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Joe Milton Had 'Too Much Talent' for the Patriots to Pass Up on Rocket-Armed Quarterback in the Sixth Round

After selecting Drake Maye third overall, the Patriots double-dipped at quarterback by selecting the big-armed Milton in the sixth round. 

Patriots sixth-round pick quarterback Joe Milton III.
Patriots sixth-round pick quarterback Joe Milton III.

Two rules of thumb in scouting explain why the Patriots picked a second quarterback after selecting Drake Maye third overall in the 2024 NFL Draft.

First, NFL teams can never go wrong by taking a swing on a talented quarterback. It's the most important position in the sport and often the hardest to find a viable starter. Then, there's the old scouting theory that, on day three, a player needs a standout trait to make him a worthwhile lottery ticket that late in the draft. If there isn't a singular trait that separates him from others at pick No. 193, then what are the odds he turns into a useful NFL player?

For Executive Vice President of Player Personnel Eliot Wolf, sixth-round draft choice Joe Milton had "too much talent in him" to pass when he was still on the board at pick No. 193. In his appearance on The Adam Schefter Podcast, Wolf explained why the team double-dipped at quarterback, with New England's top personnel executive taking a late-round flier on Milton.

"Just watching him throw the football is unbelievable," Wolf said. "6-5, 245 pounds, he's got a rocket for an arm, he's athletic. He played in [Josh] Heupel's offense there, which is not an NFL offense. But we feel like there are some things there that we can work with and develop."

"It was one of those picks where there was too much talent in him to pass that up," Wolf explained.

Although Wolf and head coach Jerod Mayo's careers are tied to Maye's success or failure, every talent evaluator and coach who sees Joe Milton throw a football is intrigued. Speaking to Patriots.com over the last week, Tennessee offensive coordinator Joey Halzle and Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy had similar stances on Milton's talent as Wolf.

"The same thing that popped off the tape to everybody. It's 'woah' when you see that kid let go of a football," Halzle said.

"He's got things you can't coach. You certainly can't coach Joe's arm strength. It's rare. The words rare and elite get thrown around too much. But he truly has a rare arm," Nagy explained. "I'll say this for Pats fans: you haven't seen an arm up there like this since probably Rohan Davey. He will be must-see entertainment during training camp. You're gonna want to get out there and watch this guy launch it. It's a lot of fun."

As we look back at Milton's lengthy football journey that spanned six collegiate seasons, how he fits in the Patriots future is murky with Maye as the projected franchise quarterback. However, Milton's arm strength is so tantalizing that it made him a worthwhile pick for New England.

Like everything for Milton since he first stepped foot on Michigan's campus as a four-star recruit in 2018, anything is possible for the rocket-armed quarterback.

First Stop, Michigan: "They Got This Huge Rocket Arm Guy Coming In, and They Were All Excited."

The legend of Milton's rocket arm began back at Olympia High School in Orlando, Florida, where Milton was a four-star recruit with offers from several big-time football programs.

At the time, Milton was being recruited as a football and basketball star, with Rivals.com ranking him as the 11th-best dual-threat quarterback in the 2018 recruiting class. Milton was in the same recruiting class as Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, who are now entering their fourth NFL seasons, putting Milton's long road to the NFL into perspective.

Still, there was legitimate excitement for Milton in Ann Arbor as one of the most toolsy quarterbacks to come through the Michigan program in years.

"I've been following Joe for a long time because he started his career at Michigan, which is where I went to school. I remember way back when the Michigan personnel guys were calling me, telling me they got this huge rocket arm guy coming in, and they were all excited about it. That seems like a while ago now," Nagy recalled.

For three seasons, Milton competed for a starting role at Michigan. Milton appeared in four games as a true freshman and was the co-recipient of the team's Scout Team Player of the Year Award on the offense. However, as he waited his turn behind Shea Patterson, it wasn't until his junior season that Milton made his first career start against Minnesota, throwing for 225 yards and rushing for another 58 yards, with two total touchdowns in a 49-24 victory.

Milton would start in five games during Michigan's COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, where the team went a disappointing 2-4 in a six-game season. Then, after inconsistent play, Milton entered the transfer portal in search of a more secure starting job. In 2021, Michigan started Cade McNamara for the majority of their games at quarterback. Eventually, first-round pick J.J. McCarthy took over in the 2022 season.

"If you just look at his track record, he's been around a lot of good coaches. He's been around some other good quarterbacks. He's been in a lot of different systems. He's learned a lot. He's got things you can't coach," Nagy continued. "Coaches look at these guys a little differently than scouts do. And usually, they look for things they can't coach. You certainly can't coach Joe's arm strength."

Milton had the opportunity to become an entrenched starter, but he couldn't grab hold of the job in Jim Harbaugh's power football system, so transferring became his best option.

What Drew Tennessee to Milton as a Highly-Touted Transfer?

After a disappointing stint at Michigan, head coach Josh Heupel was taking over the program in Tennessee, and Heupel and his staff were searching for quarterbacks in the transfer portal.

In a phone interview with Patriots.com, Vols offensive coordinator Joey Halzle reflected on the process that brought Milton to Knoxville and what drew the staff to the big-armed QB. Milton was the third-ranked transfer quarterback behind Will Levis and T.J. Finley, so he had suitors.

As college football headed into the 2021 season, the coaches were still under COVID protocols that limited their access to players who were either transferring or being recruited from high school. Due to the pandemic, Milton was a junior with three more years of eligibility.

"When we first started looking for a portal quarterback in year one, you just started running through the film. You hear guys popping up on Twitter and then start looking at them," Halzle began.

"One of our guys pulled the tape, and he was like, hey, you should probably check this guy out. You watch the first couple of throws, and you're like, I mean, the same thing I think pops off the tape to everybody. It's 'woah' when you see that kid let go of a football," Halzle continued. "That started the process, alright, well, this guy clearly has all the physical tools to be successful."

Although the arm talent initially drew Tennessee to Milton, Halzle explained that the young quarterback also blew him away with his football acumen once they began vetting Milton.

"One of the most impressive things was because it was still COVID, so I couldn't do an in-home visit. He couldn't come here on an official visit, so we did a Zoom visit and had to do the board work that you would on visits to see how a guy retains and does all that stuff. He crushed it."

"He went in there, he could spout off every rule, every verbiage from that offense that he was in. What his responsibilities were, and then we started talking about our stuff," Halzle said. "This guy understands what it takes to actually grasp an offense."

Milton transferred to Tennessee for the 2021 season, where he was the projected starter. However, he hit another bump in the road.

Hendon Hooker Takes Milton's Starting Job After Ankle Injury at Tennessee

Coming out of fall camp, Milton was named Tennessee's starting quarterback for the 2021 season, as many had anticipated when he transferred to Knoxville from Michigan.

The Vols also brought in Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker to compete at quarterback against Milton. Milton won the job out of camp and started the first two games, leading the Vols to a 1-1 record. Unfortunately, Milton exited the second game with an ankle injury. Hooker took over and never relinquished the starting job as he took the Vols on a historic run.

"He won the job at Michigan, gets injured, loses the job. He comes here, wins the job, gets injured, loses the job. Not only did he not transfer. He wasn't a distraction. He became one of our team leaders as a backup quarterback along with Hendon [Hooker]. He and Hendon became best friends. As far as who he is in the locker room, he's the guy in the locker room all the guys are going to really like. He's got a magnetic personality," Halzle said.

Along those same lines, Nagy told a similar story about Milton being awarded the "Good Guy" award at last year's Senior Bowl. The award is given to a Senior Bowler who is a great guy behind the scenes in honor of Bryan Ingebrand, a beloved member of the Senior Bowl family who passed away in 2024. The inaugural winner of the award? Joe Milton.

"We named a good guy award for him during our Senior Bowl week. We let all the support staff and anyone who was around these players vote on it. Joe Milton won that award. So that just tells you the kind of guy you're getting up there in your community," Nagy said. "This guy's going to be great in the locker room. He was a joy to have here. We had 130 some players down here, and he won that award going away."

Despite the difficult circumstances, Milton's reputation as a high-character locker room presence began making the rounds. Hooker would go on to start the rest of the games in 2021, followed by the bulk of the games in the 2022 season. Before being selected 68th overall by the Lions in the 2023 NFL Draft, Hooker was named the 2022 SEC Offensive Player of the Year and broke Peyton Manning's school record with an 68.8% completion rate.

Hooker had the breakout that Milton was hoping for when he transferred to Tennessee, but that didn't stop Milton from continuing to push for playing time in Knoxville. After Hooker tore his ACL at the tail end of the 2022 season, Milton started the final two games and was named the MVP of the 2022 Orange Bowl. Then, it was his job from there.

View photos of Patriots sixth round pick, quarterback Joe Milton III in action at the University of Tennessee.

Milton Gets His Chance to Start Full-Time for the Vols in the 2023 Season

After watching Hooker blossom into a star for the Vols in his first two seasons in Knoxville, it was finally time for Milton to step into a starting role in his sixth collegiate season.

"Joe and I talked last summer that this was gonna be his football team in Tennessee. Putting his fingerprints on it, putting a stamp on it as a leader," Nagy said. "The coaching staff in Tennessee, they say so many good things about his development over the last few years from the guy they got coming from Michigan to what he is now."

Milton had only started nine games in his first five seasons at Michigan and Tennessee, but the door was now wide open for him to be the full-time starter for the Vols in 2023. Tennessee finished the season with an 8-4 record in 12 starts for Milton, who threw for 2,813 yards with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also ran for 299 rushing yards and seven scores on the ground.

The now 24-year-old NFL prospect opted out of Tennessee bowl game before heading to the Senior Bowl, where his arm talent continued to impress scouts while making a strong impression behind the scenes leading to him winning the "Good Guy" award in Mobile.

Overall, the film had some inconsistencies for Milton, with his footwork tied to shaky accuracy and processing speed through his progressions. But for the first time, it was his time, and Milton did what he could to put himself in a position to get drafted by an NFL team.

Patriots Showed Significant Interest in Milton During the Pre-Draft Process

Publicly, the Patriots were mostly connected to the top quarterback prospects through the pre-draft process with in-person exposures to their Pro Days and "30" visits in Foxborough.

EVP of Player Personnel Eliot Wolf led a contingent of scouts and coaches to Pro Days for Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye, and J.J. McCarthy. New England also sent college scouting director Camren Williams and others to Michael Penix Jr. and Bo Nix's Pro Day workouts.

From the outside looking in, the Patriots were locked into the top-six quarterbacks in this year's draft, who all went in the first 12 picks of the first round in an unprecedented quarterback class. However, with New England's main brass in Baton Rouge for LSU's Pro Day, others in the Patriots personnel department were stealthy meeting with Milton at his Pro Day in Knoxville.

"I felt like that was always a potential landing spot. I know they interviewed him on their own up at our facility before the Pro Day," Halzle told Patriots.com. "They talked to me a bunch. I had two or three separate phone calls [with the Patriots]. When I started seeing that, it seemed like these guys had legitimate interest."

With scouts led by Williams and Director of Player Personnel Matt Groh on hand, the Patriots also got to know Milton at the Senior Bowl. After connecting all the dots, it seems like Milton was the day-three quarterback the Patriots had on their radar all along.

Now, the question is, can the Patriots coaching staff develop Milton's game to maximize his immense physical talent? That is the most challenging aspect of the entire draft.

Pro Outlook

After spending six years in college, Halzle and Nagy pointed out that Milton is still a developing prospect despite being a 24-year-old rookie due to his lack of playing time.

Milton only made 21 starts over six seasons, with injuries, inconsistencies, and other circumstances derailing his opportunities. Some might point to that as a negative, as he couldn't keep hold of his starting job, but Halzle and Nagy see it differently.

"I know he's older. But as far as starting age, he's still young. He has one true starting full season under his belt, which I think is a positive thing because nothing helps a quarterback grow more than playing. So he's not a tapped-out resource by any stretch," Halzle said.

Nagy had a similar sentiment, adding, "There are things you can clean up in terms of accuracy and things of that nature. But this is a guy that even though he's been in college football, there's still development because he only had the one year as really the guy."

When asked where Milton needs to grow the most to realize his full potential, Nagy pointed to his overall consistency as needing improvement to reach his peak.

"Well, just the consistency. Again, when you talk about accuracy, usually you can tie that to footwork. So there are some things technically that he can improve upon and clean up the accuracy part," Nagy told me. "His best football is ahead of them. And when you're sitting there in the middle of day three, and you've got a guy with a rare, rare ability, to me, that's a really good time to take a shot.

The other change Milton must go through, which Wolf pointed out, is transitioning into a pro-style offense. Tennessee's offense is an offshoot of Art Briles's Air Raid system that he used to run at Baylor, which some refer to as the veer and shoot. In the passing game, the system utilizes wide receiver splits that create uniquely spaced vertical spread passing concepts you don't see in the NFL. There's also a heavy tempo element, and overall, the quarterback's reads aren't as complex as the ones Milton will need to make at the next level.

However, Halzle pushed back on the notion that Tennessee's offense doesn't translate well to the pro level.

"Quarterbacks here get developed as good if not better than anyone in the country. Fundamentally, mentally, all that," Halzle stated. "The thing is, offenses in that league are constantly talking to us and our head coach, seeing how we do things, and incorporating them into their game."

"What we are doing does translate. We play faster than most people, yeah. But I think the whole notion of just the pro-style offense is kind of dead. If you look at the guys [in the NFL] that score points, man, it doesn't seem super pro-style to me," Halzle continued.

As for competing with Maye, that's nothing new for Milton, as we outlined from his time behind Shea Patterson and Hendon Hooker. Halzle said Patriots fans shouldn't expect Milton to stand idly to the side while Maye takes the reins, but also added that Milton will be a good teammate.

"What you can expect from Joe is he's going to go compete to take it. He's not gonna listen to the whole who's supposed to be the franchise. He's gonna try to take the job," Halze said. "But the best part about it is he's not going to try to tear anybody down in the process. He's just gonna try to win, and if it's not him starting out there, he's going to be in there doing what he can to help the team win."

"You've got a guy that's not content with being on the bench, but he's not a guy that's so selfish where he's going to try to bring someone else down or be a potential distraction or cancer in the locker room," Halze stated.

With the Patriots offense-heavy draft coming to a close, New England took one more swing on a quarterback who has caught the eye of coaches and scouts at every level of football for years.

Milton has never been able to put it all together consistently. The physical traits of a passer who can throw an orange 100 yards are incredibly enticing, but there's more to playing quarterback than throwing the ball a mile. It's easy to get duped by eye-popping arm strength, which the team and its fans need to avoid this summer.

With that said, you can understand why Mlton's raw talent was too good to pass on for the quarterback-needy Patriots in the sixth round.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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