincinnati and Miami won't want Lawrence. If Justin Herbert pans out, neither will the Chargers. So in the wake of the 2020 NFL Draft, as free-agent Cam Newton can verify, every team is now set with at least a serviceable starting quarterback.
Of course, that can and will change.
La Canfora mentions the Steelers and Colts, teams with aging passers in Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers who might not stick beyond 2020, as a couple that could look to select a quarterback like Lawrence in 2021. We'll add for consideration the Redskins, depending on the performance of Dwayne Haskins in 2020, and the Panthers, depending on the performance of Teddy Bridgewater.
The Lions could decide 2021 is a reasonable time to acquire Matthew Stafford's successor. The Raiders could consider themselves better off without Derek Carr and/or Marcus Mariota. The Broncos' Drew Lock experiment could fail. The Falcons could start thinking about life after Matt Ryan. The Bears could collapse in an ugly cloud of Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles. The Browns' hand could be forced by another season of decline from Baker Mayfield.
So, yeah, the Patriots' path to Lawrence is complicated and crowded. Belichick will have to take some serious lumps to turn this scenario into a reality.