(AP) – The New England Patriots picked up three players to protect quarterback Mac Jones and one to back him up.
After making a surprising reach for Chattanooga guard Cole Strange in the first round of the NFL draft, the Patriots on Saturday added another guard, LSU’s Chasen Hines, and Michigan offensive tackle Andrew Stueber.
Coach Bill Belichick also helped out the offense by moving up to grab Baylor receiver Tyquan Thornton in the second round and drafted a pair of running backs, Pierre Strong Jr. from South Dakota State and Kevin Harris from South Carolina on Day 3.
New England also added two defensive backs on the weekend, Marcus Jones from Houston and Jack Jones from Arizona State, as well as a Northwest Missouri State defensive tackle Sam Roberts.
But the biggest surprise might have been Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe, selected with the No. 137 pick, in the fourth round.
Stueber is a 6-foot-7, 325-pound tackle who was a leader in the group that won the Joe Moore Award for top offensive line in the country. He missed all of 2019 with a torn ACL, but started every game the past two seasons.
Hines, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 350 pounds, played mostly at right guard but also backed up All-America center Lloyd Cushenberry when LSU won the NCAA title in 2019.
AN HEIR TO SPARE
Zappe fits the Patriots’ history of avoiding the most ballyhooed quarterbacks in the draft, a process that worked well with Tom Brady (No. 199 overall) and appears to have hit again with Mac Jones, who was No. 15 overall but the fifth quarterback taken last year.
“He’s a phenomenal quarterback,” said Zappe, who will compete with 36-year-old Brian Hoyer and 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham for the backup spots for now. “I am really looking forward to learning from all three of those guys and getting up there, meeting them and doing as much as I can to help the team.”
The Conference USA MVP and a finalist for the Manning Award, Zappe transferred to Western Kentucky from Houston Baptist for his senior year and set a single-season FBS record with 5,987 passing yards — 1,095 more than the next-best total. His 62 touchdowns (against 11 interceptions) in 14 games broke the record set by Joe Burrow in 15 games in 2019.
Stidham had at one point been considered a possibility as Brady’s heir, but Jones jumped over him as a rookie and led the Patriots back to the playoffs last year. If Belichick has given up on Stidham, Zappe could be his next long-term project at quarterback. Or he could mean the end of Hoyer’s third stint in New England.
MR. JONES AND … MR. JONES
Two new defensive backs will help ease the departure of J.C. Jackson, who signed with the Los Angeles Chargers after leading the NFL with 23 passes defensed last season, finishing second with eight interceptions and making his first Pro Bowl.
The Patriots took Houston cornerback Marcus Jones with the 85th pick and Arizona State defensive back Jack Jones with No. 121. They join a New England defensive backfield that already included Jonathan Jones.
Marcus Jones had five interceptions for the Cougars last season and also had four special team touchdowns — scoring on two kickoffs and two punts. It earned him first-team AP All-American honors as a returner.
Jack Jones led Southern California in interceptions as a sophomore, but then was ruled academically ineligible as a junior. He was kicked off the team after he was caught breaking into a restaurant; he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.
Jones, 24, spent one season at Moorpark College before transferring to Arizona State. Things went OK in 2019, when he intercepted three passes, but he was suspended the next season. He returned to play in 11 games last year, picking off three more passes — the most among Pac-12 corners — and registering 42 tackles.
In typical Belichick fashion, there was plenty of trading down.
The Patriots moved down eight spots to take Strange at No. 29 overall, picking up a third- and fourth-round pick in the process. On Day Two, they moved up to take Thornton at No. 50, took Marcus Jones at No. 85 and then bailed out of the No. 94 slot, getting a fourth-rounder and a third next year from Carolina.
It marked the 18th straight draft that New England has made at least one trade.