Neither Ethan Hunt nor Jim Phelps before him would be eager to accept this mission. To say the least, it’s daunting. To succeed, its participant must achieve a nearly insurmountable goal under the strictest of scrutiny. Failure is not an acceptable option.
One might say, this mission is impossible.
What is the mission, you ask?
It is to be the athlete that succeeds Tom Brady as quarterback of the New England Patriots.
The word, ‘succeed,’ or perhaps ‘follow,’ is much more appropriate to use in this circumstance than ‘replace.’ After all, one does not simply replace a quarterback with five Super Bowl titles, four Super Bowl MVP awards, three league MVP awards, 13 Pro Bowls selections, and has led his team to more division titles (15) than any other quarterback in NFL history.
Despite the imposing nature of this task, several quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft class seem up to the challenge. They have not only expressed praise and a desire to emulate Brady, but also an eagerness to accept the challenge of being Tom Terrific’s heir-apparent in Foxboro.
No Usual Suspects?
Of course, willingness is an essential element of being New England’s next signal-caller. However, many of the top-rated quarterbacks in this years class figure to be ‘off-the-board’ by the time the Patriots are ready to select. Most agree that Sam Darnold (USC) Josh Rosen (UCLA), Josh Allen (Wyoming) and Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) have separated themselves as possible top-10 or even No. 1 overall selections. The chances of the Patriots landing one of them are very slim. The same might be said for Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and Louisville’s former Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. The Pats might find themselves in a better position to choose either Rudolph or Jackson, but it is also unlikely that quarterbacks of this caliber would be available late in the first round.
With the 2018 Scouting Combine in the books, three young quarterbacks have emerged as possible choices for Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, and the Patriots ‘brain trust’ as the draft approaches. These candidates offer a coveted triple-threat of skill, attitude and (likely) availability.
Let’s take a look at who might tackle this mission, should he choose to accept it:
Mike White, Western Kentucky
White is certainly a dynamic talent. He played two seasons at South Florida before transferring to Western Kentucky. As a Hilltopper, he topped 4,000 yards while totaling 63 touchdown passes.
White throws the ball quite well. Whether it’s deep passes, fitting it in a tight window or throwing with anticipation, White looks to be very comfortable in any situation. The ball always seems to come out of his hand smoothly. It is this trait that has made him one of the highest rated passers in the 2018 NFL Draft.
So, where might a young quarterback look for inspiration or someone to emulate?
You guessed it…current Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
By his own admission, White is a big fan of Brady’s. In fact, he was not exactly dismissive of being called ‘obsessed’ with the legendary Pats QB.
“You could say it’s pretty accurate,” White said with a smile. “I really enjoy watching his film. The way he operates and the way he plays the game of football is unbelievable. It shows how he wins all the time. I’ve tried to emulate my game after him. Whether I do or I don’t is up to your guys’ interpretation, but I just like watching his film because of the way he beats a defense before the ball is even snapped and how he’s constantly getting his offense into the right play. They’re never in a bad play with him because he’s always super prepared and he knows what he’s getting before the ball is even snapped. It’s a pleasure watching him play.”
Knowing the Territory
In addition to viewing film on Brady and the Patriots, White might be a good fit in the offense for another reason. He worked under Houston Texans coach (and former Patriots offensive coordinator) Bill O’Brien at the Senior Bowl. In doing so, he got a bit of a taste for the Patriots offensive system. Patriots.com’s Andy Hart recently quoted White as saying the following, relation to his feel for the Patriots offense:
“For the most part, yes,” White said of the fit. “I haven’t had my hands on their playbook, so I don’t know exactly the ins and outs. But I do think my skill sets can fit into that, just being able to facilitate the ball and being accurate with it and getting it to your playmakers is what I do best.”
As a result of that Senior Bowl experience, White has the confidence, along with the skill, necessary to help him succeed in his mission.
Luke Falk, Washington State
During his time at Washington State, Falk amassed some impressive numbers for the Cougars. Under head coach Mike Leach, he totaled 14,000-plus yards over four years and 119 touchdowns, along with a 68-percent completion rate.
Like White, Falk has also modeled much of his game after that of Brady. He noted that his accuracy with the ball and ability to put the offense in the right position on each play are two things he has learned from watching the Patriots quarterback. He also raved about Brady’s sneaky, underrated mobility in the passing game. Falk continues to work on making quick, subtle moves in the pocket (ala Brady) that he believes will translate to success at the pro level. It was also an impression he had hoped to make when he met with Patriots representatives at this year’s Senior Bowl.
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However, Falk will be the first to admit that Brady’s determination is the reason why he is such a big fan. From his days in high school, Falk as used Brady as a template for refusing to give up in the face of adversity.
Never Give Up
While he battled a left wrist injury last season, Falk believes that this adversity will help, not hinder, his chances of becoming a successful NFL quarterback. At the Combine, he continued to wear the brace, which he had worn during the season. Despite that fact, Falk’s skills still translate to him being ready for the NFL. Even though his showing was not as strong as he had hoped, his ability to elevate the players around him continue to make him stand out among his peers.
“I definitely try to emulate Brady. I think he’s just the best at what he does. He’s definitely a good guy to try to model your game after. I was already a Tom Brady fan, but just learning about his history at Michigan and the adversity he faced with Drew Henson and how he went about each day and how he pushed each day. How he approached it in the NFL being a late-round draft pick. He’s 40 years old and still puts everything he’s got into it. So I really just want to do that with my game. If it’s good enough for him it’s good enough for me. You see somebody at his age that’s been doing it for so long and he’s still so motivated,” Falk explained.
Based on that outlook, one should consider Luke Falk to be ‘mission-ready.’
Kyle Lauletta, Richmond
In keeping with the Hollywood theme of this article, Lauletta might just be a gift from central casting for the Patriots. He is a highly-skilled, but underrated, quarterback. One might say, he ‘flies a bit under the radar,’ but would be a great asset to the team that drafts him. He has an impeccable reputation when it comes to character and leadership ability. Lastly, he has family ties to the Navy and a background in lacrosse.
Could anyone be more ‘Belichickian?’
While it’s certainly amusing, Lauletta has clearly become aware of the idea of him being a dream prospect for Belichick. However, he is counting on his on-field performance to be the deciding factor in being an attractive option to the New England Patriots.
“I’ve heard it a few times from friends and non-football people,” Lauletta said. “But you don’t even think about stuff like that. It’s really a waste of my energy to try to make the connections. I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing and try to put my best foot forward each day and try to impress the scouts as best as I can.”
Earning his Spot
Lauletta put up some impressive numbers at Richmond. He completed 67 percent of his passes last fall, had three-straight 3,000-yard seasons. Over the last three years, he increased his touchdown pass total grow from 19 (to start) to 24 and then 28.
Although his critics have indicated that he might have played to a lower level of competition in the FCS, he quickly quieted them with an MVP-winning performance at the Senior Bowl. As did Mike White, Lauletta caught the eye of his Senior Bowl coach, Bill O’Brien. O’Brien was particularly impressed with the speed and quickness with which he was able to pick up schemes and game plans. These are skills that would suit Lauletta quite well, should he end up playing in Foxboro. Most importantly, it proved that he was more than capable of competing with the best players in the country.
“It was huge,” Lauletta said of that game. “Being an FCS guy, anytime you can get on a platform where you’re playing with the best players in the entire country, that’s what you play for. That’s what you live for. I went into the Senior Bowl just trying to make the most of my opportunity, and I think I did that.”
Follow the Template?
Due to his connections to the FCS, Lauletta has been compared to former Patriots backup quarterback, and current San Franciso 49er, Jimmy Garoppolo. They are similar in size, foot speed, and leadership ability. While he is flattered by the comparison, Lauletta said that he also admires the example set by the current Pats QB as well. He has always looked up to Brady. In fact, he even ran a similar pro-style system in his first year as a starter.
“Being one of the best in the game, that’s a guy you have to look up to,” he said, acknowledging he’d be more than happy to land in New England. “That would be a dream come true. I think any quarterback would love to be in that position. Learning from a guy like Tom Brady, you can learn so much just by the way he works and observing the way he goes about his business day to day. Wherever I am, I think I’ll be in a good spot. But that would definitely be a good one.”
Could Lauletta be the ideal agent to tackle this mission? Only time will tell.
Whichever quarterback (if any) is chosen, his task will be tall. It is difficult to replace a legend. However, it’s not impossible. Aaron Rodgers and Steve Young have had some success at doing just that. The key is having the plan in place. The New England Patriots are usually well-prepared for the task at hand. They will need to be. The mission is clear. The identity of its agent is to be determined. Soon, all of Pats Nation will find out who might be charged with filling the cleats of its franchise’s greatest player.
This message will self-destruct on April 26, 2018.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the AFC East. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC