Mobile, AL — The Patriots evaluating quarterbacks in the upcoming NFL Draft isn't a surprise to anyone.
Coming off a difficult season offensively, New England's current options at the position, Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe, aren't locks to remain with the Patriots under new head coach Jerod Mayo. At the very least, competition for the starting job will almost certainly be acquired this offseason.
The Patriots quarterback options with the third overall selection weren't in attendance at the Senior Bowl. However, two quarterbacks in Mobile fit a very plausible Patriots draft scenario: Suppose the Pats brass targets a non-quarterback at No. 3, such as Ohio State WR Marvin Harrison Jr. or Notre Dame LT Joe Alt. Then, New England could select a quarterback at No. 34 — is that something you might be interested in, Patriots fans?
Washington's Michael Penix Jr. and Oregon quarterback Bo Nix were the quarterbacks who fit the mold on the National squad. Penix led Washington to the national championship game and was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. After transferring from Auburn, Nix had two strong seasons for the Ducks, including throwing 45 touchdown passes for Oregon in 2023.
Currently, both Heisman finalists are projected as early-day two talents. After sustaining two torn ACLs in college, Penix's medical evaluations will play a significant role in his final draft slot. But if the Pats want to select a non-QB at the top of the draft, these are two good bets in that category.
Here are the top takeaways from Nix, Penix, and the rest of the Senior Bowl quarterbacks from the first two practices in Mobile:
Penix Holds a Slight Advantage Over Nix in Senior Bowl Practices
Frankly, the in-person exposure to Nix and Penix wasn't very encouraging for either quarterback.
The heralded signal-callers struggled to find a rhythm in both sessions. Granted, these guys get a crash course in the offense they're running this week and haven't thrown to these receivers before. Still, it wasn't pretty at times for any of the National QBs, which makes you pause a beat about passing on a quarterback in the first round.
Coming into the Senior Bowl, Penix was rated higher on my board based on the film, and that's how it played out on the practice field in Mobile. Penix was the more accurate quarterback and threw with better timing, but there were flashbacks to the championship game in muddy pockets.
The Washington QB also didn't show off his deep ball much, which was disappointing. I'm more than willing to trust the tape there, but I wanted to see how well Penix drove the ball downfield live. His arm talent looks starting caliber, but Penix didn't blow me away with velocity this week.
On a positive note, Penix made several good intermediate throws, an area where his college numbers weren't as efficient. Above, he puts a well-timed out on Tez Walker's hands, but the Tar Heels wideout drops an accurate pass. Penix also hit Roman Wilson on a crosser on day one.
Ultimately, Penix's medical evaluations at the combine and top-30 visits will determine where he goes in the draft. He could be a good starter in the league. But his physical tools aren't overwhelmingly good to the point where you'd take a chance on him holding up physically in the first round — an ideal day-two guy with first-round film but medical flags that drop him into the second round.
As for Nix, it was alarming to see how shaky his ball placement was, particularly under 20 yards. On film, there were issues with deep-ball accuracy. However, Nix was generally accurate on the underneath and intermediate stuff: was this a two-day anomaly or an underlying problem?
Nix was missing throws badly at times. In particular, the throw at the 0:51 mark in the cutup above shows the tight end winning inside on a skinny post against a middle-of-the-field open coverage. This should be an easy completion, but Nix leaves the ball behind his receiver, who can't make a tough adjustment to make the catch.
The Oregon product played in a college offense that heavily featured deep vertical shots and passes near the line of scrimmage. Nix must be more consistent in the 10-20-yard range that's more prominently featured in the pro game, or it'll be tough for him to make it as an NFL starter.
Writing either quarterback off based on two practices at an All-Star exhibition would be a wild overreaction. However, it was an underwhelming showing from Nix and Penix.
Spencer Rattler and Joe Milton Worth a Look on Day Three?
Admittedly, these other quarterbacks in Mobile weren't all that interesting heading into the week.
The Patriots should aim higher than project quarterbacks or low-ceiling prospects on day three. They already have the non-toolsy QBs with Jones and Zappe on the roster, while they need a more immediate fix than the project guys. Still, they could be intriguing double-dip options, and it's worth evaluating these players to get a better idea of the depth of this class.
To that end, Rattler was the most consistent thrower out of any quarterback over the last two days. He can spin it with a great layered corner ball into the cover-two hole, and Rattler was quick through his read on a play-action drop-back. With the offense running a drive concept, Rattler came off a covered dig route to work a deep hitch on the backside, hitting his receiver on time to turn upfield.
My pro comparison for Rattler would be day-three Baker Mayfield, bringing us to day-three Anthony Richardson: Tennessee QB Joe Milton.
Everyone knows Milton can throw the ball a mile, but it was like he took this week as an opportunity to showcase that he could throw with touch in the short game. He proved he could read underneath coverage and take something off passes to make them more catchable for his receivers. Milton made an excellent throw on a slant where he put the ball slightly inside to avoid the safety coming over in coverage — really thoughtful ball placement.
Although it's too pressing a need to make them their only investments, Milton and Rattler caught the eye from a Patriots perspective.
Quick-Hit Notes From Day Two in Mobile
-Texas OT Christian Jones and Missouri OT Javon Foster have starting-caliber traits early on day three. Jones with his balance, technique, and strong base. Foster brings a great anchor and functional power.
-Three running backs that stood out as receivers this week: Dylan Laube (UNH), Marshawn Lloyd (USC), and Daijun Edwards (Georgia). I'm buying Luabe stock. His skills all translated against better competition.
-We have to mention DT Michael Hall. Hall was one of the best players on the field both days — a twitched-up interior rusher.
-Michigan WR Roman Wilson made the catch of the day with an acrobatic one-handed grab when Toledo CB Quinyon Mitchell called him out in a best-on-best matchup in one-on-one's at the end of practice. Wilson was excellent all week.
-Florida WR Johnny Wilson is a fun prospect. He's a Mike Gesicki-type, a tweener between a receiver and tight end with above-average speed for his size. I'm not sure where his best position will be at the next level, but he's got an intriguing skillset.
-USC wideout Brenden Rice is worth a deeper dive in film study. Rice, the son of NFL legend Jerry Rice, is a big-bodied perimeter receiver who showed on Wednesday that he can run routes and finish at the catch point.
-Florida WR Ricky Pearsall had a strong second practice. Pearsall showed off his quickness at the first level with a whip route and won at the catch point on a go ball down the right sideline. Persall and Georgia's Ladd McConkey are similar players: quick, heady route-runners.