To understand what Bill Belichick looks for in a quarterback, we could comb through old interviews, or look for common traits among the players he has drafted.
Or we could read it from Belichick himself.
When Belichick was the Browns’ head coach nearly 30 years ago, he typed out exactly what he was looking for from players at each position and handed the sheets to every scout and coach in the organization. Even long after Belichick was fired following the 1995 season and the Browns moved to Baltimore, the Ravens organization adhered to Belichick’s guide and continued passing it out to scouts. NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, formerly a Ravens scout, posted his sheet to social media last month.
The sheet is dated Feb. 13, 1991, but Belichick hasn’t wavered from most of his principles over the last 29 years. Here is what he wants out of a quarterback:
“(Number) 1 is to make good decisions,” Belichick wrote. “Accurate rather than a guy with a cannon.”
“Emphasis on our game will be on decision, timing, accuracy — guy needs to be confident. Intelligence is important but not as much so as field awareness and judgment. Can’t be sloppy, fundamentally unsound guy with ball handling, tech’s, et. Footwork, drops, release, etc. — QB has to be able to throw the ball with accuracy.”
Sound like anyone you know?
If you ever wondered why Tom Brady and Belichick were the perfect match, this is it. Belichick doesn’t necessarily care if a quarterback has a huge arm, or is a gifted athlete. He wants a smart, accurate quarterback who gets the ball out quickly, makes the right decisions, and doesn’t let the moment get too big for him. Brains over brawn.
It explains why Belichick loved Jimmy Garoppolo — a Browns scout once told me Garoppolo’s ability to retain and process information was the best they had ever seen in a draft prospect. It explains why Belichick loves Brian Hoyer, who has lasted 12 years in the NFL with less than optimal physical gifts. The Patriots believe Jarrett Stidham is a bright kid, as well.
And of all the stats that make Brady the GOAT, his most impressive may be his interception rate – just 1.8 percent of his career pass attempts have been picked off, second all time to Aaron Rodgers at 1.4 percent (minimum 4,000 pass attempts).
Now fast-forward to the 2020 NFL Draft. The Patriots need a quarterback, since they only have two on the roster. To see which prospects may be a fit for the Patriots, I applied Belichick’s guidelines to the scouting reports of the top players (excluding Joe Burrow, who will go No. 1 to Cincinnati or possibly Miami). The scouting reports come from the exhaustive draft guide produced by Dane Brugler of The Athletic.
Of the other three quarterbacks with a chance to go in the first round, the best fit looks to be Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, who threw just nine interceptions in his 24 career starts. Tua certainly has questions about his durability, but has “outstanding field vision, passing instincts and processing speed … above-average accuracy with terrific touch and trajectory downfield … and his passing instincts to read, process and fire are outstanding.” Sounds just like what Belichick is looking for.
Oregon’s Justin Herbert, a potential top-5 pick, has a sterling 95:23 touchdown-to-interception ratio. But Herbert, a three-year starter, does not appear to be a Belichick kind of QB: “While he is highly intelligent, that doesn’t always translate to on-field processing speed for him . … An elite combination of size, athleticism and arm talent, but he must sharpen his decision-making and instincts, especially under duress.”
Utah State’s Jordan Love, another potential first-round pick, also sounds like too much of a project for Belichick. The fact that he threw 17 interceptions last year (against only 20 touchdowns) seems like a major red flag. “Love is still very raw as a passer and his inconsistent decision-making is a concern, but he has immense, high-ceiling talent that is ready to be cultivated.”
If the Patriots want a mid-round quarterback, Georgia’s Jake Fromm looks like the guy. His 60.8 completion percentage last year is a concern, but Fromm threw only 18 interceptions in three seasons (42 starts), against 78 touchdowns. Fromm’s draft profile sounds perfect for Belichick: “He won’t be for everyone with his lack of ideal physical traits (arm, size, athleticism), but he is above average in the two most important categories at the position: accuracy and mental processing.”
Washington’s Jacob Eason has an “elite” arm but “underdeveloped instincts and his struggles negotiating pressure.” Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts is an incredible athlete and could be this year’s Lamar Jackson, but is also “a tardy passer who will struggle to consistently create plays with his arm vs. NFL speed.”
And if Belichick just wants a late-round or undrafted quarterback, a few names stand out. Florida International’s James Morgan threw only 12 interceptions the last two years, and “he is an intelligent, tough-minded thrower.” Oregon State’s Jake Luton had a sparkling 28:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year, and is “a low-ceiling caretaker quarterback who consistently stays on schedule.”
Iowa’s Nate Stanley — who played for Kirk and Brian Ferentz, two close friends of Belichick – threw only seven interceptions last year and comes from an I-formation, pro-style offense. And Princeton’s Kevin Davidson started just one year, but threw only six interceptions in 10 games, and “has a smooth stroke and makes smart decisions based on pre-snap reads.”
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.