2024 NFL draft: Patriots open to trade but want a QB at No. 3

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. QB at 3: The first round of the 2024 NFL draft kicks off on Thursday and Patriots director of scouting Eliot Wolf said late last week the team is "open for business" at pick No. 3 and will listen to trade offers. But don't mistake that declaration for a lack of conviction with how he and top decision-makers view the favorable position they're in at the top of the draft.

This is a franchise-altering opportunity, and as Wolf and first-year head coach Jerod Mayo have previously said, the only way they're moving down is if another team offers an unprecedented deal. Leaving the door open for that possibility is good business more than anything; why close it before it's necessary to do so?

The most likely scenario, per sources, remains that the Patriots will stay put at No. 3 and select LSU's Jayden Daniels, North Carolina's Drake Maye or Michigan's J.J. McCarthy.

Simply put, as one Patriots source said late last week, "you can't win without a quarterback." Mayo and some top decision-makers have privately acknowledged that their legacies will be tied to whatever they decide at quarterback.

Daniels, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2023, started 55 games in college and is a dynamic dual threat as a passer and rusher. He finished his career 953-of-1,438 for 12,749 yards, with 89 touchdowns and 20 interceptions, while adding 617 rushes for 3,307 yards (5.4 per carry) and 34 touchdowns. Daniels is frequently tied to the Commanders at No. 2 in various mock drafts.

Maye, who has prototypical size at 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds, was the 2022 ACC Player of the Year. He started 26 games over the past two seasons and was 618-of-952 for 8,018 yards, with 63 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, in addition to rushing 302 times for 1,209 yards and 16 touchdowns.

And McCarthy was 27-1 as a starter over the past two seasons, which included the 2023 national championship. He finished his college career 482-of-713 for 6,226 yards, with 49 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and also rushed 161 times for 632 yards and 10 touchdowns.

So now, barring an unexpected blockbuster trade offer, according to sources, the Patriots will move forward with a plan that has been months in the works -- getting a quarterback.

It was notable in Wolf's pre-draft news conference Thursday how decisively he pushed back on the narrative that the Patriots' roster isn't set up to support a rookie quarterback, likely because that has primarily been what he has devoted the past three months to doing.

"I read a lot of that storyline. I'm not really sure what that means," Wolf said. "I definitely feel like we can support that."

Wolf noted a "solid offensive line," "good running game," the re-signing of tight end Hunter Henry and "a solid foundation and system in place with Coach [Alex] Van Pelt on the offense" among the reasons he feels that way.

He also touched on why the Patriots signed veteran quarterback Jacoby Brissett in free agency, saying: "He's a good player -- a big, strong, a relentless preparer. And we feel like if we end up drafting a quarterback high, he is someone that can support that player and would be a positive influence on them, while competing with them."

Brissett's presence ties to something else Wolf said -- how the Patriots have identified positions that need immediate reinforcements with "plug-and-play type players" and "other positions where we feel like we can draft and develop those people."

A quarterback drafted at No. 3 doesn't necessarily have to play right away, but the selection would spark much-needed hope for the franchise.

2. Full-time Slater: One notable behind-the-scenes development over the past few weeks came with longtime captain Matthew Slater accepting a full-time position with the Patriots, according to sources.

Slater had other opportunities he could have pursued but elected to stay with the franchise he played for from 2008 to 2023. One source described his role as a "right-hand man" to first-year head coach Mayo, providing Mayo a sounding board on football and team building, as well as assistance in "people development."

Mayo was a first-round draft pick of the Patriots in 2008, while Slater was a fifth-round pick that year, so they've known each other since that time. Once Mayo pursued a career in coaching, he had previously told Slater it was one of his dreams for them to work together in hopes of developing something in which they could be proud.

3. 'X' receiver: Wolf shared insight Thursday on what type of receiver he believes the team doesn't yet have when he said, "Do we have players that on a 3x1 [alignment] can beat the backside coverage every single time? I'm not sure we have that just yet."

With that scenario in mind, which receivers in the draft might fill that void to pair with the likely QB at No. 3?

ESPN draft analyst Field Yates, while noting that it's a challenge to project who will be available at the Patriots' next pick at No. 34, relayed three prospects and why he believes they could fit that mold:

First is South Carolina's Xavier Legette. After 42 catches from 2019 to 2022, he exploded for 71 catches, 1,255 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2023. Yates said that few players have boosted their draft stock more than Legette in the past year. "Legette has some of the best run-after-catch skills in the class," Yates said. He also regarded Legette as a special teams player and return man.

Next up, Keon Coleman out of Florida State. The 6-foot-3 and 213-pound receiver had 11 touchdowns on 50 catches in 2023. Yates said Coleman's size makes him a top red zone performer while offering an advantage over defenders. "He made brilliant one-handed snares in 2023 and also showed off instincts and vision as a punt returner," Yates said.

Lastly, Yates mentioned Florida's Ricky Pearsall as a potential fit for No. 34. "Pearsall is an exceptionally explosive and powerful athlete, as he showed moments of simply dominating defensive backs at the catch point," Yates said. Pearsall caught 65 passes for 965 yards and 4 touchdowns -- averaging 14.8 yards per reception in 2023. He started out his college career at Arizona State University with QB Jayden Daniels.

4. OT need: Wolf said the Patriots currently project free agent signing Chukwuma Okorafor as their top left tackle, noting that he played there at Western Michigan, and club decision-makers believe he can make the transition after mostly playing right tackle through his first six NFL seasons with the Steelers (and being benched midway through the 2023 season).

That's taking a significant risk. Thus, the Patriots presumably would like to add a highly touted prospect to the pipeline, but Yates and fellow draft analysts said the top tier of prospects at the position is projected to be gone by New England's No. 34 pick at the top of the second round.

That would make it harder for New England to fill its need unless someone such as Arizona's Jordan Morgan, who some project more as a guard in the NFL, is viewed as a fit at that spot. Or Oklahoma's Tyler Guyton (a pre-draft visitor to Foxborough) unexpectedly is available.

5. They said it: "Definitely a lot of things to like -- the technique and the fact he's won a lot of football games -- but if I'm drafting someone in the top five, I want to know I can trust him to win games with his right arm. We never saw the pressure on him to make throw after throw after throw, week after week, to carry his football team. You will have to do that in the National Football League. So that is a huge question for me ... I don't think I'd take him in the top five." -- Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, on Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy, during a Friday appearance on ESPN's "Get Up"

6. Belichick's insight: Bill Belichick's appearance as a guest analyst on "The Pat McAfee Show Draft Spectacular" -- airing the opening night of the draft on YouTube and ESPN+ -- figures to be compelling. Belichick's 32-minute appearance on McAfee's show Wednesday included insightful discussion for those invested in the quality of the NFL's on-field product, specifically with how Belichick envisions the NFL's new kickoff rules impacting play and roster building.

"It looks like it is going to include another 1,500 plays in the game, leaguewide, that we didn't have in the last couple years, so I think there's more opportunity for players to play on special teams than there had been when 90% of the kickoffs are going out of the end zone," Belichick said. "I think that might affect the bottom part of the roster.

"And because there is really no running involved -- the kicking team is already down there, the return team is already set up -- there will be more of an emphasis on size players than speed ... I do think that because everybody is spread across the field, if these returners hit a little bit of space, they're gone because it's going to be a lot harder to overlap than it was in the past."

7. Eyes on TEs: The Patriots quietly brought free agent tight ends Brycen Hopkins (Rams), Sean McKeon (Cowboys) and Mitchell Wilcox (Bengals) in for workouts late last week, which could reflect the desire to add another layer to the depth chart of Henry, Austin Hooper and La'Michael Pettway.

The team enters the second phase of its voluntary offseason program this week -- expanding from exclusively strength and conditioning work to on-field individual football drills, among other things -- so the timing might make sense to make a move now.

8. Roster math: The Patriots currently have 70 players on their roster and own eight selections in this week's NFL draft. So that would leave 12 spots for undrafted free agents (a larger class than the norm) -- give or take a few depending on trades and veteran signings (e.g. Hopkins, McKeon, Wilcox et al).

Wolf would ideally like to come out of the draft with more quantity, saying this past week: "The more picks we have, the better."

Find a complete list of the Patriots' eight draft picks here.

9. Did you know, Part I: Since 1960, the Patriots have drafted 24 players from the University of Michigan, more than any other school. Boston College is second, with 23 players.

10. Did you know, Part II: Brown University wide receiver Sean Morey (seventh round, 1999) was the last Patriots pick in the college draft that wasn't made by Belichick -- a streak that will be broken Thursday night.