FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Trade up? Trade down? Stay put? Depending on which media report you wanted to believe, the Patriots were prepared to do any of those things heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. Ultimately, only one could happen, of course, and in the end, New England didn't have to do anything but stay right where they were to make an intriguing selection.
Early in the pre-draft process, numerous mock draft prognosticators had the Patriots choosing Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, fresh off a college football national championship with the Crimson Tide. Originally thought to be perhaps a second-round selection, Jones' pre-draft workouts saw him skyrocket up many observers lists.
Lately, the rumor mill had Jones going as high as the third overall pick, but when he was still available when New England went on the clock at 15, the Patriots couldn't pass on one of this year's premier passers.
"Staying at 15 seemed like the best thing for us to do," head coach Bill Belichick told reporters later, "and it worked out fine for us… Mac was available there. Felt like that was the best pick at that time for us. Look forward to working with him."
Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels attended one of Jones' workouts earlier this offseason and had a number of meetings with the prospect via video conference. Shortly after being chosen by New England, Jones remarked to reporters that those interactions with his new coaches made him want to be drafted by New England even before the Patriots eventually called his name.
"They did a great job, first of all, figuring out what type of person I am," he explained, "by just learning my background, which is what a lot of people do, but it felt more personable with the Patriots. It was a really great experience, going through the whole draft process. From this point forward, now that I'm on the team, I'm looking forward to learning, coming in and doing what I did at Alabama – just work hard and go from there."
Belichick also met remotely with reporters following Round 1 and, despite taking Jones, insisted that incumbent Cam Newton remains New England's starting quarterback until further notice.
"Somebody has to play better than he does…. We'll see. We've got a lot of work to do," the head coach added. "It's a big challenge, a long road, a big grind, but that's what we all signed up for… I know [Mac]'s looking forward to it."
When asked about the lofty expectations that accompany any first-round pick, Jones sang the praises of the men ahead of him on the Patriots depth chart right now, while maintaining he's only just concerned about coming to Foxborough and working hard to learn his role, whatever that winds up being.
"I'm very accurate with the football, and I'm a great teammate, a great leader," Jones said of his own skill set, "but at the end of the day, I'm on a new team and I kind of have to figure out what I'm good at and what I'm bad at and just work on it… Whatever I did in the past doesn't really matter. I just have to come in and work hard and hopefully good things will happen. The past is the past and the future is the future."
In the immediate future, the draft resumes with Rounds 2 and 3 Friday night at 7 Eastern. New England currently owns two selections, one in each round.