Previewing the 2011 Patriots’ Quarterbacks

The 2011 Patriots' fortunes will start and stop with Tom Brady, as they do every year. When Brady's career is over, Ryan Mallett might be his replacement. (Photos courtesy Getty Images and AP)

Sports of Boston will be previewing the 2011 position-by-position over the next few weeks, and I volunteered to preview the quarterbacks. The previews are publishing it reverse order of importance, so my piece will be published last. If you want to read my preview now, read on.

Not every great NFL quarterback won a Super Bowl, and not every Super Bowl champion team had a great quarterback. Quarterbacks need quality receivers, and teams can structure themselves around a running game or even a defense. However, in a league built to protect its marquee players from even minor hits, the easiest way to build a winning football team is to start with the quarterback. So let’s look at the Patriots’.

Tom Brady

Really, what still needs to be said about Tom Brady? Three-time Super Bowl champion. Two-time Super Bowl MVP, two-time regular season MVP. Six time Pro Bowler. A surefire Hall of Famer when it’s all over. Brady is quite possibly the single best quarterback in the NFL. The only knock against him has been his two first-round playoff losses in the last two seasons, and the 2010 loss had far more to do with a lack of pass rushers.

Brady is coming off his second MVP season, in which he passed for 3,900 yards, 36 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He completed 65.9 percent of his passes and finished with a 111.0 QB rating. All of these numbers put 2010 behind only his 2007 season, in which he broke the single-season touchdown passes record.

Brady accomplished all of this with a recovering Wes Welker and no deep threat once Randy Moss was traded. Welker should be even stronger in 2011, and the Patriots added Chad Ochocinco to a receiving corps that already has Deion Branch and two very promising tight ends. Ochocinco doesn’t quite have Moss’s raw athleticism, but Ochocinco can still stretch a defense out and keep the safeties from cheating up. He also doesn’t have Moss’s selfishness and lack of team spirit.

Brady loves to have four or five options for the 7-yard pass, and the 2011 receivers look even better suited to Brady’s style. Expect more big numbers from Brady in 2011.

Brian Hoyer

Brian Hoyer impressed Bill Belichick enough as Brady’s backup in 2009 that the Patriots began the 2010 season with Hoyer as their only other quarterback. Hoyer did not get any extended playing time until the final game of ’10 season, but he made that final game count. He took over for Brady up 31-0 against the Dolphins midway through the third and connected with Brandon Tate on a Brady-like 42-yard bomb for his first career touchdown pass. He finished the game 7-for-13 for 122 yards and a 111.7 QB rating.

It’s unlikely that Belichick ever envisioned Hoyer as an actual eventual replacement for Brady. Nor is it likely Hoyer will ever be Matt Cassell or Matt Hasselbeck – backup quarterbacks that became superstars for other teams. Hoyer will likely play out his entire NFL career as a backup, only seeing action in blowouts or after injury. Backup quarterbacks don’t have to do much to stay in the NFL, and Hoyer seems to do what little he has to competently enough to keep his job.

Jonathan Crompton

The Patriots signed Jonathan Crompton to their practice squad in November 2010 after the Chargers released him in September. Crompton saw no action with the Patriots in 2010 but was signed for 2011.

It’s difficult to say what exactly Crompton – a fifth-round draft pick – brings to the table. He did nothing at Tennessee before earning the starting spot in his senior year in 2009, when he passed for 2,500 yards and 27 touchdowns, which ranks third all-time among Tennessee quarterbacks. He also went 142 passing attempts without an interception, one shy of the school record and reminiscent of Brady’s still-active streak of 338 interception-free attempts.

Crompton is only 24 years old, so in all likelihood his best years are ahead of him. He might eventually become the primary backup quarterback on a team (not necessarily the Patriots), but becoming an NFL starter seems unlikely. He might also bounce around practice squads until he quietly washes out of the NFL. At this point, there’s no way to be sure.

Ryan Mallett

The Patriots seem far more interested in rookie Ryan Mallett, whom they drafted 74th overall and signed to a four-year deal on July 29.

Mallett brings a far more impressive pedigree to the Patriots than Crompton. As a junior at Arkansas, Mallett led the Razorbacks all the way to the BCS Allstate Sugar Bowl, where they lost to Ohio State. It was the first BCS bowl appearance in Arkansas history. Mallett broke multiple Arkansas single-season passing records in 2010, including completions (266), passing yards (3,869) and touchdowns (32).

Mallett may have the most potential of any of Brady’s backups, and at 23 he’d enter his prime just as Brady would finish his career. Mallett may very well be the quarterback of the future, but it remains to be seen how the new collective bargaining agreement will affect his longevity with the Patriots.